The focus of the coaching conversation is to help the client work toward achieving their desired outcomes. It is in this process, where coach and client reflect on the client’s experience, that the potential for learning and action emerges. Business coaching has been defined in many different ways, but is essentially a one-on-one collaborative partnership designed to develop the client’s performance and potential, personally and professionally, in alignment with the goals and values of the organization. Business coaching should be aligned strategically with the overall values and objectives of an organization.
However, an important question is raised for executives: if goals are to be motivationally achieved, are they also aligned with the individual’s values, beliefs, and feelings? Often organizations merely pay lip service to organizational values, and don’t necessarily create them as a synthesis of the core individual values that make up the culture of the organization. Ethical dilemmas can arise during the coaching process if the executive needs to make difficult choices that are incompatible with their own value system.
Goals, Motivation, and Performance
If you wish to help your clients improve their behavior and performance, it is useful to understand the psychology behind adult behavior, goals, and motivation. Alfred Adler, who worked with Sigmund Freud for ten years, reasoned that adult behavior is purposeful and goal-directed, and that life goals provide individual motivation. He focused on personal values, beliefs, attitudes, goals, and interests, and recommended that adults engage in the therapeutic process and reinvent their futures using techniques such as “acting as if,” role-playing, and goal setting. All these tools are utilized and recognized by well-qualified business coaches worldwide.
Motivational theories primarily focus on the individual’s needs and motivations. I have typically worked with coaching clients to help them understand more fully their intrinsic motivators (internal drivers such as values, beliefs, and feelings), and how to use extrinsic motivators (external drivers such as relationships, bonuses, environment, and titles) to motivate their teams. If an individual’s goals are not in alignment with their own internal, intrinsic drivers, there will be difficulties for them in achieving those goals.
In an International Coach Federation study (ICF, 2008a), Campbell confirmed that coaches often assume clients are aware of their values, but within the confines of the study this appeared to be incorrect. The clients interviewed indicated they were not aware of their values, and that acquiring a process of awareness and reflection led them to become more aware of their emotions, their values, and the need to clarify their goals. Whitmore (2002) supports this and states that the goal of the coach is to build awareness, responsibility, and self-belief.
The coach’s intervention and questions help the client to discover their own intrinsic drivers or motivators, and allow both coach and client to identify whether the client’s personal, professional, and organizational goals are in alignment.
Adult and Experiential Learning
Adult learning theory has influenced coaching from the start: the goal of adult learning is to achieve a balance between work and personal life. In the same way, most business coach-client relationships involve an integration of personal and systems work. Personal work is intended to help the client develop the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual competence to achieve their desired goals; systems work may be found within a partnership, marriage, family, organizational team, or matrix structure.
Another powerful influence on goal-setting in coaching is experiential learning because it emphasizes a client’s individual, subjective experience. In this process, coach and client probe the essence of an experience to understand its significance and to determine any learning that can be gained from it. The importance of experiential learning is that coach and client use the business coaching conversation to actively reconstruct the client’s experience, with a focus on setting goals that are aligned with the client’s intrinsic drivers, i.e., values, beliefs, and feelings.
Other considerations may be language, social class, gender, ethnic background, and the individual’s style of learning. In learning from experience, it is useful to understand which barriers prevent the client from learning. Often it is a matter of developing self-reflective skills as much as self-management skills. What clients learn from their experience can transform their perceptions, their limiting and liberating assumptions, their way of interpreting the world – and their ability to achieve results.
Types of Goals
The coach is responsible for ensuring that goal-setting conversations get the best results. O’Neill (2000) differentiates between two kinds of client goals, business and personal, and links the coaching effort to a business result, highlighting and prioritizing the business areas that need attention. Business goals are about achieving external results; personal goals are what the leader has to do differently in the way they conduct themselves in order to get the business results they envision.
Yalom (1980) talks about two types of goals: content (what is to be accomplished) and process (how the coach wants to be in a session). However, he also describes the importance of setting concrete attainable goals – goals that the client has personally defined, and which increase their sense of responsibility for their own individual change.
If the client is to learn how to learn, they need to cultivate self-awareness through reflection on their experience, values, intrinsic drivers, the impact of these on others, the environment, and their own future goals. This process is often implicit in the coaching relationship through the process of questions and actions that develop critical reflection and practice. As a coach, you will be asking questions to help clients reflect, review, and gain useable knowledge from their experience. A useful structure for your work with business executives is along the continuum of a development pipeline developed by David Peterson (2009). Your questions and challenges in your coaching sessions can help your clients reflect in five areas:
- Insight: How are you continually developing insight into areas where you need to develop?
- Motivation: What are your levels of motivation based on the time and energy you’re willing to invest in yourself?
- Capabilities: What are your leadership capabilities; what skills, knowledge, and competencies do you still need to develop?
- Real-world practice: How are you continually applying your new skills at work?
- Accountability: How are you creating, defining, and taking accountability?
Business coaching places great emphasis on clarifying and achieving goals. Often within the complexity of the organizational environment, the client’s overarching goals may be set by a more senior power; where that senior individual may have different worldviews, paradigms, and limiting or empowering assumptions. It is crucial that the client have a “living sense” of what their goal may be. In other words, goals must be aligned with the values of the individual as much as with those of the organization if they are to be achieved. This article is adapted from “Goals and Goal-Setting” by Sunny Stout Rostron (COMENSANews, February 2010 (www.comensa.org.za).
