Coaching works, and there is enough scientific evidence that demonstrates its results. With the increasing demand for coaching, however, there is also a growing range of coaches offering their services. Not all of these coaches share the same qualifications and their services vary in type, quality and results. Coaching is an unregulated industry where anyone can label themselves being a coach. Only recently I witnessed a discussion in an online group for coaches, on the difference between coaching, mentoring and therapy and only a minor percentage matched the definitions found in academic literature. To make things worse, this small percentage found themselves honed and ridiculed by the uninformed majority of self-appointed coaching experts. It may be just a small anecdote, but it confirms the need for professionalization of coaching. Until this happens, clients still need to make adequate choices about the coaches they want to work with.
Evidence-based coaching means that there is scientific evidence of the effectiveness of the coaching approaches that are being used. This scientific evidence comes from research, and we are aware of four main types of research: outcome studies, studies on the working alliance, studies on the active ingredients of coaching and research on the links between self-reflection and insight. Outcome studies look at the result of using a particular coaching approach. This result is reflected in the change of one or more variables, e.g. relating to the performance of the coachee. Studies on the working alliance look at the influence of the working relationship between the coach and the coachee on the coaching results. They also look at what factors influence this working relationship. Studies on the active ingredients look at the mechanics of coaching and how they influence coaching results. Research on self-reflection and insight examines if and how self-reflection improves helpful insight in oneself. It may sound counter-intuitive, but most self-reflection does not improve insight and would better be called rumination. So, an evidence-based approach is supported by multiple of these peer-reviewed research studies, demonstrating the effectiveness of the approach.
Coaches who use evidence-based approaches have a higher chance of developing and applying effective approaches. It allows them to work in an ethical and professional way with their clients. It’s important that a coach has a deep understanding of the approaches they use, know when to use them and equally know when not to use them and possibly refer their clients to other types of help if needed, like therapy, training, or mentoring.
We suggest three tips to find your way through the myriad of coaches. First tip, choose a coach that has been certified by one of the larger professional coaching organizations like the International Coaching Federation (ICF), Association for Coaching (AC) or the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). Second, choose a coach that has been sufficiently, and preferably academically trained in coaching. Third, ask coaches about the approaches they use and the scientific evidence that supports these approaches.
There is sufficient evidence, demonstrated by a growing number of research studies, that coaching does work and delivers results. Coaching is a highly effective intervention for typical challenges at work: transition to a new role, stress management, strategic decision making, reflection, goal setting, solving complex problems and much more. But coaching is not the magic wand that solves everything. Many factors influence the outcome: the skill of the coach, the willingness of the coachee to engage, the quality of the working relationship between coach and coachee, the supporting environment of the coachee …
That is why it is important to find a qualified coach, who will work with you on an equal base on the topics that do matter and are suitable for coaching. It’s how clients achieve results.