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Learning for Life: An Investigation into the Effect of Organizational Coaching on Individual Lives

Jean L. Hurd

[This paper was presented at the First International Coach Federation Coaching Research Symposium, November 12, 2003, Denver, Colorado]

The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between adult development and organizational development by exploring the effect of organizational coaching on individual lives. It investigated the phenomenon of being coached, to illuminate what individuals who have been coached have to say about the impact of the coaching on their lives, relationships, and organizations, and careers, and the degree to which coaching can function as a linchpin between adult and organizational development. In-depth interviews were conducted with individuals representing a broad range of organizations, (from Fortune 50 corporations to small non-profit service organizations), job responsibilities, coaches, and reasons for being coached. All had been coached for at least six months. The coaching process affects individual lives by helping people know themselves better, manage themselves better, relate more productively with others, and develop approaches to think about and address challenging situations. Key themes that emerged related to the value to individuals of getting concrete and timely feedback, understanding how one's actions affect others, learning to better use feedback from others, becoming more self-aware and self-accepting, learning to be more reflective and less reactive, the therapeutic affect of being listened to and supported, and being able to make a positive difference in how their organizations work. Implications of the findings for organizations include: coaching at all organizational levels is valuable - there is a significant cascading or ripple effect; coaching enables learning for the long haul by developing skills of critical thinking and reflectivity; coaching is an extremely effective way for individuals to develop and hone emotional intelligence skills; organizations would benefit from instilling performance management and feedback skills at all levels. Introduction This study looks at how organizational coaching affects the lives of individuals. It investigates the phenomenon of being coached, with an eye on illuminating what individuals who have been coached have to say about the impact of the coaching on their lives: work, career, relationships and personal development. The importance of this topic comes from the critical need for organizations to function as effectively as possible and for individuals to

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overcome gaps in their awareness, knowledge, skills, behavior, and ability to learn, which stop them from both performing effectively and from developing as human beings. It is grounded in a belief that organizational success ultimately is the result of successfully functioning individuals working with other individuals, in groups, teams, departments, across functions, and ultimately as a corporate entity. This research emerged from a study of the inter-relationship of the fields of adult development, relational psychology, organizational development, developmental and organizational psychology, adult learning theory, brain research and the new science. Relevant concepts include: the promise and potential of human development at any age - our physical brains are wired for ongoing learning; quantum physics and systems science which reveal that everything is connected, and that the part (individual) and the whole (organization) affect each other profoundly; the importance of interpersonal relationships to learning, growth, development and resilience; the nature of emotional intelligence; and the relationship between learning organizations and learning individuals and the tremendous opportunity for organizations and individuals to support each other's ongoing development. The dual questions that guided the study were, "How can adults be supported to learn and grow so that they achieve their life purpose and bring themselves more fully to their work?" and "What might be the relationship of this learning and growth to organizational effectiveness?"

Copyright © 2003 Jean L. Hurd


Organizational coaching is a process of working with individuals within organizations to affect change. As such it would appear to have enormous potential to act as a bridge between the joint processes of individual and organizational development. A study of the effects of coaching on individual lives might shed some light on this relationship.

Research Method

This study used a qualitative human science research methodology, specifically hermeneutic phenomenology. The objective was to hear the voices of people who had been coached and how they interpreted their experience. This methodology is both descriptive and interpretive of an experience, recognizing that not only are the subjects of the research unique persons, but the researcher is also unique. The research question was phrased to allow for the most open-ended response during the interviews. The question, posed to individuals who had been coached within an organizational context was, "How has the coaching process affected your life?" The three key elements in the study were: · Coaching Process. The relevant distinction about the coaching process in this study was that the coaching was within an organizational context, and that the focus of the coaching was ultimately, organizational effectiveness. The specific goal of the coaching was less important, as long as the broad goal of organizational effectiveness was present. Therefore, the key criteria were that the coaching process was sponsored, supported and funded by the individual's organization. All coaches in the study were external to the organization.

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Person. Refers to a person who is employed by an organization and for whom the organization has provided a coach. There was no restriction in terms of job title or job level within the organization, reason for being coached, age, race, gender or whether the individual was a manager or individual contributor.


Organization. There were no limits on the type or size of the organization involved, nor on any internal organizational factors.

Nine people were interviewed. Each two-hour interview began by asking the exact research question, "How has the coaching process affected your life?" The interview then proceeded based on the nature and content of the initial response. Some interviewees reflected at length throughout the interview with minimal direct questions, others were more succinct in their answers and a more direct interviewing style was then used. Broad areas that were probed included work, personal life, sense of self, and view of the future.

Findings Explicit Themes The following themes emerged from the interviewees' actual descriptions of their experience of the coaching process. Each theme is followed by representative direct quotes from interviewees. The amount of emphasis on any one theme varied from interview to interview. The final theme was a common thread throughout all the interviews. · I got concrete feedback to make specific changes. "That's what this has been great for ­ concrete examples. I mean 2 weeks worth of examples every 2 weeks is really, really good."

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You get really specific, concrete feedback. I mean, a 360 evaluation says 'you need to listen more' ­ what does that mean?" "Coaching is different from what I get from my manager. It's much more specific about the individual. Really drill down and focus on you from an internal perspective...much more individualized to me." · I can better use the feedback from others. "When people give me feedback I tend to listen a little bit better now and I also tend to ask more questions so I get a better of understanding of why are they saying that I, you know, do whatever..." "So if someone says "you always do this" I look for concrete behaviors...what it is you're doing that makes people see those things. So I'll ask much more probing questions." "So what good is it if I read all these books but never have a sense from anyone else, you know, do I do this stuff?" · I am more self-aware and self-accepting. "Most valuable thing I got [from the coaching] ­ the whole aspect of self-awareness, and being conscious of it." "Working with [my coach] allowed me to better see my own strengths and weaknesses ... to better evaluate myself and my own potential." "[My coach] is the first person who has actually enabled me to step back and see where my reactions come from ... it's the first time I looked at what was going on for me." "It's helped clarify... the things I do really well, and also make room for the things I don't do well, and kind of balance acceptance and working on them at the same time." · I understand how my actions impact others. "It's made me more effective because I have a greater understanding of how I impact other people, what people get when I say things." "A key learning for me was how people perceive you, and how your behaviors can be perceived. That was huge for me." "I didn't realize that I was negatively impacting people's perception of the job, or negatively impacting anyone. It was an upsetting eye-opener for me."

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"If I hadn't been through such a focused process I don't think I would have been so easily able to step in to the shoes of the other people I'm working with, so that they can hear [me] and are able to take the next step." · I have new ways to think about and approach situations "One of the most valuable effects of the coaching, that would be a structured way of thinking about things, breaking things down piece by piece. Breaking things down and then also how it all fits together." " [My coach] helped me process it and figure out, to tease it apart and break down the anxiety into things that can be dealt with. You have courses of action." "When something happens, your normal tendency is X but in talking with [my coach] there is the sense that sometimes it's not necessarily X, so I look beyond, to what might be some possible motivations or rationale behind an event. Looking at things broader." · I have been able to make a positive difference in how the organization works. "There is definitely a cascading effect. As I made room for [my direct reports], they stepped up more... I got much better work from many of the people because they felt safe and able to be creative and at the top of their game." "Since doing this I had someone who worked for me years ago come to me to ask me if I would coach them because they had heard.... what a change I had made. And if I had made that change, maybe I could help him...I helped him by doing the same thing that [my coach] did for me, doing interviews and giving feedback, and he has made real progress even with the little I have done. People have seen his change ­ a real positive thing." "There is a reverse cascading effect, not down, but up, because I can comment to someone one or two levels up about how something might be handled...and these people know I am delving into this stuff and so they listen more, and sometimes they ask me questions about how to handle something with their employees..." "It's definitely gone way beyond the staff ­ generating good dialog and communication." "With my boss' staff - a group of VPs - I ran a little process describing some of the techniques I used to improve some of my areas....The response was that it's the best meeting we've ever had, and at the next meeting three months later, the thought process carried through and the group dynamics were much more respectful of each other...people commented on the definite improvement..." · I have experienced changes in my personal life.

