I am sometimes surprised to learn that coaches are failing to gather a range of information from their clients prior to the commencement of the coaching process. In the absence of such information, how is it possible to calculate an ROI?
In the early 70s, Donald Kirkpatrick introduced a model for evaluating the benefits of training. This same model is used today by training and human resources departments to evaluate the ROI of coaching. The model has four levels:
- Reaction: How well did the client like the coaching?
- Learning: What principles, facts and techniques did the client learn?
- Behavior: What changes in job behavior resulted from the coaching?
- Results: What were the quantitative results of the coaching in terms of reduced costs, improved performance, improved efficiency, etc.?
Each level in the model requires information from both the client and the organization. In order to be of value, the information must be gathered before, during and after the coaching process.
In an article entitled An ROI Method for Executive Coaching: Have the Client Convince the Coach of the Return on Investment (2005), Mary Beth O’Neill outlines a method for engaging the client in taking responsibility for the gathering of this data. By taking ownership of their learning and measuring their progress and outcomes, clients support their own development through the coaching process.
A recent client of mine began to keep a reflective journal of each of our coaching sessions. In this journal, he identified different areas on which he wanted to comment (leadership, finances, emotions, family, learning, and ideas). After each session, he would record what he had learned about himself during the coaching or note something that had stimulated his thoughts or feelings. This journal became an invaluable resource for the client, as he would often revisit entries that were several months old, reflecting on how much he had changed and the progress he had made.
He and I took the outcomes he had recorded in his journal and applied them to Kirkpatrick’s model. The Results (Level 4 of the model) showed improvement in his leadership style, his interaction with his staff, the speed with which he could think creatively, and his understanding of self on an emotional level.
With all of this in mind, what data should you be gathering? Be very clear and specific about what, why and when you require any data from your client or from the organization. Provide a clear context for the use of the information.
A list of potentially useful data to gather is provided below. This list is by no means exhaustive:
- Strategic goals and initiatives of the organization
- A description of the organization’s vision
- A coaching needs analysis, which is similar to a training needs analysis. (This information could be obtained via interview, and could then form the basis for a case study.)
- HR data (e.g., absenteeism, occupational health and safety measures, performance reports)
- An audit of your client’s skills
- Assessments measuring the client’s emotional intelligence, team role, leadership style, etc.
- Any financial results that are directly or indirectly impacted by your client’s role
Once you have captured your data, apply it to the different levels of Kirkpatrick’s model.
One small but rather important tip is to remember that coaching results occur in both the short term and the long term. ROI calculations sometimes focus solely on the “now,” computing gains, savings, and losses as of the completion date of the coaching partnership. Yet the benefits of coaching continue long after the coaching relationship has ended. Building in an evaluation at the completion of the coaching process, and then re-evaluating results at subsequent time intervals, will provide you with some excellent information. And, if the client takes ownership of the process and can see the benefits for him or herself, the result is a great win-win for both of you.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring Issue 2006, Volume 2, Issue 1).
O’Neill, Mary Beth. 2005. “An ROI Method for Executive Coaching: Have the Client Convince the Coach of the Return on Investment.” International Journal of Coaching in Organizations 3:39-47.
Bronwyn Bowery-Ireland is the CEO of International Coach Academy, an international coach training school. She has been an executive coach for over 10 years.