Isolating the Effects of Coaching

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A coaching initiative can certainly have a major impact on the business,

and yet it is just one of many potential influencing factors on

business performance. Isolating the effects of coaching on business

performance from all other factors is critical for the evaluation. This

can also be one of the most contentious issues in the evaluation

process.

In the case of OptiCom, coaching was expected to increase collaboration

and increase productivity. However, a major reorganizing

project was also underway and salespeople were getting refresher

training in relationship selling techniques. If collaboration and productivity

go up, who should get the credit—coaches, reengineers, or

the sales trainers? This is the essence of the isolation issue.

The effects of coaching can be isolated in the following three main

ways:

1. Pre/postanalysis

2. Control group analysis

3. Expert estimation4

Each of these isolation techniques is now discussed, although we

will see that estimation is usually the only viable alternative.

1. Pre/postanalysis. This technique involves assessing performance

before and after the coaching and then comparing the

change in performance (if any). In the case of OptiCom, levels

of collaboration before the coaching would be compared with

levels of collaboration after the coaching initiative. Ditto with

changes in productivity. In order for increased levels of collaboration

or productivity to be attributed to coaching, all

other potential factors that might influence collaboration and

productivity would have to be held constant. In looking at productivity,

for example, the major reengineering effort that

occurred contemporaneously with the coaching would have

to be taken into account when deciding how coaching

contributed to productivity gains. Likewise for sales training.

The challenge then becomes how to separate, or isolate, the

effects of these three initiatives (reengineering, sales training,

and coaching) on productivity. Pre/postanalysis alone can’t do

it. This is where other isolation techniques come into play.

2. Control group analysis. Control groups, or comparison groups,

are two groups that are identical in all major respects except

for participation in coaching. One group, the treatment group,

was coached, and the other, the control group, was not.

Returning to the productivity example, gains of productivity

would be observed from precoaching to postcoaching.

However, this group also experienced reengineering and sales

training. So another group would have to be selected that was

also part of the reengineering and training efforts, but that did

not receive coaching. This second group, or control group,

4Anderson (2003); Campbell and Stanley (1963); Phillips (1997).

would be compared to the coaching group. The only major difference

between the two groups was the coaching, so comparing

productivity between these groups would further isolate

the effects of coaching on productivity. The challenge is that,

in real life, parsing out treatment and control groups is

extremely difficult to do. Reengineering, sales training, and

other business initiatives are undertaken to make money, and

business leaders are not going to delay or reschedule development

of these initiatives just to suit the needs of the evaluation.

This brings us to expert estimation, which can be a very

powerful and credible tool to isolate the effects of coaching.

3. Expert estimation. This technique represents the third evaluation

method and is the most widely used for evaluating coaching.

Experts here refer to those who were coached; the

superiors, peers, and subordinates of the coaching clients; the

coaches; and others who could provide credible data about the

impact that coaching had on an outcome. Let’s say that in the

productivity example, initiative sponsors were still skeptical

that coaching produced the productivity gains. The coaching

clients could be interviewed about how they attributed their

productivity gains to coaching, reengineering, sales training,

or other factors. The subordinates of these clients, or a randomly

selected subset of the clients, could also be interviewed

to validate the claims made by the clients. Adding expert estimation

to the evaluation strategy provides a credible set of data

to isolate the effects of coaching.

Given the complexity of organizations and the plethora of

business initiatives intended to improve business performance,

expert estimation is typically the only method available to isolate

the effects of coaching from other potential influencing factors.