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"Husband, children, friends ­ everyone saw a difference." "Impact on my personal life? Definitely, oh absolutely....Communication skills around inference, positive inquiry, what triggers me, how to open up a dialog instead of shutting down, being a better listener. It has been incredibly, incredibly helpful." "I've seen an impact in the way my husband and I problem-solve together, my ability to be with the way he is in that process and not want him to be the way I am in that process. We are very different and we have learned to meet in the middle. He was one of the people that was getting run over, along with the 35 other people who worked for me." "It has gone beyond work. You don't draw a line between work and home. I'm the same person that goes home." · The coaching process itself was beneficial. "Most important part of the coaching experience? Support. Someone whose goal was to support me in my professional endeavor and had skills and insight to bring to that, that I couldn't bring to myself." "It was sort of a sanctuary to look inwardly." "The thing with working with a coach is getting that reinforcement, hearing things reflected back to me. It helps me and empowers me." "It was very liberating to say "I want to be coached, I want to work on these things" and that felt very freeing." "I think maybe the most valuable part is actually saying this stuff out loud to another person, because once you say it, it's out there..." "What stands out most is the dialog aspect of it... and the fact that it's a very trusting relationship and you know you could ask or share almost anything and get a good solid perspective." "Having a sounding board. Having [my coach] here... knowing that she would take seriously everything I say."

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Implicit Themes These themes describe the deeper meanings or essence of the experience of the interviewees. They express the universal character and dynamics of the coaching experience. · One of the most profound effects of the coaching process is a feeling that "I'm OK." There is a deep sense of acceptance of the self, coming from the acceptance of the coach. The essence of what interviewees said was: "I have things I need to work on, but I'm not so bad. There are other people like me. I have important things to contribute." · There is a sense of discovery. The coach provides both a mirror in which to see the self more clearly, and a lens to look through to see situations outside the self differently. There is adventure in trying new approaches, and sailing into uncharted waters. The essence of this sense of discovery was: "I don't have to be stuck in old patterns. Change is possible. I can change my work situation by changing my actions." · There is a profound experience of safety. The individual feels deeply supported and encouraged. The coaching relationship provides a sanctuary where thoughts, doubts, concerns, and joys can be expressed without fear of judging. The essence of this experience was: "It is wonderful to have someone who thinks with you, with no agenda other than your well-being and success." · The experience is freeing. There is a sense of relief in confronting one's issues. Knowing that there is a safety net provides the freedom to risk. The essence of the sense of freedom was: "These patterns that have been repeating in my work-life don't

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have to continue. I can try new things. I can handle this. I can handle whatever comes up." · There is a heightened sense of consciousness and reflectivity. One learns to step back, stop the action and reflect before acting. Things become less black and white, and there is more acceptance of ambiguity and the possibility of multiple points of view. The essence of this heightened sensitivity was: "I'm aware of how others see me and aware that what I think I say is not necessarily what is heard or felt. I understand my role in things." · The effects of coaching tap into a basic human longing for well-being, within the self and in relation to others. Interviewees expressed this in different ways. They wanted to stop feeling wrong or dysfunctional, or responsible for the pain of others. And they were relieved and excited to find they could use their new perspectives to tap into their own inner wisdom and act on that wisdom, to be a better manager, colleague, teammate...person.

Implications and Recommendations Organizations The cascading effect of coaching described in the interviews mirrors Goleman's findings that emotional intelligence "moves like electricity along wires (Goleman, 2001, p. 44)." The higher the organizational level, or the greater the influence level, the more dramatic this may be. On the other hand, revolutionary discoveries in science would suggest that individual change at any level can have an enormous ripple effect. If, as the study of chaos has shown, "a butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo can affect the weather in New York," an individual contributor who

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has learned the personal and relationship skills as described in this study can have a similar effect in an organization. The learnings from this study have implications that organizations should consider in striving to become more effective. · Recent research has demonstrated a direct link between emotional intelligence in leaders and the effectiveness of their organizations (Goleman, 2001). My research indicates that coaching is an extremely effective way for individuals to develop and hone the emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. It follows that individual coaching should be considered a key tool for leadership development. · Feedback is integral to promoting individual self-awareness and self-management, and critical to building a learning organization, yet feedback in many organizations has become a lost art. Organizations should strive to instill the skill of giving and receiving feedback in each and every employee. Managers in particular should model these skills. · The benefits of good coaching flow in all directions. A positive behavior change in one individual can have an ongoing positive effect throughout his or her sphere of influence and beyond, with a potential return of investment far exceeding one individual's performance improvement. Coaching is not only for executives. The more that lower levels of the organization develop self-management and relationship skills, the sooner the organization reaps the benefit. By the time a person without these skills has reached the upper levels of the company, it is likely that they have

