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29 NOVEMBER 2012
Coaching in organisations

by John Paisley: Managing Director at Procoaching. Has been involved in education, training and development for more than 30 years, as a teacher, lecturer, and learning and leadership specialist.

While it is not a silver bullet, coaching can be a powerful tool for change in organisations. As with all tools, it needs to be used correctly. Having been involved in a number of coaching interventions, I have learned some lessons about what helps and what hinders. I have no doubt there is still much to learn!

Broadly, coaching in organisations can be grouped into 3 categories:

  1. Random: individuals in an organisation find their own coaches and set off on their own journeys.
  2. Pool: the organisation has a process to create a pool of coaches from which individuals can select their coach. There is seldom much coordination.
  3. Formal intervention: a team of coaches is matched with clients and they set off on a shared journey, with common outcomes in a co-ordinated process.

Informal feedback has been that a formal intervention is by far the most effective in achieving organisational outcomes and a positive ROI. Some reasons for the success of the formal intervention:

1. The organisation has a coaching strategy, policy and framework

The process of developing these ensures that the coaching process is understood. Often people in organisations lack an understanding of the coaching process, and indeed may have their own agendas. The link between coaching outcomes and business and HR strategy should be clear and aligned.

2. I have found that David Lane's model for designing a coaching process very useful

It lists 5 critical issues to be considered in the design of a coaching intervention:

  1. Outcomes: what does the organisation want to achieve as a consequence of the coaching process? Do they want to grow bottom line, grow talent, improve leadership, team work, retain talent or change the culture? Once the outcomes have been clarified, an evaluation process can be designed to determine if the outcomes have been achieved – and if necessary, a ROI calculated.
  2. Context: what is the context/environment in which the coaching will occur? What is the culture of the organisation? What commitment is there to within the organisation to growth and change? Practical consideration such as locations, numbers of clients, languages etc. will play a role.
  3. Clients/coachees: who are they and how ready are they for coaching? Are they senior execs, in specialist fields, with specialist needs? The more information about the coachees, the better one could match them with an appropriate coach. Often one can help the organisation select the coachee for both organisation and individual effectiveness.
  4. Coaches: which coaches will be suitable for the intervention? What approach will be used, how reliable are they, what work have they done, qualifications, are they in supervision etc. Selecting the right coach is important!
  5. Coaching process: where the rubber hits the road. My experience is that coachees must volunteer and be ready for coaching and that the more they are prepared, the sooner coaching becomes effective and change is evident. We have used a formal process which consists of a launch function, a workshop to prepare for coaching, and a number of workshops during the course of the programme. Included are (obviously!) coaching sessions, starting with 2 per month over the first 6 months and one per month for the last 6 months. Experience has shown that a 12 month, 18 session programme brings the best results. Coaches are expected to have individual supervision, but group supervisions are held to share themes which run through the coaching. These themes are fed back to the organisation for action.

3. Commitment

it is worthwhile spending time building commitment to the coaching process. As Margaret Wheatly said: "People support what they create and resist what they are excluded from." In particular, it is important that the coachee's manager is informed and committed. Failure is close to certain if the manager does not support the coachee by making time available, expecting and supporting change, showing an interest.


There are other important decisions to be made before coaching starts:

Free agenda or fixed agenda: is the agenda to be fixed by the organisation or is it free for the coachee to set? It is possible to have a "mixed agenda" – the organisation wants 3 business goals to be set and reported on. The business goals need to be aligned with business strategy and will often be shared with the coachee's manager. Progress on these can be reported on. The coachee is also free to set 3 personal goals, which remain confidential.

Evaluation and measurement. While many organisations want an intervention measured, they often seem reluctant to undertake any work themselves. If there is to be an evaluation, the "start" point needs to be set so that it can be measured at the end to determine the change. Some data is relatively easy to collect – i.e. churn rate. Some are more challenging – measuring leadership development usually depends on subjective 360's. I have developed a modified version of Kirkpatrick's 4 levels of measurement which seems to work well for an overall evaluation – and it takes a lot of work!

Feedback and reporting. Given the confidential nature of coaching, the feedback provided to the organisation needs to be agreed: what feedback will be provided and how/when it will be provided. Monthly reports are the norm.

Co-ordination. Some coaching interventions are complex, given the number of coachees, coaches and others. The organisation needs to have a dedicated co-ordinater and the provider needs to have an efficient project manager. Example: receiving invoices from coaches, matching these and invoicing the client, ensuring coaches are paid. And often travel, venues and materials have to be coordinated to ensure smooth running.

Coaching team. Working with coaches is like herding wild cats. Given that, are "good' coaches employed in the programme? Not only as "good' coaches but as team members. Are they reliable and inventive, can they provide good feedback as well as hold confidentiality……? I have found that the coaching model used by coaches is not as important as many other 'smaller" factors. It helps if a common language/model/framework is used, but it is not vital!

Supervision drives up the quality of coaching. End of story!


There are a number factors which can hinder the success of any coaching programme.

The first obstacle is probably lack of commitment from within the organisation. Ideally the programme is supported by the top team – they talk coaching, they encourage change, they make resources available. No commitment results in a counter current – like constantly swimming upstream – or swimming though golden syrup!

We had one example in which the CEO sabotaged the coaching – he had expected the coaching to produce a group of "yes" men/women. When coachees started thinking for themselves, his commitment nosedived and some strange behaviours emerged.

A second obstacle is a lack of understanding of coaching and the coaching process. Some have the expectation of immediate results. Delaying gratification is difficult! Some do not understand the nature of confidentiality and demand confidential information. You can imagine the consequences when this is not supplied! For many, it is difficult to accept that people may leave the organisation as a consequence of the coaching.

Resistance to investing in people. Coaching is expensive – cutting corners is counter productive. The old saw about monkeys and peanuts comes to mind. I have never understood the logic that invests millions in buildings, machinery or IT systems but skimps on investing in the people who run them. The knee jerk response to any people development initiative is so often "Cut the budget!" Goedkoop is duurkoop.

Coaching programmes can crash, burn and die if the co-ordination and management of the process is lacking or insensitive. Knowing when structure is important, and when to let go to see what emerges.

Coaching programmes can fail if there is no clear agreement and contract between client and supplier. A quality, legal SLA is important. And so is trust! Much time should be spent on collaboration and "being on the same page", thus avoiding becoming accidental adversaries. It's a challenge maintaining a state of grace! As in coaching itself, relationship is the name of the game.

I have listed some major "helpers" and "hinders". There are many more, given that this is complex work in complex organisations!


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