My wife and business partner, Amy, and I were talking today about coaching and my approach with my group and business clients. She asked me if I conducted any pre/post assessments in my coaching approach, or if I did any before/after testing to determine if progress has been made. While I have built tests in the past, the short answer is no, unless clients specifically request it.
Client progress, whether for groups or individuals, doesn’t lend itself to standardized tests.
A number of academics and business leaders would disagree, mainly because they have built their careers on convincing people that it does. That’s not to say there aren’t some awesome assessment tools available to help individuals and teams understand themselves and each other better. Those have a ton of value. But this whole model of “test, apply the coaching, and then retest” to measure progress is old school thinking; it’s also the primary problem with our education system. It takes the focus off people and puts it on numbers.
It also takes the individual out of the equation.
For example, I can talk with a group about limiting beliefs, where those beliefs come from, how to identify them, etc. But everyone in that room is going to have different limiting beliefs that are holding them back. Those beliefs are also going to be entrenched at different levels for each person. And while I could write a multiple-choice question that asks someone to define the phrase “limiting beliefs”, where is the value in them being able to pick the correct answer? They might pick the wrong answer at the start of our time together and then pick the right one on the post test. But the improvement in their ability to answer the question correctly does not equate to improvement in terms of their capacity to identify and challenge their limiting beliefs. So, the real issue becomes, what is the end goal? Is it improved test performance or actual change?
Don’t get me wrong, the test/teach/retest model has many applications, and it is quite successful in measuring the effectiveness of teaching or training people who are attempting to acquire a new skill or learn certain concepts. But it is useless and even harmful when applied to coaching environment.
The problem is that a lot of business leaders equate coaching to training or educating, and it is a different discipline entirely.
So, how do I tell if progress is being made with a team or individual coaching client? In my coaching approach, I use three primary indicators:
1) Does the team or person believe they are making progress?
This is key. Coaching is client-led. If the client believes progress is being made, then it most likely is and the client should be able to articulate specific results. If the client doesn’t believe they are moving forward, then they are absolutely not.
2) Is action being taken?
What specific actions are being taken? What are the steps in the action plan and is the client actually taking them? There is no substitute for action and there is no progress without it. If the client isn’t doing anything, then nothing is happening.
3) What changes are occurring?
What specifically has changed or is changing as a result of the actions being taken by the client? If nothing is changing, the actions being taken need to be reviewed in terms of their alignment with the stated goals. The changes don’t have to be big or immediate, but they do need to be observable by the client and other stakeholders.
Get a real pulse on your organization…
I get the mentality. Business leaders want to see a return on their investment, and they are busy. Pre and post testing / assessing is an easy way to set their minds at ease because it gives them a number. Number up = good. Number down = bad. And a lot of coaches and consultants are more than happy to oblige because they can pretty much make those “measurements” say anything they need them to in order to keep billing their client.
But what is actually being measured? What are those numbers telling us in terms of actual improvement or change? Well, in most cases, absolutely nothing. As a business leader, if you want to determine whether or not the coaching your people are getting is adding value, look at things like influence, team energy, morale, turnover, complaints, culture, etc. Talk with people, engage them, ask them questions. Seek honest and unfiltered input. Get a real pulse on your organization. If you’re “too busy” for that and just want a number, then it matters little what the number says, because nothing is really going to change anyway.