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Coaching insights from those who have been coached

July 1, 2017 • Executive Coaching

Carter, A., Blackman, A., Hicks, B., Williams, M. and Hay, R. (2017), Perspectives on effective coaching by those who have been coached. International Journal of Training and Development, 21: 73-91.



A new study reported in the International Journal of Training and Development takes a different approach to assessing coaching outcomes. Proposing that there is a gap in the academic literature, the researchers explored unsuccessful coaching or barriers to coaching success. The study focused on industry professionals in 34 countries who had been or were currently being coached. The study found that facing barriers during the period of coaching engagements was common and they identified “six barrier categories.”


Six questions, on support and barriers, were included in the International Coaching Effectiveness Survey designed to explore the perspective of coachees about their coaching experience. The entire international coaching effectiveness survey comprised 63 questions divided into six sections. A pre-defined list of potential barriers was created, based on semi-structured interviews conducted in 2013. The survey was publicized via national and international networks, employers and coaching associations and was available to respondents between March 2013 and May 2014. 296 completed surveys were received. Of the total, 83% who worked with an external coach while 14% had internal coaches.


89% of respondents reported that their coaching was effective, while 11% believed it to be of limited effectiveness. The study included four avenues of inquiry:

  1. Coaching Support Received: Bosses, peers, direct reports and family members were all seen as generally supportive. Support included paying for coaching (51%); allocating time for coaching during work periods (62%); manager/supervisor encouragement (40%); and making changes based on learnings (49%).
  2. Is Coaching a Predictor of Coaching Effectiveness?: While manager, peer and team support were not significant influences on the perceived effectiveness of coaching, personal effort, and family support were, suggesting that social support may be more important than organizational support.
  3. Barriers Faced: Unclear development goals and lack of agreement with his/her coach on goals’ was the single biggest issue reported by 22% of coachees. The researchers identified six categories of “higher order’ barriers from the responses and found the most cited higher order barriers were coachees’ own readiness and engagement (50.2%) coaching experience barriers (38.9%) and organizational culture barriers (16.7%). The least cited higher order barriers were difficulties with the coach (11.8%), external events (8.4%) and coaching relationship (7.4%).
  4. Are Barriers a Predictor of Coaching Ineffectiveness?: Coachees who highlighted the coaching relationship as a barrier were more likely to find the coaching ineffective. Also, those who identified “difficulties with coach” as a barrier were also more likely to state the coaching had limited effect. The small sample size made the significance difficult to assess for both findings.

Practical Implications

The researchers conclude with two recommendations, one for organizations and one for coaches:

“Organizations should review any requirement for all coachees to set goals at the outset while line managers should provide clarity and honesty about the reasons for nomination and what they hope the coaching outcomes will be. Offering employees a choice of coach and assessing the readiness of employees for coaching is also indicated.”

“Coaches should encourage engagement by coachees’ bosses and re-think any rigid reliance on setting specific, measurable, actionable, results-orientated and timely goals.”


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