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25.01.2021

Coaching works. This finding is now widely and reliably supported by scientific evidence. Although there are also negative effects and different effect strengths in the (positive) effect, it can be said on average that whoever takes part in coaching will achieve a positive effect. What we hardly understand, if at all, so far, is the question of what exactly is effective about coaching and what makes coaching effective. Nicklas Kinder has been investigating this question for some time now as part of his dissertation.

Coaching Effectiveness and Success – a mostly very subjective endeavor

The first question is what is actually being measured when we talk about effectiveness or success in coaching. Here, science falls back on a multitude of different constructs. The more objective the measure of success, the more time-consuming and cost- or resource-intensive its collection. Accordingly, measures such as goal achievement or client satisfaction are usually used. This survey can be carried out conveniently by means of (online) questionnaires.
However, this approach brings with it a fuzziness. Today we know that the satisfaction with coaching is significantly influenced by the sympathy to the coach. To leave out this influencing factor is to undermine the credibility and validity of the results obtained. Measures such as employee turnover, productivity or return on investment are much more meaningful, but are very rarely collected for the reasons mentioned above.

The complexity of the impact of coaching

Leaving aside the challenges of measuring success, we turn our attention here to the mechanisms of impact of coaching. Coaching works, yes. But how and through what? Eliciting the answer to these questions is in no way to be considered less complex – on the contrary. Regardless of the training direction of the coach, coaching represents a special form of social interaction, which is therefore subject to common social psychological rules and phenomena. In simplified terms, people in interactions thus always strive to maximize their gains from action and minimize the costs resulting from the action. However, the results of coaching are co-created by both interaction partners – coach and client. Thus, only part of the control over the results of action is in the hands of the coach, another part is in the hands of the respective counterpart, and a third part is in the joint, shared control. The respective situation plays an additional role.

This can be said – coaching works as a part of social interaction

In coaching, however, the coach does not follow the maximization of his action gains, but tries to influence the interaction positively in the sense of his client. In coaching, there is a continuous exchange of emotions and cognitions between the interlocutors. The joint interactions usually take place in loops. Thereby a mutual influence takes place. Basic needs initially generate motivated cognitions. These then lead to motivated behavior, which is interpreted reciprocally and leads to a further loop. Whether this process is perceived as effort or gain/benefit depends on two factors. On the one hand, to what extent the individual needs and motives match. Second, how the respective counterpart perceives and reacts to the behavior. This is the voice of social psychology.

Individual impact factors cannot score

Thus, in summary, the study of the impact of coaching depends on the behavior of coach and client and their interaction. In addition, it is also about the perception of each other’s behavior and its subjective interpretation. It is therefore relatively unsatisfactory and not very meaningful to identify specific individual factors as mechanisms of effect in coaching. The reason for this is the complex interdependencies of effects, which suggest a plurality to multitude of relevant factors. It can also be assumed that, for example, satisfaction with coaching depends on other factors than the achievement of goals or the consistency of the implementation of certain goals.

The frequently published studies on individual impact factors found are consequently limited, at least in their informative value. This is especially true if one considers that so quickly the impression is created that many similar factors could play a role, which, however, could be quickly traced back to a common origin in a joint investigation (e.g. social closeness, trust, empathy, positive interactions and sympathy are explained by the working relationship). Thus, one should examine several interesting and interrelated as well as extraneous constructs together to obtain impact factor models. Single impact factors seem unrealistic and not very meaningful.

Complex impact factor models – an exciting research direction

Preliminary results from studies of more complex surveys (Kinder et al., 2020) suggest that coaching works, as different criteria help most clients to rate coaching as successful. Success was assessed in terms of goal achievement and satisfaction with coaching, but composed of different differentiating individual questions. The criteria arose from a number of variables, which were the result of complex statistical calculations with so-called structural equation models.

Impact factors for predicting the success of coaching (from the client’s point of view):

  • Working relationship – tasks (how well did the activities and tasks help the client in coaching)
  • Working relationship – bonding (closeness and bonding in the working relationship between coach and client)
  • Trust (the client’s confidence in the coach’s competence, benevolence and integrity)
  • Empathy (the empathy of the coach)
  • Affect calibration (the inclusion of the client’s emotional level in coaching)
  • Resource activation and implementation (orientation to strengths, competencies, resources and experiences and their usefulness for the implementation of the goals)
  • Each variable in itself has an influence on coaching success, following the logic “the higher the better”. Therefore, statistically, the more a coach incorporates these points, the greater the likelihood that the coaching will be successful for the client.

As we can see, two levels are significant for coaching to be effective:

On the one hand, the coach should address the relationship level and respond to you individually. Only in this way can a trusting relationship develop and your coach understand what is going on inside you.

