Many of you have probably been involved in a coaching program. Some likely had positive experiences, while others may not have realized promises for personal or professional development. While coaching program effectiveness will vary from organization to organization and person to person, the overall evidence is clear – coaching is an important tool for transferring knowledge and developing employees.

Recent research conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity indicates that high-performance organizations utilize coaching five times more often than low performing organizations. Further, a study by Bright and Crockett shows that the combination of training and coaching can result in many desirable outcomes, including higher performance levels and stronger individual problem solving, project management and communication skills. Still, 65 percent of participants in a recent Training Industry survey rated their organization’s coaching programs ineffective.

Designing coaching programs for success is key, given the disparity between both individual experiences and organizational results. Fortunately, several recent research studies provide guidance in coaching program design, including:

Using credible coaches. Effective programs use coaches that participants view as experts more than twice as often as ineffective programs (Essential Elements of a World-Class Sales Coaching Program, 2014). And while this research revealed an almost even split between the effectiveness of coaches with managerial, professional, and direct experience, top performing representatives were far less likely to be considered effective coaches.

Tracking coaching activities. Companies sustain the impact of training longer when they track the coaching participant activities; in fact, effective companies are almost three times as likely to track coaching activities (Strategies for Sustaining the Impact of Sales Training, 2014).

Providing on-the-job coaching. Our recent study revealed that the biggest challenge to coaching success is applying learning on the job. Moreover, best practice suggestions included providing coaching in the field. By making coaching available on the job as questions arise, organizations can ensure employees have access to relevant developmental opportunities when they are likely to have the greatest impact.

Encouraging coaches to match their style to the situation. Styles are likely to vary across coaches and effectiveness may depend on the style. Research investigating the effects of guidance and facilitation styles reveals that each produces positive results in different contexts. Guidance coaching is directive – coaches provide clear instructions and feedback. Facilitation coaching, on the other hand, is less hands-on; the coach facilitates self-discovery, helping the individual to explore possible solutions. When coached job role is relatively stable or routine, a guidance coaching style is recommended. However, a facilitation style is best if the role requires a great deal of adaptability.

Involving an executive champion. Organizational support is critical to coaching effectiveness. By having an executive endorse the program, organizations communicate top-down support to both coaches and participants. Indeed, research indicates that high-performing coaching programs are considerably more likely to include an executive-level champion than are low-performing programs.

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