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2018 Research: Chapter 2 - The Coaching Process

This is the third 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 2 of the report, The Coaching Process," in its entirety. It includes the following subsections:

  • 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

​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 2: The Coaching Process

Duration of Coaching

In the 2005, 2013, and 2017 surveys participants were asked, “How long is your typical coaching engagement?” (leaders were asked the length of their coaching engagement). Similar to previous results, participants indicated 6 months as the most typical length, with respondents choosing this answer choice 37-65% of the time.

Interestingly, there are wide discrepancies seen between leaders’ and organizations’ beliefs of how long coaching lasts. While 65% of organizations responded with 6 months as the typical length, only 39% of leaders did. Contrarily, while only 2% of organizations responded with more than 18 months, 27% of leaders chose this response! This may signify that while a formal coaching contract may only last 6 months, more informal coaching may continue beyond this time frame, although it may not be formally contracted.
Internals reported both shorter and longer assignments than their external counterparts. Internals selected Less than 3 months more often (11% internals vs 4% externals). Yet they also selected More than 18 months more often as well (7% internals vs 4% externals). Both are likely indicators of internals being more flexible in the duration of coaching options they can offer, perhaps because they are more often “on site” and readily available to coach (or so the perception goes).
Throughout many years of practice, we have observed that organizations often ask for a 6-month contract – and want the coaching to be complete at that end of that time frame. However, leaders sometimes ask for an extension once the 6-month time period is over, and organizations commonly appease to this request. The trends shown in in Figure 12 may indicate that leaders often want longer coaching assignments than organizations originally contract for.
Only 2-11% of participants chose Less than 3 months for a typical coaching engagement length. While a 3-month coaching engagement may be effective for some, it is often not enough time to really create lasting change.


Frequency of Coaching During an Engagement

While it was seen above that 6 months is the most typical length of a formal coaching engagement, the amount of interaction during that time can vary greatly. In this survey, participants were asked, “How often, on average, does the leader interact with the coach?” Consistent with results from 2005 and 2013, respondents chose Every two weeks (43-61%) or Monthly (29-35%) as the most frequent responses. See Figure 13.

While external coaches most frequently interact with leaders Every 2 weeks (61%) or Monthly (29%), it appears that internal coaches interact with leaders more often. Internal coaches chose More than once a week 12% of the time, while external coaches chose this 0% of the time. Additionally, internal coaches chose Weekly 13% of the time, whereas external coaches chose this only 9% of the time. This may be due to a less formal internal coaching scheduling system, in which internals are more readily available for leaders on an ad-hoc basis (or the perception therein).
In future studies, it could be interesting to examine whether the frequency of communication is related to the reason for coaching. For example, do those who are receiving coaching for performance problems interact with their coach more frequently than those seeking to increase leadership abilities? Additionally, it would be intriguing to further examine the length of coaching sessions and how this relates to the frequency of coaching and its effectiveness. It’s possible 1-hour sessions done weekly are more effective than two-hour sessions done biweekly.


How Coaching is Conducted and the Effectiveness of the Method

Participants were asked in 2005, 2013 and in the current study, “Through what means is executive coaching typically conducted?” Raters could choose from among four options: Face to Face, Telephone, Email, and Video Cam. (We modified the answer format from the 2013 survey and now instructed raters to distribute 100 points across the four categories based on their frequency of use.)

