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2018 Research: Chapter 1 - Coaching Overview

This is the second in a series of blog posts in which we will be releasing chapters from our 2018 Executive Coaching Research Study. In this post, we feature Chapter 1 of the report, "Coaching Overview," in its entirety. It includes the following subsections:

  • Length of Organizations' Use of Coaches
  • Who is Receiving Coaching?
  • Purpose of Coaching
  • Perceptions of Coaching
  • Senior Managment Support
  • Coaching's Role in Executive Development

​We plan on releasing the full report, chapter by chapter, over the course of 2018-2019. To be informed of the release of future chapters, please subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below:

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Please note: This material is copyrighted by CoachSource, LLC.

                                Chapter 1: Coaching Overview

Length of Organizations' Use of Coaches

We asked organizations, “How many years has your organization been providing 1-on-1 executive coaching?” The average response from organizational representatives was 10.31 years. Responses ranged from 1-25 years, with a standard deviation of 6.23 years, which implied that most organizations responded with a value between 4.08 years to 16.54 years. See Figure 3 below.

On average, external coaches stated they have been providing coaching for 14.7 years (SD = 8.1). Internal coaches stated they have been coaching for 7.1 years (SD = 6.3). So external coaches generally have been coaching double the amount of time as their internal counterparts. It’s also a possible trend that new coaches start as internal coaches and move to external coaching over time.

When asked whether organizations planned to increase their use of executive coaching over the next two years, 56% stated they believe their use will increase, 44% believe it will stay the same, and 0% believe their use will decrease. Regarding internal coaching, we asked organizations “Do you expect your use of internal coaches to increase, stay the same, or decrease in the next 2 years?” 57.14% of organizational respondents stated they expect their use to increase, 31.43% stated they expect their use to stay the same, and 0 respondents stated they believe their use will decrease. Given the positive future predictions regarding the use of executive coaching, we obviously expect the average years an organization has been providing 1-on-1 coaching to increase in future surveys.



Who Is Receiving Coaching?

We asked raters, “What percent of coaching is done at each of these levels?” (i.e. C-level, VP, Director, etc.). We requested that participants split 100 points across levels from C-level to Individual contributor. See Figure 4 (right) for an in-depth look at organizational practice managers’ responses. See Figure 5 below for data from three rater groups: organizations, external, and internal coaches.

Directors received the greatest allocation from all three rater groups, ranging from 23-32%. The second most frequent response was VPs (20-26%), followed by C-level (9-22%). While it may appear significant that directors receive the most coaching, this may be due to the obvious fact that there are more directors than there are VPs, SVPs, or C-level employees.

There is a trend of internal coaches working more frequently with lower-level employees, and external coaches working more frequently with higher-level employees. For example, internal coaches work with Managers 19% of the time, whereas external coaches work with Managers only 12% of the time. Additionally, internal coaches work with C-level employees only 9% of the time, and external coaches work with C-level employees 22% of the time. This trend is consistent with what organizations often say about how they differentiate between external and internal coaches.

Purpose of Coaching

Executive coaching can be utilized for many reasons – developing a leader, assisting with transitions, even helping one navigating their career more effectively. Therefore, one of the first research questions we sought to answer was, “What is the purpose of coaching?” Similar to the 2013 and 2005 studies, all rater groups chose Leadership development as the predominant purpose (63-96% for all rater groups; Figure 6 below). 

Transition coaching and Executive presence roughly tied as the second most frequent answers. Transition coaching received 28-55% of responses, which generally involves assisting a leader’s transition from one position to another (often to a higher level) or their onboarding into an organization in the first place. Perhaps fueled by a mostly growing worldwide economy, and popularized by the book “First 90 Days”, more organizations appear to be seeking coaching for transition assistance. (Interestingly, only 28% of leaders noted transition coaching as the primary purpose, whereas 55% of organizations chose this response. It's likely a leader does not use the term "transition coaching" in a way an organization does, leading to this discrepancy.)

Executive presence debuted in 2013 at #2. This year, it received 24-55% of responses. Executive presence can refer to multiple concepts, often including influencing skills, “gravitas”, public speaking, even dress/image and the like.

The remaining choices in order were: Fixing performance problemsCareer coaching and Life coaching.

Of interest are the discrepancies between the organization view of executive coaching versus the leader view. For example, leaders chose Career coaching far more frequently (43%) than organizations did (9%). This difference continues from prior studies. We speculate the difference is simply the difference between how those in the coaching profession define career coaching vs a leader (or the general public for that matter). Those in the profession typically recognize career coaching as a specific practice area focused on areas such as helping individuals select a career, prepare for interviews, polish their resume, plan a career change, and the like. Leaders in organizations may more likely see executive coaching as a tool to develop themselves in general – which has benefit to their careers.

Additionally, organizations chose Transition more frequently (55%) than leaders did (28%). We don’t have an obvious theory on why this may be the case. In our experience, when an organization hires a coach to assist a leader with a transition, the leader is fully aware this is the primary purpose for the coaching.

Leaders selected all options with less frequency than organizations, except for Career coaching and Life coaching. Much like we’ve found in the past, leaders are perceiving the purposes for their coaching experiences much differently than other rater groups.

When comparing data from organizations from 2013 and 2017, there seem to be a few shifts in purpose of executive coaching across the years. Leadership development received the most responses across years but experienced a slight decline in popularity in 2017 (-13%). With this decline came an increase in popularity for Transition as a purpose of coaching (+13%).

Additionally, Fixing performance problems fell by 10%. The shift away from fixing performance problems as a purpose of coaching likely represents the ongoing shift of coaching away from a remedial space.

