5 things the best executive coaches will always do

Executive coaching is very effective, but only if it's done well. MindGym's chief behavioural science officer & US president explains how leaders can tell the difference.

by Janet Ahn
Last Updated: 13 Jul 2022

The coaching industry has grown explosively over the past few years. Accounting for £11.5bn of business spend each year, and with an annual growth rate of 6.7%, it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. 

And with very good reason: coaching has the unmatched potential to improve employee retention and job satisfaction; reduce stress, build coping abilities, and boost productivity and revenue growth.

But only if done well - and it’s remarkable how often coaching goes wrong. 

Recent research from MindGym shows more than half of coachees experience negative effects as a result of poorly-planned coaching, and nearly 1 in 5 businesses report disastrous outcomes including increased employee attrition after investing in coaching that doesn’t deliver against objectives.

So how can leaders get the biggest benefit from executive coaching, and avoid the most common pitfalls of a growing-but-sometimes-poorly-qualified industry? 

Here are five things the best executive coaches will always do:  

1. Develop clear goals from the outset, and align them with business strategy

A key factor that holds coaching back is poor practice: one third of coaches fail to develop clear goals from the outset, and nearly one in five programme leaders fail to align coaching with business strategy.

The best coaches will always start by identifying what they are aiming to achieve, and ensuring it’s completely aligned with organisational objectives and strategy.

2. Base their approach on a solid, evidence-based methodology (preferably involving CBT and SFT)

A solid, evidence-based methodology proven to work for the many, not just the few, is the single most important differentiator in successful coaching. 

Investing in a proven methodology is critical, because a lack of methodology can inadvertently undermine intended outcomes, and can lead to inconsistent results or an over-reliance on coach-coachee dynamics to deliver results.

Methodologies built on cognitive behavioural change (CBT), solution-focused therapy (SFT) and mastery orientation have been shown to be the most effective. 

3. Focus on changing behaviour, not just mindset

Critically, coaching methodologies should be proven to change behaviour, not just mindset. There are a lot of “feel-good” solutions out there: they look good, feel great, and they might change our mindset - but studies show a change in mindset only delivers behavioural change one third of the time. 

The best coaching methodologies acknowledge this common intention-behaviour gap, and equip coachees with the tools to change their behaviour. The COM-B method, for example, diagnoses blockers to behavioural change from the outset, and identifies how to overcome these drawing on factors including capability, opportunity and motivation.

4. Fewer, shorter, sharper sessions for maximum impact

Many coaching providers sign coachees up for lengthy courses of sessions spanning 6-9 months. This might work well for the bottom line of the provider - but evidence shows fewer, shorter, sharper sessions deliver the greatest impact on areas relating to work performance and organisational commitment.

The best coaches will meticulously plan their sessions, with a laser focus on unlocking behavioural change quickly. Research shows just four, 45-minute-long sessions of precision coaching will have the greatest impact, fastest - helping individuals identify clear goals in the face of complex challenges, building creative ways to achieve those goals, and equipping participants with science-backed behavioural enablement techniques to overcome hurdles.

5. Robust measurement that goes beyond reaction

If coaches don’t have set ways to measure impact, how do you know if coaching has worked?

Many approaches stop at the first level of measurement: reaction. Reaction is a great indicator of whether coachees enjoyed the experience, but it does little to demonstrate genuine impact.

Coaches can track impact through three additional factors: 

  1. Internal change

This involves measuring the psychological constructs that predict behaviour change, such as self-efficacy, mastery orientation and behavioural enablement. 

  1. Behaviour change

Measure whether the individual’s behaviour has changed in the real world. Use 180-360-degree feedback from colleagues to measure whether behaviour change is discernible.

  1. Organisational outcomes

Analyse data to demonstrate a chain of impact to top-level organisational metrics like engagement surveys, financial results or productivity metrics.

Janet Ahn is the chief behavioural science officer & US president at MindGym

Picture by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay