The (Mis)perception of coaching (The Final Part)

Part 1 on the (mis)perception of coaching outlined the nature of the survey and the demographics of the participants.  This post seeks to answer one of the questions explored in the survey, and is the final post of 5 in the series.

Do participants believe that it is important that there is a scientific (ie psychological) approach to coaching?

A number of academic researchers talk about the importance of performance-related psychological principles within a coaching context.  Whitmore, who could be considered the grandfather of coaching is one of these academics.

The participants were asked a series of questions concerning the role of psychological models and theories and the competence of a coach in using these within a coaching session.

There was a strong positive correlation between a coach’s competency in using psychology models and having a solid understanding of these models  There was also a strong positive correlation between a coach’s competency in using psychology models and the credibility of a coach.

The research supports these statements, that coaches needed to have competency in using psychological models based on a solid theoretical understanding.  And when this occurs, the coach has credibility.

Two other academics, Grant and Cavanagh discuss the  fact that coaches are becoming increasingly aware of the need to have a solid theoretical background, and perhaps this is reflected in the results of this research.  Whilst a significant number of respondents were coaches, it could be suggested that this awareness is now also prevalent amongst non-coaching participants.

The participants who were self-declared coaches were not asked to comment on whether they used psychological models in their practice.  However, in the free commentary at the end of the research a number of participants felt strong enough to comment that they felt an understanding and competency of psychological theories and models did not prevent a coach from being successful.

This subject is obviously an emotive topic for some participants. It would be interesting to undertake further qualitative research with these participants to further understand their perception into this subject matter.

And I think that this highlights where the real issue lies:  Grant  wrote in 2004 that “such diversity is both a strength and a liability…..there is a lack of clarity as to what professional coaching really is and what makes for an effective and reputable coach”

Newnham-Kanas attempted in 2009 to write a bibliography of heath coaching research.  The authors sought to identify the operational definition of coaching used in each piece of research they audited, only to find that repeatedly no model or definition was given.    The authors themselves determine that “This prominent limitation made it difficult to understand what was intended by the term “coaching”.

The Bibliography also highlighted that frequently the coaching consisted of interventions such as providing information, telephone monitoring, 15 minute one-to-one sessions, personal tailored messages on a website and offering problem solving techniques.  There is also a question of the (lack of) ability or experience of many of the coaches involved in the research.

In light of the above, it is unsurprising that Bachkirova and Cox in 2004  drew the conclusion that “the conceptual ground that coaching is built upon could be viewed as, at best, multi-disciplinary, and at worst as atheoretical or even anti-theoretical”.

It is sobering to note that in 2004, Kilburg wrotes “for all the work that has been done to illuminate the subject of coaching in the past 15 or 20 years, what actually happens in coaching engagements remains quite mysterious”

It is evident from my survey that whilst there may not be mystery in what happens in a coaching session, there is no common understanding about what coaching is, what it entails or what to expect.  This I think is a more serious issue for the coaching industry today.

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My thoughts on the ConnectingHR Unconference

I admit it…..I was the one that was jealous – the person who @RobJones_Tring was referring to at the beginning of the day. I’d followed previous tweet-ups and unconferences via my twitter stream.  I watched interesting conversations unfold, could feel the energy in the room and the connections being made.  The day after I would sense a different “vibe” on twitter amongst the attendees.

Without doubt, the fact that many of us connect on an almost daily basis via Twitter influenced the flow and energy of the event.  For example:

1.  There was no need to network (which I hate).  Some conversations started with “What do you do?” but many also began with a question relating to a tweet someone has recently made.    We moved from a virtual relationship to a real one seamlessly.

2.  There was no “positioning” or game playing between attendees.  There’s no point…..we were all in the room as we like each other’s company on Twitter and the unconference was an opportunity to turn our 140 character debates into something more.

3.  We would used our knowledge of each other to propel debates forward or to seek clarification on certain points.  It felt safe to do this, and this was based on trust and respect developed prior to the event itself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you had to be active on Twitter to enjoy the event.  I just think the fact that relationships developed on Twitter prior the event help generate the incredible energy that we all felt.

And what did I get out of the event?   My main learning is that whilst technically HR theory & practice is the same wherever you work, it is the sector or industry that influences how HR is operationalised.  For example:

1. On performance management:  I sat back and listened. During the discussion the idea of doing away with a formal performance management system was mooted.  One drawback?  It’s linked to reward.   And that’s where we’re different in the NHS: we don’t link performance management to reward.   And that’s perhaps why, for years, we didn’t really push our organisations to undertake annual appraisals.  This has changed recently and whilst the quantity is up our new challenge is quality.

2.  On flexible working:  this discussion explored trust, the nature of management – employee relations and about looking at work outputs as opposed to time served.  In the NHS, the majority of our workforce have to cover a 24 hour service.  Even if they get all their work done in their 8 hour shift, they have to remain “on-duty” in the event of any emergencies that will require their clinical support.  For the NHS, flexible working is more about finding a way to offer these staff an off-duty (the rota) that supports a work-life balance.

3.  On theory vs practice:  It was heart-warming to hear so many HR practitioners talk about their evidence based approach.  One participant talked about how he enjoys reading the links from People Management articles, and how it enables him to more fully understand the topic being discussed.  I often get down-hearted as I meet NHS HR practitioners who don’t understand how theory underpins their practice.  When I coach NHS  HR teams I spend time exploring this concept and what they can do to increase their theoretical knowledge and how this relates to their practice.

Having said all that, from the discussions held today I firmly believe that there are concepts that I learnt about today that could cross over to the “dark-side” (ie the public sector).

And what would I like to see next time?

1.  Biscuits (and I’m happy to bring my own!)

2. A way to capture all the references that participants made.  Lots of people talked about journal articles or books that they had read.  I now want to read them….but I can’t remember the exact details or even who made the reference.

At the end of the day I feel inspired and I enjoyed the experience.  I’m sorry I didn’t stay until the very end (and once again I think I missed out!).    My thanks goes to Jon and Gareth for organising such a great event and to everybody else who helped facilitate the day.  Here’s to the next one!