Executive presence burst on the scene in the 2013 in the #2 slot in its inaugural appearance in the study. It was selected less frequently in 2017 than before, by 12%.

In both 2013 and 2017, Life coaching and Career coaching received few responses. See Figure 7 for a comparison in data across 2013 and 2017.

Perceptions of Coaching

Is Is executive coaching perceived as an intervention for remedial “problem children” that need to be fixed? Or a “status symbol” for the best and brightest in the organization? We asked raters how executive coaching is most typically perceived. Similar to in 2013, the most frequent response was Mostly seen as a positive investment. The four rater groups chose this 43-55% of the time. One internal coach participant noted that executive coaching is "Mostly seen as a positive investment to improve performance and high potentials."

The second most frequent response was Seen as both remedial for performance problems and a positive investment. The raters chose this response 23-38% of the time. 

The response options given demonstrated a continuum from coaching being seen only as remedial for performance problems to seen only as a positive investment. This high response rate at the middle of the scale signifies the dual-purpose coaching still has. For example, an internal coach participant noted that “We coach all partners. We position it that everyone can benefit from coaching to take their game to the next level.” Thus, coaching can be used for multiple purposes and is not constrained to only for remedial performance problems, or only as a positive investment.

These results are similar to the 2013 study, but overall there seems to be a general shift towards executive coaching being perceived as more of a positive investment, rather than as remedial for performance problems. On average, in 2013 the four rater groups chose the response Mostly as remedial for performance problems ~6% of the time, and in the present study raters chose this only ~3.5% of the time on average. Likewise, in 2013 participants chose Mostly seen as a positive investment ~47% of the time on average, and in 2017 that number rose to ~50.75% on average (though Only seen as a positive investment did decline from 11% to 7%). See Figure 8 for the full data set.

Senior Management Support

While meeting with a new organization to set up a coaching program, we always wish to learn more about senior management's support for executive coaching. We want to gather a sense of how coaching is perceived in the organization, and whether the CEO and top management typically use coaches themselves. This has lent itself to an important line of inquiry for this research study: Organizations and leaders were asked, "What type of senior management support do you see for executive coaching activities?" and were instructed to select all answers that applied. See Figure 9.

There is a gap seen between how often a CEO or executive team member receives coaching and how often they publicly endorse it (See Figure 10). Eighty-seven percent of organizations have stated that Members of the executive team receive/received coaching, while only 56% of Members of the executive team publicly endorse coaching. The story is the same for CEOs: 40% of organizations stated that the CEO personally receives/received coaching, but only 29% of CEOs publicly endorse coaching. This gap is crucial because it is important for executive team members and CEOs to publicly endorse coaching, as it increases the reputation and utilization of our field.

Unfortunately, from organizations, this gap between receiving coaching and publicly endorsing coaching is larger than seen in our previous surveys. For executive team members, there was a 22% gap in 2005, 26% gap in 2013, but that gap has now risen to 31%. Likewise, the gap for CEOs was 6% in 2005, 9% in 2013, and is now 11% in 2017. While these changes are not vastly significant, they do demonstrate that since 2013 there has not been positive improvement in this regard.

Contrarily, in comparison to organizations, leaders report this gap between receiving coaching and publicly endorsing coaching to be decreasing. Leaders reported a 21% gap between executives receiving and endorsing coaching in 2013, and in 2017 that gap shrunk to 15%. Likewise, leaders reported a 4% gap in CEO’s receiving/endorsing coaching in 2013, and in 2017 that shrunk to 3%.

Finally, since 2013 there was a significant drop in organizations who believe Coaching is “visible” and a part of our culture. In 2013, 54% of organizations stated this to be true, and now in 2017 only 35% believe this.

A few participants provided commentary on this topic, unfortunately only of the negative variety. One leader wrote "No support is visible." Another leader wrote "My company does not support management coaching. It does not invest in employees this way."

Coaching's Role in Executive Development

Organizational representatives were asked, “What percent of your executive development efforts are accomplished through executive coaching?” The top response indicated nearly half - 46% of respondents chose 0-24%. Twenty-four percent of respondents chose 25-49%; 20% of respondents chose 50-74%; and 6% of respondents chose 75-100%. See Figure 11.

Most notable of these numbers, 46% of organizations stated they use coaching for only 0-24% of their executive development efforts. While there are a wide variety of methods available for executive development, these data demonstrate that much more development efforts are still conducted by non-coaching means. The learning here is that that the field of coaching still has the opportunity to provide a much greater impact to leaders and organizations in the future.

In our 2013 survey, we used a different scale to measure responses, thus specific comparisons cannot be made easily across years, but the results from 2013 & 2017 appear to have a few differences. For example, in 2013 75.3% of participants stated that coaching is used for less than 30% of executive development efforts. Comparably, in the 2017 survey only 46.3% of participants stated that coaching is used for 25% or less of developmental efforts. While this data comparison is far from perfect, it may show a trend towards coaching being used more frequently as a developmental effort within organizations.

Please note: This material is copyrighted by CoachSource, LLC.

Our next blog post will be Chapter 2: The Coaching Process, which includes:

  • Duration of Coaching
  • Frequency of Coaching During an Engagement
  • How Coaching is Conducted & the Effectiveness of the Method
  • Consistency of Coaching Processes
  • Use of Instruments/Assessments
  • Coaching Activities
  • Coaches Challenging Leaders

And remember, we plan on releasing the full report, chapter by chapter, over the course of 2018-2019. To be informed of the release of future chapters, please subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address below:

Newsletter Sign Up


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