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Coaching outcomes are nuanced and difficult to measure

At times, coaching outcomes can be difficult to measure and may not appear to align with desired workplace objectives. Coaches can help businesses learn to factor in the long-term value of coaching outcomes when they consider coaching’s role in improving business objectives.


Coaching outcomes in business are difficult to measure


Measuring coaching outcomes over time shows efficacy


Long-term coaching improves business outcomes

Wisdom Weavers

Coaching outcomes can be difficult to assess

In the workplace setting, organizations are concerned with the bottom line: improving a return on investment (ROI). Wisdom Weaver Dr. Ellen Van Oosten observes that when it comes to coaching, “organizations want to know about the ROI,” and managers “want to see the behavior change” in their employees, leading to improved workplace outcomes. 

The rate of investment of coaching outcome impact is difficult to calculate because “it’s a challenge to be able to find populations that meet all of our criteria and provide us with a large enough sample size for statistical analysis,” Ellen explains.  

To calculate an organization’s profitability, “we need to be able to access outcomes that have a value with an objective measure such as a person’s time or money that’s invested or saved or spent, or some objective measure around people, including clients, employees and so on, who are hired or retained or lost.” 

Ellen goes on to explain, “the search for objective measures is fraught with challenge. To be able to do compelling coaching outcome research in the workplace [requires] access to big enough samples that enable us to draw some generalizations and have those apply across a much broader context.” 

Coaching’s workplace impact can be seen beyond standard outcomes:

  • Previous measures do not capture the full picture of coaching’s lasting benefits
  • Effective coaching measures move beyond standard ROI expectations to engage a longer-term benefit

Coaching’s effect may reach beyond standard outcomes

Wisdom Weaver Dr. Erik de Haan further emphasizes the issue of acquiring proper sample sizes (a group representative of the general population) and control groups (the standard used to make comparisons) in data collection to gauge coaching’s effectiveness. He finds that it is important to measure “beyond outcomes, namely into the effect that coaching might have more widely.” Erik believes the most relevant measure is the broader impact of coaching on the organization’s overall success and asks: “What is the contribution of the coaching or coaching client to the rest of the organization or to their own network?”

For the future of coaching, Ellen aims to expand people’s frame of reference for measuring an organization’s success because previous lenses do not always capture the full picture of how coaching improves workplace performance.

By altering the frame of investigation and focus, more accurate data around lasting outcomes and ROI may be determined to understand the many benefits coaching generates. 

Professional coaching outcomes can positively impact personal well-being

Dr. Melvin L. Smith

Ellen highlights several benefits of coaching that clients may discover within and beyond the professional setting. For example, the “cognitive outcome, that’s where we might find changes in knowledge.” These cognitive changes, which have applications in daily life, may include “strategies, problem-solving competencies, and skills [that] are job-related competence, leadership skills, and so on,” Ellen explains. Effective outcomes from coaching “could include self-efficacy, well-being, engagement, satisfaction, performance, [for an] individual, team, and organization.” 

Discussing traditional points of focus for the field of coaching, Ellen imagines new areas of exploration for the coaching profession. Currently, the most prominent area of study involves how coaching influences learning and performance. A second area of focus is on manager and leader effectiveness, looking at “multi-source feedback as one of the mechanisms leading to goal setting and attainment.” 

Ellen explains, “coaching related to workplace stress is one that has been studied and is emerging” as a place for continued exploration, especially given the current global climate. A few final areas for coaching research include “the coaching relationship’s impact on outcomes, such as self-advocacy, work engagement, and career satisfaction.” 

Coaching improves goal setting and motivation

With the passage of time, personal coaching outcomes become more apparent. This trend was emphasized in a study Ellen conducted “with random assignment to different modalities— [different ways coaching is expressed or experienced], different communication modalities, where individuals experience three different [coaching] sessions. There’s consistency in the coaching, but the modalities are varied. Some of the findings from that inquiry are the most commonly described outcomes of coaching. For the coachees, [the findings] were heightened self-awareness, being able to formulate a vision for themselves, setting goals, and self-directed change.” 

“The coaches’ views on outcomes tended to shift after the conclusion of the coaching,” Ellen explains. “So, we collected some input at the very beginning and then again at the conclusion of three coaching sessions and then again [at] what would be a year after the very beginning, so seven and a half months later. What you see in that time span is, at the end of that [time], more emphasis on vision and motivation and self-awareness and goal setting as outcomes immediately following coaching.” 

Ellen continues, “And then later, more emphasis on reflection, social awareness, and acting change, so that’s where some of those actions and behaviors come into play and acquiring new tools. There seems to be a shift that we’re curious about and that can inform the studies for us coaches. Coaches do report fairly similar outcomes, and neither gender nor race influenced those reported outcomes.”

Coaching serves a function within and outside the workforce, but measuring results presents difficulties that researchers must grapple with to uncover realistic data. 

Coaching and the United Nations Global Goals

The numerous positive outcomes of coaching allow for the overall betterment of the well-being of clients who experience the coaching process. This conversation strongly relates to United Nations Global Goal 3, which aims to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at every age. As researchers continue to collect data on the experiences of the coach and client, the field of coaching will continue to improve with the goal of best serving the client.

About this Convening

Forty-one Wisdom Weavers from across the globe gathered to share their thoughts and observations on Shaping the Future of Coaching across three separate Future of Coaching Convenings in September 2021. Learn more about the participants and topics covered in this Convening.

For the complete report and research recommendations, see Boyatzis, R.E., Hullinger, A., Ehasz, S.F., Harvey, J., Tassarotti, S., Gallotti, A., & Penafort, F. (2022). The grand challenge for research on the future of coaching. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1177/00218863221079937

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