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 2).
Griffiths, K. E, and Campbell, M. A. (2008). Regulating the Regulators: Paving the Way for International, Evidence-Based Coaching Standards. International Journal of Evidence-Based Coaching and Mentoring, 6(1):19-31.
International Coach Federation (ICF). (2008a). Core Competencies. Lexington, KY: ICF.
International Coach Federation (ICF). (2008b). ICF Code of Ethics. Lexington, KY: ICF.
O’Neill, M. B. (2000). Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with Their Challenges. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
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 International, Transforming Individuals and Organizations. London: Karnac.
Whitmore, J. (2002). Coaching for Performance: Growing People, Performance and Purpose. London: Nicholas Brealey.
Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA is an executive coach and consultant with a wide range of experience in leadership and management development, business strategy and executive coaching. The author of six books, including Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009), Sunny is Director of the Manthano Institute of Learning (Pty) Ltd and founding president of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa).
So far in these columns we have discussed mainly methodological issues in research such as identifying your own perspective and engaging your community. While musing this week on where to go next, I found myself faced with a number of my own research challenges and realized that all of them revolved around research ethics. So I thought it was high time we opened up that can of worms!
As practitioners, we all aspire to work ethically with our clients. We make ourselves aware of codes of ethics and breathe a sigh of relief that we have a clear framework to steer us out of some of coaching’s trickier situations! So, as practitioner researchers, is that enough or do we need a separate ethical framework specific to research?
After all, we do a number of similar things as researchers and as coaches—we uncover an individual’s truth through question and challenge, explore meaning through analysis and synthesis, and may even experiment with new behaviors and design alternatives. In short, the initial stages of most coaching models mirror those of the research cycle, and the skills the coach and researcher bring to interventions are very similar. Surely we can use the same ethical framework for research as for coaching!
The answer to my mind is no—we need to go further for a number of reasons. The main one is the care of your participants. When you undertake any research, you are hoping that your participants will give you their time and engagement to provide you with their perspectives, thoughts, and feelings on the research topic. In return, they get the opportunity to have their voice heard. That’s it! Nothing more.
So the balance of “gifts” between researcher and participants is rather one-sided. You are getting a wealth of information and knowledge from your participants; they are giving you their hopes, considerations, and reflections. They are prompting your thinking, shining a light on issues hitherto uncovered, and generally exposing their opinions/thoughts/feelings to your scrutiny and trusting you with it all. Your participants are going to provide you with the building blocks of the entire study. You are simply asking the questions. As a researcher I am left feeling profoundly grateful!
I owe my participants a debt: to take care of what they have given me and what I do with it. I need to make sure that it is kept secure and, when reporting my study, I need to keep my participants’ safety uppermost in my mind. It is not just putting a tick in a box, but a sincere undertaking that acknowledges the debt of gratitude I owe to my participants, placing the burden of care squarely on my shoulders as the researcher.
Poorly run practitioner research can have devastating effects if we do not keep to a tight ethical framework. One veterinary surgeon I knew, interested in the development of diagnostic skills in young practitioners, designed an inquiry that would have resulted in his sharing his opinion of the skills of a small group of four vets with their boss. It would have been interesting to see who would have been the first vet to sue after being dismissed from their post. A quick rugby tackle by his research supervisor (me!) stopped that design going live, but it threw light on how ethical dilemmas emerge as soon as we start looking.
But it is not all bad news—there is a range of research ethical codes available from the major professional bodies. Best practice, such as a clear contract between you and your participants at the beginning, is also out there in the many books on research practice. But we also need to develop good internal ethical awareness, as no standardized code will cover all eventualities.
One rule of thumb that helps inform me is to consider the information given by a participant (in whatever form) as remaining their property. It is not something the researcher can use as he or she sees fit, but is, instead, a prized possession such as a work of art. An artist remains the spiritual owner of his/her art and the collector simply a custodian of the work. Its value comes from who created it. In a similar way, the participants continue to “own” their data and must give their permission for whatever happens to it. This will mean that we need to check back with our participants to ensure that we are correct in what we have heard from them, that they are amenable to their information being included, and that they give us explicit permission when we want to use quotes from them—even when these are unattributed.
This stance also stops us “giving” our data away to others, even fellow researchers, and this is not a bad thing. Data is bespoke to the study within which it was collected—a product of the question, design, methodology, and instrument used. Rarely is it transferable in its raw form. The outputs of the data analysis can be transferable and of general use, but not the raw data itself.
So keep ethically aware and you are not only taking your participants’ gifts to you seriously, but you are taking your own research and work seriously!
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2009, Volume 5, Issue 2).
Worth a Look
The British Psychological Society code of research ethics.
Dr. Annette Fillery-Travis
Dr. Annette Fillery-Travis is a senior researcher and education coach with the Professional Development Foundation. The author of more than 60 research articles and studies, her recent book The Case for Coaching, presenting a literature review with research case studies and interviews from over 20 organizations on coaching efficacy, was published in 2006 by CIPD, UK.