On the other hand, the coach should be a structuring element and ensure, through a good selection of tasks that suit you, that you work on the right adjusting screws, reflect and ultimately make progress for yourself. The structure is likewise found in the reflection and gathering of suitable resources that you need or that can help you achieve your goals.

Virtual coaching claims an increasingly important role in the context of modern qualification concepts. Why is coaching so important in tomorrow’s learning? Does coaching over the telephone or the Internet have any effect and if so, how does it work?

The learning of the future – different formats and methods

The demands on modern and innovative learning concepts are enormous. A wide range of skills needs to be developed in a varied and efficient way. At best, the learning formats should be effective, sustainable and up-to-date. In addition to increasing knowledge, the focus is and will be on developing mindsets or attitudes and sustained learning transfer. Working on our own attitudes is rather difficult, as this requires actively working on some of our deep convictions.

Each learning format has a different focus. E-learning primarily addresses the development of knowledge competencies. Classical classroom workshops or trainings focus more on the application of knowledge. Community learning is intended to ensure that knowledge is shared more effectively within the group and that an exchange of experience and collegial supervision take place. It makes a significant contribution to ensuring the transfer and integration of what has been learned into everyday life.

Aim and effectiveness of e-Coaching

And what is the significance of (virtual) coaching? It is the ideal format to activate the volition of a learner. But it is about more than just motivation. Coaching can develop personality, stimulate self-reflection or encourage a change of attitude. It is also an excellent choice for flexible learning support.

As part of Future Learning , coaching usually takes place virtually, i.e. via telephone or video conference. Thus, compact coaching sessions offer a way to maintain an ongoing coaching schedule over time regardless of distance, eliminating the need to travel. This makes virtual coaching extremely time and cost efficient. This, in turn, facilitates real long-term support for any learner.

Is virtual coaching effective at all? We have known for some time that coaching in itself is effective (Grover & Furnham, 2016). Also virtual or telephone coaching has an effect. According to current studies, there are no significant deviations compared to live coaching (Jones, Woods & Guillaume, 2015).

So it is no small wonder that this qualification format is more and more en vogue.

Fields of application and effect mechanisms of online coaching

When can virtual coaching be used?

It is always the format of choice when the focus is on supporting qualification programmes that are designed for the longer term development of individual learners. As this case shows, the coach acts as a link between the learner and his learning progress. It is the go-to method when learner and coach are spatially separated and regular live sessions cannot be realised.

In principle, coaching, even in virtual format, can be applied to these topics:

  • Process monitoring and process reflection
  • Target definition and target-process evaluation
  • Self-reflection and reflection on content
  • Review of competences and learning objectives
  • Development of learning successes and fields of development
  • Introduction of, implementation of and support for exercises
  • Personality development
  • Mindset Change, work on attitude and volition

Virtual coaching has a similar effect as a face-to-face format. Through the working relationship, empathy, esteem and increasing trust, learners can usually get involved with the content and development steps can be experienced. Structuring the process, asking questions and discussing exercises, goals or own topics leads to reflection and a deeper processing. The resources of the learners are usually strengthened. In addition, positive effects on a variety of psychological factors such as self-efficacy can be demonstrated.

Virtual coaching has proven to be particularly beneficial when coach and coachèe meet in person at the beginning. Although this is not absolutely necessary for the success of the coaching, it is certainly an excellent support.

Of essential importance is that the coach is experienced or suitably qualified in virtual work. Implementing coaching effectively via computers is an art of its own that needs to be practiced. After all, two levels of communication are severely restricted, body language and mood/atmosphere. This means that the linguistic design of the process is of even greater importance, as is the case in coaching anyway.

Virtual coaching – the heart of Future Learning

The importance of coaching for FutureLlearning will certainly continue to grow as it supports learners in two different ways:

  • Continuous monitoring of the individual learning process: In regular “coach calls” learners can clarify questions, structure their individual development process or check competence development. In a digitalised programme, coaching takes over what digitalised tests, artificial intelligence or e-learning cannot yet do.
  • Personal accompaniment of the human being: However, in an optimally designed and efficient qualification programme, people usually seek personal relationships and contact. Reflection and appreciation can hardly be experienced through the web. This social part of the development work can only take place in a person to person connection.

Virtual coaching thus combines economy and efficiency with the human component in the learning of the future. Attitudes and mindsets can thus be successfully addressed and developed.

Also worth reading in this context could be our Blog Coaching – a powerful instrument of individual change.

This blog was written by Nicklas Kinder, who is currently writing his dissertation on the topic “Coaching” at the University of Salzburg.