Just What is Coaching?

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The article is dedicated to coaching overall, to its peculiarities within Russian business, and to ways of increasing the effectiveness of your work with a coach.

Just What is Coaching?

Coaching is one of the fastest growing industries in management consulting. According to the International Federation of Coaching, there are more than forty thousand certified business coaches across the world. Coaches' daily rates in developed countries can range from one thousand to thirty-thousand dollars. Twenty years ago it was seen as extravagant for a manager to work with a coach, and ten years ago it was considered fashionable. Today, coaching is becoming almost as popular among senior management as working with business consultants, auditors and recruitment specialists.

Today coaching is becoming almost as popular amongsenior management as working with business consultants,auditors and recruitment specialists.

The initial meaning of the word “to coach” was transport, to carry from one place to another. This is a good definition in that it points toward the main goal of coaching – achieving specific changes in a person’s behavior. Business coaching can latterly be described as a partnership between a coach and a coachee meant to increase the latter’s productivity by heightening their motivation, changing their professional behavior (style) and helping to find the answers to difficult questions.

There are also other definitions of this method. We believe that these multiple definitions show the complexity of the concept of coaching which is difficult to describe using just one sentence. Here we will list off the most important features of business coaching:

  • Coaching consists of a series of dialogues between the coach and the coachee;
  • Coaching implies that the coachee receives feedback about their strong and weak sides, style, achievements, problems, etc.;
  • Coaching implies that the coachee knows himself or herself and is able to expand that knowledge;
  • Coaching addresses the client’s specific issues dealing with his or her professional activities;
  • Coaching is a non-prescriptive form of development in that the coach gives no instructions, but rather helps the coachee find the answer by himself or herself;
  • Coaching is intended to increase one’s productivity, develop skills and/or heighten one's motivation;
  • Coaching implies that the coachee is mentally stable and does not require medical help;
  • A coaching program has a limited time frame.

Some might think coaching is similar to consulting, while others might see it as psychotherapy or mentoring. So what makes coaching peculiar, what separates it from allied disciplines? Take this vivid example: Imagine an adult who wants to learn how to ride a bike, and to do this he or she can hire a psychotherapist, consultant, mentor or coach. Each one of them can help, but in their own way. A consultant will pick out the appropriate bicycle and explain in detail how to ride it correctly. A psychotherapist will uncover why the person still does not know how to ride a bike (for example, that fear was a hindrance) and help him or her overcome this. A mentor will demonstrate how you need to ride a bike and talk about his own bike-riding experience. A coach will help the person find the inner strength and inspiration to get on that bike and ride, with the coach running alongside or behind until the student feels confident enough to ride alone.

Coaching as a discipline is also heterogeneous. There are various approaches, and at the core of each of them is a concept for increasing a person's productivity in the business world. The main goal of coaching as part of the psychodynamic approach is to help the coachee better understand the reasons for their actions, emotions and thoughts deep down, and then transform the ones that hold back efficient growth into constructive ones. The behaviorist school of coaching focuses on peoples’ behavior and concrete actions. And when using this approach the coach considers attaining noticeable changes in the coachee’s behavior, developing their constant skills and heightening their experience to be the main result. The systemic approach sees the coachee as one of the elements of a complex organizational system. Coaching’s goal here is to clear up all interested parties’ expectations and make changes to the relationship system that would allow the coachees to increase their productivity.

Of course, in practice none of these approaches are isolated from one another. While preferring to work with one style, experienced coaches combine these approaches depending on each situation and the goal they want to achieve. At the same time, a company may prefer a coaching school by virtue of tradition or the character of the task at hand.

An important peculiarity in using coaching in business is that the client and consumer can be different people. A coach is hired by an organization whose representative sets goals for the coachee’s development and assesses the results achieved. For example, if a company shareholderhires a coach for a new CEO to precipitate his or her getting adapted to their new surroundings, then the shareholder here is the coach's client and the CEO is the coachee. To make such a versatile relationship effective, business coaching pays a lot of attention to finding out everyone’s expectations, signing a contract of confidentiality and having the participants trust each other during the process.

Coaching in Russia

The coaching market in Russia (just like many other service-industry markets) is not as large or as matured as in developed countries, but it is growing very quickly. Even during 2009, a year of economic troubles, the coaching market grew which is especially noticeable in contrast to overall expenditures on personnel development. Consultants at Ward Howell/Zest Leadership and other companies have taken notice of the growing demand for individual coaching too.

So how can one explain this phenomenon? Just a few years ago all of the coaching done in Russia had to do with coaching executives and top-managers, and so far that has not changed (46% of companies surveyed said that they used coaching for their top-management). It is even continuing to grow. Today, however, more and more companies are embracing coaching as a way to develop promising employees or talent pools (24%) and middle management (27%) (diagram 1).


