New coachee study reveals the barriers to effective coaching

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Written by Debbie Carter on 4 September 2014 in News

Recent research from by the College of Business, Law & Governance at James Cook University (Australia) and the Institute for Employment Studies (UK) has provided a rare view from the coachee perspective – confirming that for the vast majority of coachees, coaching is successful.

The study revealed much about the barriers to effective coaching – with 84 per cent of coachees saying they had faced barriers along the way, with unclear development goals or lack of agreement with their coach as the most frequently-mentioned barrier.

This study focussed on the coachee rather than the coach and surveyed 644 industry professionals from 34 countries, who either had received or were currently receiving coaching. The researchers found that 89 per cent of coachees found coaching to be effective, while just 11 per cent said it was of limited use.

However, successful outcomes require confidence in the coach. The research found that the biggest single predictor of less effective coaching was difficulties with the coach. In addition, women are almost twice as likely as men to report the organisational culture as a barrier, particularly an unsupportive boss.

They found that the barriers differed for coachees from different regions. For coachees from outside Europe and Australia, personal issues affecting their readiness for coaching were the most prevalent. For example, the timing wasn't right, with respondents giving examples such as “too late in my career” or “going on maternity leave”. For coachees living in the UK and Australia, issues affecting their ability to engage with the coaching process were more common, for example, emotions getting in the way and feeling defensive.

The findings have been published as two papers within the conference proceedings from 4th EMCC Research conference held last month in Paris. Alison Carter, associate fellow at IES and co-author of the papers, said: “We have empirically confirmed what everyone already ‘knew’: that coaching works. But the process of being coached is tough and not all employees expect this. We found that not all coachees are willing to put in the effort that is required.

“There is a widespread belief amongst coaches that 'barriers' are nothing to worry about: barriers are just issues that become part of the coaching conversation and the coach helps the coachee to overcome them. We were not satisfied with this and decided to find out how many coachees perceive they face barriers, what the most commonly encountered and which, if any, might adversely affect successful outcomes from their coaching.”

Anna Blackman, senior lecturer, James Cook University and co-author of the papers said:

“Business coaching has become a popular tool for human resource management with a number of advocates making a variety of claims about its benefits and practice. Despite its popularity, until recently there has been little published systematic empirical research into business coaching. This study clarified factors that make coaching effective and should be included in the coaching process.

“Our findings challenge some existing assumptions. According to coachees the most important factors for a coach to have was experience in the coachee’s industry, being honest and communicating clearly. This contradicts the assumptions of many coaches that industry experience is not necessary.”


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