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already cost the organization much more than an initial investment in developing these skills would have cost. · One-shot training can provide knowledge, but behavior change usually requires an ongoing process of practice and feedback. Adults learn best when they can apply abstract concepts to an immediate situation of personal importance to the learner (Knowles, Holton & Swanson, 1998). Coaching provided the means for integrating tools and techniques learned in past training, by giving the support and time to figure out how to apply them to real situations. Wherever possible, coaching follow-up to employee development training should be provided to help people internalize the learnings from the classroom. · The benefits of coaching that interviewees described in this study were not about financially measurable performance results (what work got done), but in the ways that they were able to form better relationships, problem-solve and think better (how things got done). The reality of a coaching investment may be the simple truth that the organization may not be able to directly attribute the benefit of coaching to immediate performance improvement. The benefit may show up in a ripple effect ­ to another project or person, or sometime down the road. · Coaching does not provide benefits in a vacuum. The more the organization acknowledges the benefits of the coaching process as positive and uses it as a positive step toward employee development, the more individuals can be comfortable widening their network of feedback and support for change. · Lasting behavior change takes practice over time. Repetitive behavior is required to lay down the new neural pathways necessary to replace old habits with new behavior

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(Zohar, 1997). It is important to allow sufficient time in a coaching effort for the practice of new behaviors, and to set realistic expectations for changes to become internalized. (The timeframe can vary widely, but a minimum of six months to a year is a good rule of thumb.) · Good coaching is about relationships. Be careful of a too formalized approach to coaching, or applying a one-size-fits-all model. A variety of approaches to meet individual needs and preferences may be most important. Coaches The research show that while individuals who have been coached learn specific things about them themselves and concrete ideas for making changes, just having someone who listens deeply and without judging is one of the most valued parts of the process. Rogers notes, "The facilitation of significant learning rests upon certain attitudinal qualities which exist in the personal relationship between the facilitator and the learner" (Rogers, 1969, p.106). These attitudinal qualities are (1) realness in the facilitator, (2) an attitude of prizing, acceptance and trust, and (3) empathic understanding. In addition, the relationship-differentiation model of human development suggests that the skills we need for effective relationship need to be learned and developed in relationship (Jordan, Kaplan, Miller, Stiver, & Surrey, 1991). The prescription for an effective coaching relationship builds on the work of Rogers and Belenky (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1997): · The emphasis is on establishing a helping relationship. This relationship creates the sense of genuine connection that is often missing in organizations, and from which the individual can experience the safety and trust necessary to risk changes.

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The emphasis is on listening and seeking to understand the individual, with an attitude of acceptance rather than assessment.


The coach enters into a collaborative relationship with the individual, valuing his or her perspective.


There is deep respect for the knowledge that emerges from firsthand experience in the course of the coaching process.


Finally, and perhaps most important, the emphasis is on helping the individual identify and develop a style for ongoing problem solving and work performance that is congruent with his/her own inner voice. A critical part of the coaching process is helping individuals find the path that creates organizational success while maintaining their personal integrity.

Based on this approach, and the findings of this study, characteristics of organizational coaches include: · · · · · · · A broad base of life and work experiences from which to draw. An understanding of adult development and learning. Appreciation of the realities of an organizational environment. The ability to balance performance and life coaching, as needed. Personal congruence, leading to the expression of authentic thoughts and feelings. Trust in the unlimited potential and inner wisdom of human beings. Willingness to be a partner ­ not an expert - on the journey.