Our observations show that coaching is spreading through Russian businesses from the top down. Top managers who experience the success and productivity that coaching gives them apply it throughout their organization. Russian business overall has started paying attention to developing management talent and career planning, and coaching is an effective tool for this. Finally, managers on all levels have found that during the economic crisis there have been fewer opportunities to bring in outside resources, such as additional financing or consulting, to achieve their goals. Therefore, what is left is to better utilize resources within a company, again through coaching.

What goals do managers have when using coaching? First, they look to obtain practical results for their business. More than 40% of the companies that have used coaching did so to tackle specific business goals. One fourth of the companies used coaching to develop their strongest employees, and a third of the companies used coaching to help managers adapt to a new position. Only 4% of the managers said that they used coaching to support those lagging behind, most likely because it is less effective (diagram 2).


An important peculiarity of using coaching in business isthat the client and consumer can be different people.

There were also some changes in the type coaching sought: more than 20% of those managers surveyed who used coaching said they have started to use it on a regular basis. Of course, the majority is only trying coaching: 78% of those surveyed said that they used coaching once or only a few times (diagram 3). Research has also shown that big companies with a large enough budget and work force are able to use coaching on a constant basis.


This all indicates that demand is continuing to grow. The majority of managers in the post-Soviet republics have not yet used coaching themselves. Having said that, almost three-fourths of those managers surveyed who currently do not use coaching said that they are open to using it in the future (diagram 4). Research of the West's experience done by the American Association of Management in 2008 discovered the following: More than half of those organizations surveyed said that they use coaching programs on a constant basis, and two-thirds of them affirm that hey are using coaching more than before. At that, talent pools (60% of companies) are the main group that receives coaching, with senior managers coming in second (42%). In the future the percentage of Russia's talent pool members receiving coaching is expected to increase significantly. While the demand for coaching is growing, its quality does not always keep up.


Coaching in Russia has traditionally been taken up as a job by professionals from generic fields, such as business training and psychotherapy. As opposed to the United States and Europe, Russia has very few experienced managers that have switched over to the coaching business. Coaches that came from the business sphere are appreciated by managers most of all. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a large influx of people coming over to coaching from business, since Russian business people are young and absorbed by their work, and the market offers them many opportunities. Some trainers see coaching as the next step in their development and as a new specialty, while others see it as a way to make some extra money. The biggest category of coaches consists of former psychotherapists. Each coaches naturally makes his own contribution to the work that they do: businessmen can offer direct advice from their own experience, trainers are inclined to teach skills they know and psychotherapists lean toward a coachee’s personal needs and worries more than business goals. So the more facultative coaching for a specialist becomes, the higher the risk that a different kind of service will be rendered (it may be professional and high-quality, but at the same time not fit in with the definition of business coaching).

In contrast with the United States and Europe, Russia has very few experienced managers that have switched over to the coaching business.

Russia still lacks any generally-recognized accreditation or certification systems for coaching, has no distinct industry stardards for coaching, and it is still not clearly recognized as a specialization (it is worth pointing out that this is normal for coaching across the world, given that the industry was only recently created). Despite all this, the experience and level of coach training is gradually on the rise. There is even a certain group of professional coaches that have coaching as their main profession. Coaches belonging to this group regularly receive international training, supervision (professional patronage and mentoring) and certification.

The coaching market as a whole is characterized by a lack of information transparency. There are very few resources in which Russian managers can find information about coaching and the services it offers; information on coaching is fragmented and very hard to find. Coaches sometimes either do not want to or are unable to offer all the information clients request. On the one hand, some coaches try to compensate for their lack of experience or necessary tools with their charisma. On the other hand, coaches are not always able to openly acknowledge any of the results they have achieved in their work because many clients prefer to keep their names confidential.

It’s not surprising that some managers have no trust for coaching and go about things with a wait-and-see attitude. Many of those who indicated in our survey that they do not use coaching gave one of two reasons for this: not being very familiar with coaching as an instrument or not being confident in its efficiency (31% and 17% respectively). Managers also point out other reasons for not using coaching: 39% have other investment priorities, while roughly 19% are wary of the organizational complexities. Having said that, only 17% of all respondents said that they have never had the need for coaching arise (diagram 5).


The lack of clarity in the coaching world is also seen in how its pricing system works. Only half of the managers we surveyed stated how much they have spent on coaching. While almost a fourth of them paid less than three hundred dollars an hour for coaching. Most of them (roughly half) spent from three hundred to six hundred dollars; 20% spend from six hundred to one thousand dollars. The highest price category was filled by 7% of surveyed companies, which spent more than one thousand dollars an hour on coaching. Despite expectations, coaching for middle-level managers was not always cheaper than coaching for senior managers. This, therefore, fortifies yet another feature seen on the market: A coach's professional training and experience have little to do with the price of coaching in Russia. Internationally recognized specialists that receive global rates (more than one thousand and even two thousand dollars an hour) are the exception (diagram 6).


Assessing coaching’s effectiveness is probably one of the most important and difficult aspects for two reasons: Coaching results are often hard to identify and separate from other influential factors. Our experience shows that most companies choose to evaluate coaching as being effective if the coachee is subjectively satisfied and his managers have a positive assessment of the process. You can read more in this edition’s interview about the practiced methods for analyzing coaching’s effectiveness.