Resonating with the data from 2005 and 2013, Face to Face continues to be the leading method of coaching, with respondents choosing this 40-55% of the time. Telephone conversations came in second, with respondents choosing this 28-39% of the time.
The prevalence of video-enabled coaching has not grown as rapidly as we would have expected by this point, nominated only 11-15% of the time. One possible reason may be due to privacy - Many employees increasingly work in shared work spaces and using a web cam can feel intrusive to those working around them. Additionally, some corporate computer desktops are still not video cam enabled, making telephone a more feasible method.
Finally, while email can be a great communication method, it ranks as not very common for coaching purposes (3-7%). Across all four rater groups there seems to be little difference in the way raters responded, though leaders generally reported greater frequency of virtual methods of coaching than other did. See Figure 14 for the full data set.
How effective do participants rank each means of coaching interaction? While some program designs may opt to use a certain option for various reasons (e.g., reduce travel expenses), these methods may not always be seen as the most effective.
In the 2013 and 2017 survey we asked participants "How effective do you think each method of communication is?" We supplied raters with a 9-point scale, ranging from Very Ineffective to Very Effective. In order to get a true understanding of those who find these methods “ineffective” or “effective”, we combined responses from very ineffective and mostly ineffective in Figure 15 below. Additionally, we combined responses for very effective and mostly effective.
Similar to previous results, Face-to-face communication was ranked as the most effective method by all four rater groups (83-94% of participants found it either Very effective or Mostly effective). While it is highly effective, participants stated that coaching face-to-face occurs only 40-55% of the time.
Combining rankings of Mostly effective and Very effective, coaching via telephone was ranked as the second most effective method (45-59% found it effective), with video cam following closely behind. Participants found video cam to be Very effective or Mostly effective 33-58% of the time. Video cam is seen to be as effective as telephone by most rater groups (except leaders) but is used much less frequently than telephone (video cam is used 11-15% of the time, telephone is used 28-39% of the time). This points out a clear opportunity to increase the use of video cam during coaching.
Additionally, there appears to be a positive increase in effectiveness of video cam coaching from our last survey, although it is difficult to give specific numbers on this due to a change in answer scaling from our previous report. As technology continues to advance, we expect the effectiveness of this method and usage of this method to increase.
Few participants rated Face-to-Face, Telephone, or Video Cam as either Very Ineffective or Mostly Ineffective. Email received the most responses in this category, with participants choosing this 8-17% of the time. While email may be a great method for scheduling sessions, or doing a quick accountability check, it does not appear to be the most effective method for engaging in real coaching sessions. Interestingly, 18% of leaders found email to be either Very effective or Mostly effective, while coaches only chose this response 6-8% of the time.
When asked to qualitatively describe when one method of communication is better than others, participants responded with insight such as:
  • “At the beginning face to face and once the trust and relationship is established we can use Skype.” – External Coach
  • “Face-to-face is most effective when delivering 360 results, developing the leader's presence and coaching skills, facilitating new skills to apply with others.” – External Coach
  • “In between coaching sessions, email is used by the participant to summarize progress so we jump start the next coaching session.” – External Coach
  • “With the initial meet, it is most effective to engage one-to-one. If unable, then video cam is an effective alternative. After the initial meeting, most other methods are effective.” – External Coach
  • “All methods have been used effectively through various phases of the coaching engagement.” – Internal Coach
  • “Helpful to meet face to face initially to establish rapport, but not a deal breaker. 360 results can be helpful face to face, but mostly I deliver via phone and email and it goes very well.” – Internal Coach
  • “After the relationship has been established, I believe that non-face to face mediums work well.” – Internal Coach
  • “I believe always a face-to-face communication is most effective. Removing oneself from the office and having in-person meetings is a sure way to be more present and receptive to coaching than another medium of communication.” – Leader
  • “I believe that face to face interactions are much more helpful when you are walking through difficult conversations. As much as learning what to say also controlling your physical presence is also vital and hard to convey over the telephone or in an email.” – Leader
  • “Early in the engagement telephone was best for weekly meetings. Email was helpful during development of personal branding materials and links to relevant websites.” – Leader
Based on the comments shown above and others in the dataset there appears to be a strong preference for face-to-face interactions at the beginning and ending of a coaching engagement. Additionally, video cam appears to be a robust alternative when face-to-face meetings are not feasible. Very few commented on the effectiveness of email beyond the use of it for checking in and scheduling sessions.

Consistency of Coaching Processes

In 2005, we asked organizations about how important it is to offer a consistent executive coaching process across their organizations. The findings were mixed, with about half (51%) of organizations, with fewer external coaches (41%) and leaders (40%) reporting that consistency was important.

In 2013, the response options were changed slightly, but this time participants demonstrated more importance for consistency in their organization’s coaching process. The most popular response in 2013 was consistency was Somewhat important (35-41% selected this).

