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Learn From Organizational Coaching Studies

Jan 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Coaching Research

What do businesses like Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson, Nike, and Coca-Cola have in common? They all have used coaching in learning initiatives.[i] Organizational coaching is an internal coaching program that provides a platform where employees achieve balance between their own needs and those of the business. Coaches are usually managers or hired externally through the HR department. Four studies on organizational coaching initiatives reveal how it is progressing and where work needs to be done. 


 At Home

 In the fall of 2005, BlessingWhite, a global consulting firm, conducted a 16 question, multiple-choice, online survey on how managers and employees view coaching. The questionnaire was answered by 677 respondents from a wide variety of industries. They found that coaching is a priority in 78% of the organizations and 91% of the respondents enjoy coaching. Most managers attended some sort of coaching training but still feel they need additional instruction. Many face competing time challenges and are aware they should coach more but are having difficulty following through. They are missing coaching opportunities on a regular basis. Over half of the coaching managers coach according to need. Of the employees being coached, many say they have to request it and it is not enough. Because of this, coaching does not contribute much to employee performance or job satisfaction. Several organizations still do not have incentives or accountability for coaching and there is a lack of support from top management.

 BlessingWhite concluded that coaching fails because of flawed organizational systems. They recommend support from the top and an effort to imbed coaching into the culture. Managers cannot effectively coach on a battlefield. They need the right tools and structures. Leaders have an obligation to communicate the organization’s priorities so individual coaching can be linked to the big picture. They must tell their managers how they define business success. Managers in turn need to focus their efforts on building relationships with employees.[ii]

 Across the Ocean

 The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) presented a picture of how coaching is being applied in the United Kingdom. They conducted a training and development survey in 2004 showing that 4/5ths of the respondents use coaching within their organizations, mostly through HR. Coaching has risen in popularity because:

  • Business environments are rapidly changing
  • Employees demand different medias of training
  • There is a need for lifelong learning
  • Senior executives want improved decision making abilities
  • Coaching is targeted and supports other learning activities
  • Individuals are responsible for development and progress
  • Poor performance hurts the bottom line

 Most respondents agreed that coaching benefits both individuals and organizations. It is an effective way to promote learning and the transfer of knowledge, while positively impacting profits. Coaching is mostly used to improve individual performance and productivity, as well as to grow future leaders. Junior and middle managers received the most coaching, with senior managers closely following. Coaching is delivered by internal and external practitioners. Internally, line managers perform the majority of coaching efforts. External coaches are used minimally to keep costs down. In addition, coaching measures are usually assessed through feedback from participants and coaches, appraisal systems, and attitude surveys.

 The study concluded that while coaching is embraced by many organizations, few HR professionals have enough expertise to handle coaching initiatives. Among the challenges are confusion about what coaching actually means and how to engage different stakeholders in coaching relationships. Many leaders have not been able to construct a framework linking coaching value to the organizations goals. Coaching has to be adapted to fit the culture and the strategies of the business.[iii]

 Personal Change

 Jean Hurd investigated the relationship between adult development and organizational development by exploring the effect of organizational coaching on individual lives. For participation in the study:

  • Coaching had to be supported, sponsored, and funded by the coachees organization of employment
  • The coaching process had to last at least 6 months with a minimum of 6, 1-hour sessions
  • No more than 2 years should have lapsed since conclusion
  • The coaches had to have a reputation in the organizational development community or within highly respected organizations

 The question, “How has the coaching process affected your life?” was presented to 9 individuals: 7 women and 2 men between the ages of 39 and 56, who had been coached in their organization. The participants came from Fortune 50 corporations to small, not-for-profit service businesses. Additional areas were probed using open-ended questions and included work life, personal life, sense of self, view of the future, and coaching processes. Several themes emerged from the data:

  • Coachees received concrete feedback to make specific changes
  • Coachees are more comfortable processing feedback from others
  • Coachees are more self-aware and self-accepting
  • Coachees understand how their actions impact others
  • Coachees have new ways to think about and approach situations
  • Coachees are able to make positive differences in how their organization works
  • Coachees experienced changes in their personal lives
  • The coaching process was therapeutic

 Coaching builds relationships that are key enablers for change. The value of having someone who listens deeply was evident. Good coaching cascades in all directions to create learning individuals. Hurd recommends that organizations instill coaching, performance management, and feedback skills at all levels.[iv]  

 Waste Reduction

 In this study, Joseph Sergio looked at the effectiveness of behavioral coaching by managers of 24 machine operators from one of the largest manufacturers of mechanical fasteners in the United States. The organization was facing many challenges, including poor employee attitudes, an unpleasant physical environment, complex equipment and processes, and business decline. The purpose of coaching was to reduce waste by changing operator behavior in 6 areas. Coaching resulted in a projected savings of $155,844 per year in reduced scrap and supported the assertion that it could have a significant effect, beyond those attained by more conventional methods tried earlier. This is one of few studies that proves coaching has value at lower operational levels.[v] 

 The Bottom Line

 Many companies are planting the seeds for coaching to be an integral part of strategy execution but more research is needed to develop best practices. From these four studies, it is evident that organizational coaching is most successful when it is part of the culture, HR has the expertise to handle coaching initiatives, and coaching is practiced at all levels in the hierarchy.

[i]Nancy M. Davis, “Global Business Leaders Call For ‘Speed to Competence’,” 2008 HR Trend Book, December 2007, 53.

[ii]BlessingWhite, Coaching Conundrum 2: The Heart of Coaching (Princeton, New Jersey, 2006), 1-26.

[iii]Jessica Jarvis, Coaching and Buying Coaching Services [book on-line] (London: CIPD, 2004, accessed 15 September 2007), 1-80; available from; Internet.

[iv]Jean L. Hurd, “Learning For Life: A Phenomenological Investigation into the Effect of Organizational Coaching on Individual Lives,” (Doctor of Philosophy diss., Union Institute & University Graduate College, October 2002).

[v]Joseph P. Sergio, “Behavioral Coaching as an Intervention to Reduce Production Costs through a Decrease in Output Defects,” (Doctoral diss., University of Notre Dame, 1986).

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