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Coaches also provided interviewees their own preferred models and tools. Although these were noted as being very valuable, in no interview did any of these specific models and tools stand out as much as the process of practice and feedback. If one important coaching technique stood out, it was that of doing 360 degree feedback interviews. For interviewees who had the benefit of feedback from 360 interviews the experience was incredibly valuable. constructive feedback. It seems it is impossible for someone to get too much

Individuals It was striking how many interviewees commented on the fact that they had become more reflective. They had learned to examine their assumptions and to see situations in a new light. What they experienced was the "perspective transformation," as described by Mezirow (1981) and others. Perspective changes are transformational because the person's view of reality is fundamentally changed, providing an impetus for lasting behavior change. Learning how to approach new situations in this way goes to the heart of creating a learning organization. Individuals who have acquired this skill are truly prepared to deal with change. It's hard to overemphasize the importance of this part of the coaching process. The essence of adult education can be described as "learning how to learn." The coaching process is more than just how to deal with immediate challenges and performance issues. Its greater benefit may be in using those issues as way to learn a process for dealing with future challenges as well.

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The simple truth is that most work in organizations takes place through relationships. Yet in our traditional education, relationships skills are not in the curriculum. We could view the coaching process as a college for adults where the curriculum is a process that facilitates learning for life through ongoing cycle of: · · · · · · · · Increased awareness as to where things aren't working. Feedback as to how the person being coached shows up in situations. Becoming conscious of assumptions, beliefs and patterns of behavior. Determining ways to change and setting personal goals. Getting an infusion of ideas, models and new ways of looking at things. Taking action and practicing new behaviors. Reflecting on progress and getting more feedback. Making adjustments and practicing some more.

Summary Operational goals are met through groups of people working together in relationship, and how well they work together depends on the individuals involved. On the way to meeting operational goals, good coaching creates learning individuals ­ individuals who have the selfawareness and social awareness to create organizations with better leadership and less pain, where people are learning and growing, and bringing their full selves into the workplace. It does this by creating the conditions for learning and behavior change ­ creating safety, support, feedback, and opportunities to practice, practice, practice over time. Too often, organizations attempt to become a "learning organization" without developing learning, inquiring employees. Having worked in organizations for thirty years, in both line and

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management positions and then as a consultant to major organizational change efforts, I had experienced that change efforts frequently fail due to the inability of the individuals involved to effectively learn and change. Through the voices of the people I interviewed I developed a conviction that one-on-one support through coaching was perhaps the keystone to successful change efforts. As a result, I have in fact shifted the focus of my own practice to coaching, and my enthusiasm for the process has only increased. Coaching at its best is truly a process of learning for life. .

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References and Partial Bibliography Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1997). Women's Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind. New York: Basic Books. Butler, K. (1997). The Anatomy of Resilience. Networker (March/April), 23-31. Capra, F. (1996). The Web of Life. New York: Anchor Books. Demick, J., & Miller, P. M. (Eds.). (1993). Development in the Workplace. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Goleman, D. (1998). Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam. Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2001). Primal Leadership. Harvard Business Review, December, 42-51. Hudson, F. M. (1999). The Handbook of Coaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Jordan, J. V., Kaplan, A. G., Miller, J. B., Stiver, I. P., & Surrey, J. L. (Eds.). (1991). Women's Growth in Connection; Writings from the Stone Center. New York: Guilford Press. Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (1998). The Adult Learner; The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. (fifth ed.). Houston, TX: Gulf Publishing. Mezirow, J. (1981). A Critical Theory of Adult Learning and Education. Adult Education, 32(1), 3-24 Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill. Senge, P. M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline; the Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday. Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy. London, Ontario: University of Western Ontario. Wheatley, M. J. (1992). Leadership and the New Science. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler. Zohar, D. (1997). Rewiring the Corporate Brain; Using the New Science to Rethink How We Structure and Lead Organizations. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

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Jean L. Hurd, Ph.D., co-founder of Janus Consulting, Inc., has over twenty-eight years of work experience focused on the integration of business, people and technology including fifteen years consulting to a broad range of organizations. She focuses on the planning, analysis, design and implementation of the human aspects of a business initiative, to insure that the business results are met and sustained. Jean provides coaching, facilitation and training for individuals and groups at all organizational levels. Particular areas of emphasis include leadership, interpersonal skills and team development, understanding individual personality styles, change management, and enhancing client relationships. Jean holds a Ph.D. in Adult and Organizational Development from The Union Institute, an M.L.S. in Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a qualified MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) instructor and certified Enneagram teacher. Jean can be reached at: [email protected]

Copyright © 2003 Jean L. Hurd



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