In the present study, the response options were once again changed slightly, but it was demonstrated that consistency in the coaching process is important, but more especially for organization practice managers compared to coaches. We asked, “How important is it that a consistent coaching process/methodology be followed at your organization?” Sixty-seven percent of organizations stated that consistency was either Important, Mostly important, or Very important. Internal and external coaches found consistency to be less important than organizations did, with only 34% of internal coaches and 44% of external coaches finding consistency to be either Important, Mostly important, or Very important.

While they may have found consistency to be less crucial, both coach rater groups still erred on the side of consistency being important rather than unimportant. For example, only 26% of internal coaches and 23% of external coaches found consistency to be either Unimportant, Mostly unimportant, or Very unimportant. See Figure 16 for full results.
One organization practice manager participant explains the desire for consistency the best: “Consistency of the process is important for the following reasons: 1) The barriers to entry for coaches are low, therefore a consistent process for the selection of coaches and process when coaching provide quality control. 2) A consistent process leads to predictable and measurable outcomes. 3) A consistent process provides organizational data and insight that is helpful for the ongoing talent management agenda.”
This finding also matches one of our trends questions, asking about the likelihood of organizations centralizing under fewer coaching vendors into the future. Over 69% of organizations felt that it was either likely or highly likely that organizations will centralize or streamline executive coaching under fewer vendors. Centralized coach management under fewer vendors can (conceivably) increase the amount of consistency an organization experiences, as compared with individual contracts with large numbers of individual coaches.
Use of Instruments/Assessments

Organizations often want to know which instruments to use in coaching assignments, especially given the plethora of instrument choices that are available. Instruments are mostly used in the early stages of a coaching process or as needed as coaching progresses based on a leader's area(s) for development. Some organizations allow coaches to recommend instruments to each unique engagement; others prefer only a pre-approved list to be honored.

In the 2005, 2013, and present study we asked participants, "Which assessment inputs are used in your executive coaching process?" This year, we provided 11 assessment options, and also allowed participants to write in answers. We instructed participants to select all options that apply. See Figures 17 & 18 for 2017 results.
Similar to 2013, the quantitative 360 survey feedback tool was the most common assessment input, with raters selecting this 78-92% of the time in the current survey. The 360 has gained even more popularity since 2013, particularly among leaders who selected this 49% of the time in 2013 and 78% of the time in 2017. Coach conducted interviews with key stakeholders came in as second most popular, with 78% of organizations selecting this, along with 85% of both internal and external coaches. Although only 52% of leaders selected this option.
The Hogan has gained popularity among organizations since 2005. In 2005, 22% of organizations selected this method; in 2013 43% of organizations selected Hogan, and now 71% of organizations selected this instrument. Hogan has easily experienced the fastest jump of any assessment we have studied over the years. No other instruments had significant gains or decreases over time.
Remaining choices in averaged order (by the 4 rater groups) were: Emotional Intelligence (25-51%), Myers-Briggs (24-48%), StrengthsFinder (24-52%), and DiSC (16-35%). Remaining instruments included Conflict (i.e. TKI) (9-17%), FIRO-B/Element-B (10-15%), Enneagram (4-13%) and the Birkman (0-6%).
In 2005 and 2013, we did not offer StrengthsFinder as a potential option, but we added this option in 2017. This assessment method showed moderate popularity (24-52%) in 2017. Those who wrote in our Other option most commonly commented on other versions of strengths based assessments, such as Strength Deployment Inventory and VIA Character Strengths.
Notice among the four rater groups there are wide discrepancies in how raters responded. For example, just 13% of leaders chose Hogan as compared to 71% of organizations. One likely explanation is that leaders did not necessarily remember the names of the assessments they completed, leading them to not select them as often.
Other popular responses in our Other option include:
  • Workplace Big 5
  • Change Style Indicator
  • Leadership Circle Profile
  • California Psychological Inventory (CPI)
  • Emergenetics
  • Harrison Assessment
  • Insights Discovery
  • Kolbe Index
  • Leadership Effectiveness Analysis (LEA)


Coaching Activities

What do coaches and leaders actually do during coaching assignments? We asked participants,“What activities are generally part of the coaching process?” and allowed raters to select all options that applied. Eight potential activities were given, with the option to write in activities as well. See Figure 19.

