alchemy alliance: press room: the guardian november 2004


The Wild West of Coaching

The Guardian, November 15th, 2004

Think of the word "coach" and sporting images immediately spring to mind. But coaching is becoming increasingly used in the business world as organisations strive to address under-performance among their employees. It is one of the fastest-growing training practices in the UK , according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The institute's 2004 training and development survey of more than 500 employers reveals that three-quarters of them now use coaching in their companies.

But with its increased use in the business world, there has come increased concern among employers about the number of bad coaches entering the market who are inexperienced, have little training and lack the appropriate knowledge and skills. "Employers don't know who are the good guys or the cowboys," says Jessica Jarvis, the CIPD's adviser on learning, training and development. "Quality within the coaching profession can be hugely variable and this is where the buyers of the coaching profession can face difficulties."

One of the reasons for the confusion over the quality of coaching services is that the industry is very fragmented, with four main national bodies representing coaching interests in the UK - the Association for Coaching (AC), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), the Coaching Psychology Forum (CPF), part of the British Psychological Society, and the UK International Coach Federation, each with its own coaching philosophies and code of ethics. As yet, there is no single national body in the UK with overall responsibility for accrediting and training practitioners of the trade.

Neil Offley, director of development and evaluation at the NHS leadership centre, agrees that it is not immediately apparent who or what constitutes a good coach. "The fragmentation doesn't make it as easy as it should be to identify those with the required background to entrust with a coaching assignment," he says. The NHS itself selects coaches using a commissioning process. "This requires the providers to supply information on the skills and experience of coaches, including details of qualifications and examples demonstrating the type and level of experience held by coaches," says Offley. "This enables us to take a systematic approach to selecting and matching coaching providers, often in the form of a pool of available coaches, to the needs of a given circumstance."

The coaching sector is only now beginning to get its act together, according to Jerry Arnott, managing director of leadership and development consultancy Origin Consulting. "There are an awful lot of providers that are varied in their capabilities and experience and have no right to be called coaches," he says. But moves are afoot by some of the national coaching bodies to raise the standard of training and professionalism within the industry. EMCC, a non-profit organisation, is consulting with the three other coaching bodies to draw up one single set of competencies that define a coach. "We've drawn together all the major competency frameworks for coaching and mapped them on to a single framework," says Pauline Willis, director of the standards project at EMCC. "This will help employers to see which competencies the industry feels are indicative of coaching best practice."

The AC is also taking steps to raise standards in coaching by working towards assembling accredited training courses in 2006. "We will be working with awarding bodies to identify the key components of a good coach training," explains Gladeana McMahon, vice-president of the AC. "Then we will use this as a benchmark for quality training. Training bodies will then be encouraged to get their courses accredited with the AC."

However, many employers in the CIPD survey believe that having a single professional body in the coaching industry would be useful to provide a code of ethics that all coaches must adhere to and to offer training courses and qualifications. Some industry experts disagree with this view. McMahon argues that the four main bodies are just too different in structure and operation for this to happen. "The two key bodies are the EMCC and the AC," she says. "The EMCC being more committee-based and sees itself as taking on Europe and being more business focused whereas the AC takes on board all aspects of coaching."

Nevertheless, she does concede that the consolidation of the quartet into one organisation with overall responsibility for accrediting and training coaches is inevitable. "We need one national organisation to provide clarity around standards and accreditation and, although it will take time, there is a heavy demand for it to happen," she says. There is no doubt that efforts are being made to raise the professionalism of coaching by all four bodies but only time will tell whether one will emerge with overall responsibility for setting standards, or whether a true merger can take place.

Beware of coaches who...

  • Can't explain the model they use.
  • Can't say what they can do and what they can't.
  • Don't know who they would not coach.
  • Have no experience in organisational settings, only a therapeutic background.
  • Insist on using their own coaching model and assessment instruments instead of using or integrating yours.
  • Have only done outplacement work.
  • Take credit for past coaching results.

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