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Ellen Van Oosten reframes ways to measure coaching effectiveness through workplace outcomes

Wisdom Weaver Ellen Van Oosten identifies a balance between performance and well-being in workplace coaching outcomes. She illustrates how to measure coaching effectiveness for individual clients as well as companies investing in professional development.


Measuring coaching’s effectiveness in the workplace can be a challenge for researchers


Coaching can improve employee output in non-traditional ways by prioritizing well-being


By reframing the outcomes of coaching effectiveness, workplaces can see better results

Wisdom Weaver

Measuring outcomes starts with defining desired coaching results

Coaching serves many purposes. In her talk at the 2021 Future of Coaching Convening, Ellen Van Oosten describes how outcomes research in the field is driven by diverse client needs and competing definitions of coaching effectiveness. She summarizes these outcomes by explaining that “coaching sometimes is viewed as concerned with performance, other times it’s concerned with learning and development, sometimes it’s one-on-one and relational.” By reviewing the major findings in coaching outcomes, Ellen is then able to explore unanswered questions in coaching research.

Among the various challenges of large-scale research, Ellen’s talk reveals a conflict in the coaching definition in professional settings. Specifically, who defines the outcomes of coaching? Outcomes are contextualized to the individual client and their specific needs, but when coaching is sponsored by an employer, coaches are often called to prove a return on investment (ROI) or objective financial measures related to employee performance. For coaching researchers, Ellen reflects that

 “Organizations want to know about the ROI. Often their managers, as the representatives of the organizations, want to see the behavior change, and expanding and building upon that at an organization level; they want to know what the return on investment is for coaching. So, in order for us to be able to be in that conversation, we need to be able to access outcomes that have a value with an objective measure.”

Dr. Ellen B. Van Oosten

The benefits of workplace coaching require more expansive research

Ellen explains that ROI —measuring a worker’s performance as it benefits the company — is a priority in coaching research because “[organizations] are the primary users and sponsors of leadership development.” Companies want to connect the coaching experience to employee retention, career advancement, or increased job performance to justify the initial investment. Ellen provides a cursory answer to how ROI should be measured by citing major findings in executive coaching research. She then challenges future researchers to dig deeper.

Given that coaching has been linked to increased job satisfaction and decreased stress, Ellen challenges researchers to apply these same tools to the current situation. In 2021, workers struggling with burnout and poor labor conditions left their jobs at record rates. In Wisdom Weaver Margaret Moore’s talk on women’s workplace barriers, she outlined how women bear an extra burden of risk and stress in their jobs. Coaching may then be a valuable tool to combat burnout and improve employee well-being. On an organizational level, addressing employee wellness impacts retention and performance.

As coaching research analyzes the client and sponsor benefits, Ellen suggests that “the lens that we’ve been using to [understand] outcomes is too narrow, or perhaps incomplete.” She proposes taking the body of outcomes findings to explore the interactions between factors at the coach, client, and sponsor levels.

Coaching can benefit an organization’s Return on Investment (ROI) by:

  • Improving employee output through a balanced focus on performance and well-being.
  • Combatting burnout through leadership development as a method to promote retention 

Coaching and the United Nations Global Goals

Whether individually or in a team setting, coaches support United Nations Global Goal 8 to promote decent work and economic growth. As a targeted form of professional development, coaches empower clients to identify resources, find meaning and purpose in work, and align their skills to enhance job performance. In a context where workers are rethinking their professional goals, coaches can also help clients align motivation with action. Together, coaching has wide-reaching benefits for individuals and organizations.

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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