Individual coaching engagements require significant investments of time and money, so it’s important to ensure the individual receiving coaching and the sponsoring organization realize worthwhile returns. In our book, Coaching that Counts, we looked at the ROI data from individual coaching engagements to determine just that; when does coaching deliver the highest return?

We discovered there are decent monetary returns for addressing some of the low hanging fruit coaching traditionally addresses, such as helping people get more organized, communicate more effectively, and let go of limiting habits. The greatest returns came when coaching was used to support people to push the edge in their development and learn new ways to make more significant contributions. When coaching focused on helping people acquire more complex, outcome-oriented goals, such as effectively influencing larger groups to embrace change, or bringing diverse stakeholders together to accomplish a challenging task, coaching paid the greatest dividends.

Unfortunately, it is common for coaching to stop short of taking on these more ambitious goals. Often coaching is only offered to people who “have problems” and concludes when the person has learned to fit in and play nice. This happens because coaches lack the skill or the training to support clients in acquiring more complex outcomes, or coaching budgets are limited so coaching stops too soon.  The underlying issue is one of perspective. When people think that coaching is only for addressing problems their expectations are limited to these kinds of outcomes. When we expect more from coaching, it delivers more value.

In my experience, coaching delivers the greatest value when the client is motivated to learn. There are certain times in a person’s career when the kind of intensive development coaching provides is particularly valuable, such as:

  • Transitioning into a new level of leadership, or getting ready to transition, such as when a manager moves to her first executive role
  • When a person does not receive an expected promotion and works with a coach to develop the capabilities needed to be successful next time
  • When a person takes on a new and significant challenge, for example, leading a high-stakes cross-functional change effort
  • When gaps in a person’s self-awareness and/or skill level are limiting the person’s effectiveness and the individual is motivated to overcome these limitations. For example, when a person with great ideas can’t build the supported needed to implement them because he belittles people instead of engaging them to work with him
  •  After attending leadership development training, such as a high potential program, participants work with coaches to apply the concepts they learned in their work.

Bottom-line: Coaching has the greatest impact when it is used to support people to realize meaningful stretch goals at important inflection points in their careers.


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About the Authors

Merrill C. Anderson, PhD is a business consulting executive, author and educator with over 20 years experience improving the performance of people and organizations. Merrill is currently the CEO of Cylient, a professional services firm offering coaching-based leadership development, culture change and MetrixGlobal® evaluation services. He has held senior executive positions with Fortune 500 companies including chief learning executive and vice president of organization development. He has consulted with over 100 companies throughout the world to effectively manage strategic organization change, has over 100 professional publications and speeches to his credit and was recognized as the 2003 ASTD ROI Practitioner of the Year.


Dianna Anderson, MCC is the Chief Executive Officer for Cylient, a professional services firm offering coaching-based leadership development, culture change and MetrixGlobal® evaluation services. Dianna is an accomplished leadership coach, author and management consultant, with a true passion for partnering with individuals, teams and organizations to create lasting transformational change that delivers real value. Dianna is recognized by the ICF as a Master Certified Coach and whose publications in the field include her book Coaching that Counts.

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