This article is adapted from Sunny Stout Rostron’s book, “Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching” (2009) available from Knowledge Resources in Johannesburg or from www.knowres.co.za
What do we really know about how coaching works, exactly how well it works, and when it works best? In essence, not much. Our “knowledge” is based mainly on what coaches say they do, or on what they think makes sense – rather than on observation of what they really do, or on research into coaching outcomes experienced by individuals, teams and organisations.
I have recently experienced some of the gifts offered to coaches to enable them to develop their discipline, including practitioner research, international conferences, and research grants. This article discusses the importance of these gifts, and how we can make good use of them.
Practitioner research and reflective practice
The general characteristics of practitioner research are that (Fillery-Travis, 2009):
- The research questions, aims and outcomes are determined by the practitioners themselves;
- The research is usually designed to have an immediate and direct benefit or impact;
- The focus is on the practitioner’s own practice and/or that of their immediate peers;
- The research or enquiry is small scale and short term;
- The process may be evaluative, descriptive, developmental or analytical.
You can continually research your own practice, ultimately developing your own professional competence. David Peterson (2009) suggests simple ways to conduct your own practitioner research. For example, try different techniques in your coaching: e.g. with alternate clients do a background interview that is only one third of your normal interview; see what happens and take notes on what you observe. Secondly, you can generate a list of experimental ideas for your coaching from reading about new techniques, new types of questions or new processes. Try one new thing every coaching session and record your findings. Thirdly, you can ask your coaching participants: what was the most effective thing you (as coach) did in the session, and why was it helpful. Also ask: what was the least effective thing, and why was it not helpful. Record your feedback, looking for patterns and substitute new processes for the least effective things. You can also participate in coaching research studies, or help to find participants from your own coaching practice to participate in studies. Most importantly, think critically about and read current coaching research, and try to incorporate findings into your own practice.
Conferences on coaching
At the end of September 2009, I attended and spoke at the second International Harvard Coaching Conference on Coaching in Medicine and Leadership, as well as the second Institute of Coaching Research Forum (ICRF2) held in London in November 2009. All South African coach practitioners are impacted by these developments, which also have implications for the work being carried out in preparation for the GCC Rainbow Convention to be held in South Africa in October 2010.
Coaching in Medicine and Leadership
Coaching has emerged as a competency dedicated to helping individuals to grow, develop and meet personal and professional goals while at the same time building personal and professional capacity and resilience. Although every year coaches are servicing a US$1.5 billion market, the most developed market segment is leadership coaching in organisations – less than 20 per cent of professional coaches are from the mental health or medical fields. This conference was therefore a groundbreaking event, with lectures and workshops by world leaders in coaching and coaching research. There were three tracks: Overcoming Immunity to Change; Coaching in Leadership: Theory and Practice; and Coaching in Health Care: Research and Application.
ICRF2 London: Measuring Results
Another gift was the ICRF2 conference sponsored by the IES (UK Institute for Employment Studies) and the Institute of Coaching Research Forum (ICRF). ICRF2: Measure by Measure looked specifically at how to design coaching measures and instruments, with the ultimate aim of discovering what makes coaching effective. Researchers from round the world met to discuss three major topic groups: process measures, outcome measures for executive/leadership coaching, and outcome measures for health, wellness and life coaching. The format for each discussion was:ent Studies) and the Institute of Coaching Research Forum (ICRF). ICRF2: Measure by Measure looked specifically at how to design coaching measures and instruments, with the ultimate aim of discovering what makes coaching effective. Researchers from
1. Discussion of what inputs should be measured.
2. Identification of aspects of the coaching process to be measured.
3. Identification of outcomes to measure, based on coaching purpose.
4. Specific suggestions on how best to measure areas of greatest interest.
Critical issues in measurement and methodology were discussed, the biggest concerns relating to:
1. How do we evaluate instruments and measures? What are the important considerations, such as reliability, validity (quantitative research), and trustworthiness (qualitative research).
2. How can we incorporate measures into our research? What are the issues and considerations in research design and methodology for incorporating measures and interpreting results?
3. What qualitative research issues have arisen in current coaching research?
4. The most compelling topics and challenges were selected (including leadership effectiveness, team effectiveness, manager as coach, coaching supervision, ethics, diversity, practitioner research and wellness), and measures written for these.
Finally, a report was drafted on the group work. This will be made available on the websites of both the Institute of Coaching and COMENSA early next year. All of the group forums were recorded, and key points from each discussion will be included in the final report.
Grants from the Institute of Coaching
One of the gifts offered to practitioners in our field is an endowment US$2 million dollars, from the Harnisch Family Foundation which is firmly committed to the professional development of coaching, to the Institute of Coaching based at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital. The Institute is able to translate this generous endowment into grants totalling US$100 000 per year to fund rigorous research into coaching, thereby helping develop the scientific foundation and professional knowledge base of the field.
The Institute of Coaching offers four types of grant, with deadlines for applications on the first day of February, May, August and November each year:
1. Graduate student fellowships of up to US$10 000 for high-quality research projects. To qualify, applicants must be Masters or Doctoral candidates looking for financial support for dissertation research on coaching.
2. Research project grants of up to US$40 000 annually for individuals who would like to conduct empirical research in coaching.
3. Research publications grants of up to US$5 000 to assist with the writing, editing and publication of coaching research in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
4. Travel awards to cover travel expenses related to presenting coaching research at the annual Harvard Coaching Conference.
Please visit www.InsituteofCoaching.org to learn more about the Institute’s various grants, membership programmes, current research and publications dedicated to the development of coaching, and for information on the recent Harvard Conference. As a Founding Fellow of the Institute of Coaching and a member of its Research Advisory Board, I am keen that South African Masters and Doctoral students in coaching should apply for these research grants. It is crucial that we begin to build the body of knowledge on what is working and what needs work within the fields of coaching and mentoring in South Africa.
How can you play a part in the development of the field?
Our goal in developing reflective research and enquiry is to make a substantial contribution to the emerging practice of coaching worldwide (Stout Rostron, 2009). Your gift to our emerging discipline is to practically play a part. For example, you can:
- participate in COMENSA activities;
- offer to be a participant in coaching research studies;
- continue to develop your own reflective practice;
- write up your own cases studies for coaching journals;
- apply for a research grant for one of your studies through the Institute of Coaching; and
- attend conferences and simply stay abreast of current research practice; and
- mentor other coaches in the field.
Fillery-Travis, A. (2009). Practitioner Research Workshop, GCC Rainbow Convention, notes.
Peterson, D. (2009). Executive coaching: a critical review and recommendation for advancing the practice. In S. Zedeck (ed.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources. Available from http://www.knowledgeresources.co.za.