Is Coaching a Dirty Word?

Although a relatively modern phenomenon, coaching has reached the mainstream in organisational life.  Often confined to the C-suite and used sparingly as a performance intervention, there is an air of mystery about what coaching is exactly.  Adding to the confusion is the influx of social media savvy life coaches marketing ‘recovery’ programmes and sharing motivational meme’s and inspirational quotes to a millennial audience looking for purpose and meaning.  Maybe thanks to a little leftover DNA from coaching’s distant cousin ‘therapy’,  this idea that coaching fixes something that is broken or replaces something that is missing seems to prevail.  The result is that coaching is both prevalent and widely misunderstood.  Unsurprisingly, when coaching appears on the learning and development agenda, it can be received with scepticism and distrust.  So, perhaps coaching IS a dirty word.

To find out, we surveyed over 700 organisations and asked them what coaching meant to them.  We found that a fifth of all organisations considered coaching to be a remedial intervention that addresses poor performance and almost two thirds (60%) described coaching in terms of an executive coaching relationship between either an internal or external coach.

Predictably, 68% of respondents also told us that the prevailing leadership style in their organisations was predominantly or mostly command and control.  In these organisations, coaching seems to be something that happens to you rather than as an enabler of change.  It is trapped behind closed doors with no way of entering the ‘operational’ day to day life of the organisation. Despite more frequent occurrences of coaching in organisations it appears that a strong cultural bias plays a pivotal role in how coaching materialises in an organisation.  And as a business imperative the waters are still muddy.  6 out of 10 respondents told us with brutal honesty that they did not measure or capture the ROI of coaching and a whopping 93% had no idea what the typical return on investment (ROI) of their coaching programmes was.  Without being able to demonstrate that coaching is having a tangible impact on the bottom line, it is little wonder that coaching encounters a lukewarm reception.

It’s not looking too good for Coaching so far, is it?

Let’s not be hasty.  There is some light at the end of the tunnel as our survey also shows that about a fifth (21%) of organisations possess an overriding coaching style of leadership. This perhaps indicates that there is a growing acceptance of the positive impact of higher order relationships and behaviour change on business issues such as employer brand, retention, engagement and performance. Sadly, this figure isn’t increasing as quickly as we might have hoped it would, however, with these drivers in focus, coaching has the opportunity to escape the meeting room and become ‘a way of doing things around here’.  And this is crucial.  We discovered that organisations were training their managers to coach but that their best efforts were reaching only 5% of the organisation.  Traditional executive coaching models were not helping them to address organisational challenges or achieve scalable change by bringing the coaching style of management into the everyday.

That’s why at Notion we designed STAR®,  the first operational coaching model that enables managers to learn the skills they need to take an ‘enquiry-led approach’ in any interaction, in the moment and even under pressure.   Through this highly operational approach, organisations are freed from the formality of the traditional executive coaching models and can focus on changing ‘in the moment’ conversations to leverage performance and engagement.

When we work with organisations we always start with this outcome in mind.  Coaching is simply the vehicle we use to help create the behaviour change needed to achieve the intended goal. This change of perspective eliminates confusing language and barriers to understanding and provides the foundations for achieving real change. The first question we always ask our clients is, ‘what do you want to achieve?’  The answer to this question is where we place our laser focus; on accelerating performance, developing gravitas, increasing engagement or whatever the business challenge is.  The word ‘coaching’ doesn’t even have to be mentioned  - especially if it might be viewed to be a dirty word. Instead the message that people within the organisation see, hear and feel is the one that is relevant to them, the one that will get them excited to try something new and change their everyday behaviour away from ‘tell’ and towards ‘ask’.  Furthermore, by establishing clear and transparent organisational goals and regularly tracking progress, the results of everyone’s efforts can be directly measured and reported in financial ROI terms.

What we have come to understand from extensive experience working with clients across diverse industries is the infinite value of focus, clear communication, and enabling an environment that unleashes talent through taking an ‘enquiry-led approach’ .  We help organisations to achieve this by creating sustainable coaching cultures where operational coaching happens in real time and has the potential to deliver wide reaching and significant results for the business… even if we call it something else!

So, is coaching a dirty word?  Well, that depends - what is it exactly that you’re trying to achieve?

For help answering this question or for more information about how you can enable change in your organisation, call us on +44 (0) 1926 889 885 or visit our website

Kind regards

Laura Ashley-Timms - Director of Coaching