Similar to in 2013, Action plan generation came in as the top choice for three of the four rater groups (leader, internal coaches, and external coaches), with Assessment tools being a close second (66-92%). Interestingly, internal and external coaches chose Action plan generation very frequently (97% and 96%, respectively), but only 79% of leaders chose this option. One explanation to consider is whether leaders easily forget about this activity, or if they do not realize what it is called while it is occurring.

There is a wide discrepancy between leaders and the three other rater groups regarding Reviewing an action plan with manager. Internal coaches, external coaches, and organizations chose this option 61%, 73%, and 73% of the time, respectively. Contrarily, leaders only chose this option 28% of the time. Could it be possible that coaches assign this task to the leader, but the leader does not follow through with it, leading to this data divergence?
Locating resources for the leader gained popularity since the 2013 survey, particularly for leaders. In 2013, 26% of leaders chose this option compared to 67% this time around. It’s possible that as technology has advanced, so has the usefulness of locating resources such as YouTube videos or Ted Talks.
Overall, there appear to be large differences in how external coaches and leaders responded to this question. External coaches more frequently chose all activities than did leaders, except for Locating resources for the leader. As noted above, a leader may be unaware some of these activities are taking place, thus they responded differently.
There are a few differences in how internal and external coaches responded to this question as well. Particularly, external coaches chose Reviewing action plan with manager 12% more often than internal coaches (73% vs 61%). Additionally, external coaches follow up with key stakeholders more often than internal coaches (73% vs 52%). It may be a more important practice for external coaches to follow-up with stakeholders than those on the inside, perhaps since those on the inside may naturally see these stakeholders more frequently. Finally, external coaches chose Shadowing - coach observing leader in action 12% more often than did internal coaches (41% vs 29%) – a surprising finding considering internals may be more readily available to shadow.
Many participants left feedback in our Other option for this question. A common response included stakeholder feedback or stakeholder interviews. For example, one external coach wrote "360 interviews with stakeholders, customers, and direct reports" as a common activity to partake in during the coaching process. Other examples include:
  • “Self-observation exercises” – External coach
  • “Team and relationship coaching” – External coach
  • “Reflective journaling” – External coach
  • “Manager triad sessions” – External coach
  • “Personal and professional development planning” – External coach
  • “Addressing assumptions and uncovering biases” – External coach
  • “Live 360 interviews of stakeholders” – Internal coach
  • “Observing videos of executive presentations” – Internal coach
  • “Creating awareness on subjects the client is looking for mentoring/guidance on” – Internal coach
  • “Personal development plan” – Organizational representative
  • “Prioritization and focus activities” – Leader
  • “Challenges to achieve goals by specific dates” – Leader

Coaches Challenging Leaders

In both the 2013 survey and current survey, we asked participants, “How do you feel about how much coaches challenge leaders?” In 2013, all four rater groups most frequently chose the response Coaches challenge leaders appropriately (57-80%). In 2017, leaders, internal coaches, and external coaches once again chose this option most frequently (81%, 64%, and 77%, respectively). See Figure 20.

In contrast to previous results, in 2017 organization respondents now chose the option At times, coaches could challenge leaders more as the most frequent response (58%), whereas in 2013 only 42% chose this response. While only 42% of organizations believe coaches Challenge leaders appropriately, 81% of leaders believe they do. It appears that the leader feels adequately challenged but that the organization may think the coaches should challenge more.
Leaders and internal coaches seem to be more aligned on this question than do leaders and organizations, but there are still a few differences between the beliefs of internal coaches and leaders. Only 18% of leaders believe that they should be challenged more, but 34% of internal coaches believe they could challenge more. Contrarily, external coaches responded to this
question almost identically to leaders, thus the differences seem to be mostly between internal coaches and leaders.
Few believe that At times, coaches are too hard on leaders with only 0%-4% of raters choosing this option. In summary, it appears that coaches oftentimes challenge leaders appropriately, but sometimes not enough, and rarely are coaches too hard on leaders.

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

Our next blog post will be Chapter 3: Measuring Impact, which includes:

  • Evaluating Satisfaction with a Coach
  • Rating Results of a Typical Engagement
  • Means of Measuring Coaching Impact
  • Linking Coaching to Business Results
  • Emotional Perceptions of Coaches

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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