All participants’ expectations should be clear to everyone. The coach should not act as a broken telephone or play toy between a coachee and his or her managers and colleagues.

We asked respondents to our survey just how much coaching had met their expectations. Almost two-thirds said that they got what they were looking for. 4% of managers said that they got more than what they expected, while 29% said they were not satisfied with the results. 2% said they were disappointed in what coaching gave them (diagram 7). We believe there may be two more explanations for this besides low quality of service. First, far from all coaches clearly state their expectations and goals with their coachee, their manager and HR service, either because coaches do not see this as necessary, or they are afraid of giving away the magic of their method and thus losing their contract. Second, coaching is an extremely intensive process of development and change that is certainly not always pleasant, can often be difficult or even painful, and demands that the coachee put in a lot of effort. Managers that have become used to a consumer-knowledge role during training or a buyer-knowledge role when working with consultants can at times be unpleasantly surprised when coaching requires a lot of active and constant work from them.


How to Increase Productivity in Working with a Coach?

We are not claiming to have an exhaustive list of all the factors in coaching’s productivity, but we would like to notea few that we believe most often to be key to a coach’s and coachee’s success.

  1. The coachee's willingness to work and take responsibility. Showing the similarity of a business coach and a sports coach, we are going to resort to a sports metaphor: when you hire a coach, you are buying the opportunity to work out, not ready-made six-pack abs. If the coachee does not have the energy, time and/or desire to work, then a good coach, just like a good athletic trainer, can make an effort to inspire and motivate this person (heighten their aspiration and realize their motives), pick out the most convenient and efficient training program, sort out mistakes, provide emotional support and challenge him or her to reach their goal, but the coach cannot make any changes happen magically, do the exercises that the coachee should do, be by the coachee’s side 24/7 or make sure he or she is following the course.
  2. Choosing the right coach. Choosing the right coach is extremely important for the coach and coachee to be successful together. Making the right choice depends, on selectinga coach from a professional point of view (compare the type of coaching and a coach's profile with your goals), and on being satisfied that the coach and coachee are psychologically compatible (or “have chemistry”). Just like with any profession, the idea of there being a universal specialist in coaching is a myth, as most coaches have their own niches: some focus on attaining the coachee’s business goals, some put the emphasis on personal goals, some are willing to use elements of psychotherapy, while others are not, some are more inclined to working individually and others with groups. We would advise both the coachee and coach to stop working together if things don’t seem to be working out, but only after the third session. Before this, a coachee that does not understand the coaching process and has not seen the first results may prematurely and unjustifiably be disappointed in their coaching.
  3. Clearing up everyone's expectations and havinga clear contract. As we talked about above, a contract and having specific expectations are some of the most difficult and important parts of working with a coach. Working out a contract is effectively part of the coaching process. All participants' expectations - the coachee's, coach's, client's (usually the coachee's managers or the coachee himself) and quite possibly HR specialists' - should be crystal clear to everyone. The coach should not act as a broken telephone or play toy betweena coachee and his or her managers and colleagues. We recommend having at least two trilateral sessions during the coaching period to avoid this from happening.

In this article we talked about the concept of coaching, did a brief review of the market in Russia and CIS and looked over what we believe to be the most important issues in coaching's development. Finally, we offer some recommendations for managers who would like touse coaching to obtain optimum productivity. Here we would like to finish up our general overview and hand things off to our direct market participants.Take a moment to meet the following professional coaches and representatives of various schools and styles of coaching:

We thought it important to give the floor to managersthat use coaching for their own development and teamdevelopment:

We are also publishing an interview with Yulia Uzhakina, director and partner of Amplua-Broker, expert in thepersonnel training-and-development market.

You will notice that the opinion of those interviewed vary on several issues, and may differ from the positionswe have taken. We hope that this only increases your interest in coaching and helps you in forming your own opinion. Below we present a list of sources for additional study. This list does not contain everything available on coaching; rather it reflects the opinions of authors whose positions we consider intriguing or parallel to our own.

About the Survey

One hundred people took part in the survey, with 93 of them giving complete answers that were used in this analysis. We used a host of different companies with a work force from five people to fifty thousand people (including global corporations with three hundred sixty thousand employees). Respondent companies were arranged by industry, with a breakdown shown below of those with experience working with foreign coaches and those without.


The respondent companies were arranged in the following pie graphs in terms of the number of employees:


Respondents were arranged by their level in themanagement hierarchy:


Among them, roughly a fifth are responsible for acompany's personnel functions (HR directors).


Overall, a just under a third of the companies had experience with coaching. The breakdown of companies, however, probably does not reflect the actual coefficient of those who use and do not use coaching, because taking part in our research was most likely more interesting for companies that had already had experience with coaching.

This article was published as part of the third issue of Talent Equity Newsletter "Coaching as a Management Development Tool".

To read all other journal issues, please follow the link to TE Newsletters page.