Coaching interventions – What’s the questions?

Prof Pieter Koortzen (D. Com - Doctor of Commerce) is a counselling and industrial/organisational psychologist and a visiting professor in leadership the University of Johannesburg. Pieter obtained a doctorate in I/O Psychology from the University of South Africa in 1998. As organisational consultant he specialises in leadership competency and potential assessments, assessment centre methodology, competency profiling, learning and development, leadership development, executive coaching and the facilitation of learning and growth for individuals and teams. In his consulting practice he has been rendering consulting and development services to various South African organisations for the last 18 years. In contributing to the professionalisation of coaching he has successfully developed coaching programmes at UNISA (doctoral programme in Consulting Psychology), Alliant International University in San Diego, USA and is currently involved in the implementation of an M.Phil degree in leadership coaching at the University of Johannesburg. Pieter also has been involved in large scale coaching interventions in a number of South African organisations and has been coaching since 2001.

Coaching has become a widely used leadership development intervention. It however, leaves organisational development consultants, human resources managers and decision makers with a number of important questions when designing, implementing and managing coaching interventions. Questions that may arise related to the appropriateness of coaching, the type of coaching and the coaching objectives; capacitating internal coaches or using external coaches and the monitoring and evaluation of coaching interventions. This article addresses some of these questions and provides some guidelines for making informed decisions.

Is coaching appropriate for you? How does it differ to other interventions?

Coaching can be distinguished from interventions such as mentoring, counselling and consulting. This process intervention is appropriate to leaders who already have basic leadership and management knowledge and skills and want to develop advanced competencies, including learning from their own experiences and different situations. It is less structured than formal learning and development programmes. Leaders take significant responsibility in identifying the areas of development required. At the heart of the intervention is the empowering of leaders to assume roles in the organisation more effectively and efficiently. Coaching can be summarised as a process which:

  • Focuses on enhanced performance and well-being
  • Where the person learns through exploring their own experience
  • Where the person is in control, and makes their own choices
  • Where the person explores their own experience rather than that of the coach to gain insights
  • Where the person finds their own solutions

Coaching can be distinguished from mentoring, which is also described as skills coaching. Mentoring involves an experienced mentor assisting a mentee in developing specific skills and knowledge, enhancing the mentee’s professional and personal growth. As the mentoring focus is on job related skills and knowledge, the mentor requires the same technical background as the mentee.

Coaching also differs from psychotherapy which focuses on suffering and healing and counselling – a process that facilitates self-knowledge, emotional acceptance and growth and the optimal development of personal resources. Mostly, counselling focuses on developmental issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, working through feelings of inner conflict or improving relationships with others.

Finally, coaching can also be distinguished from consulting in that consultants follow a more directive, problem solving approach and provide solutions. If you decide that coaching is the appropriate intervention for your organisation, you need to define the type of coaching required.

Different forms of coaching

The following table provides an overview of the different types of coaching used. Each has a different goal and it is important to match expected outcome to type.

Types of coaching Coaching goals
Performance coaching Enhances an individual’s performance in their current role at work, and aims to increase their effectiveness and productivity at work.
Career coaching Addresses individual’s career concerns, capabilities, potential, career options and career decisions. The process aims to increase clarity, personal change and forward action.
Executive coaching Part of business coaching that is often delivered by external coaches for an agreed duration or number of coaching sessions. The intervention is often defined as a deliberate and personalised process to develop the learning agility of the executive in order to facilitate leadership growth.
Business coaching The goal of business coaching is to support a particular individual or a team to make the necessary progress in the business division. Business coaching has evolved into several branches such as Executive, Team, Performance and Leadership Coaching. When taking up a directive approach to business coaching, the coach also offers its clients numerous tools and options such as business solutions, tools and models. Non-directive business coaches allow the clients to find their own solutions.
Remedial coaching Designed to provide businesses with the opportunity to give individuals specific and targeted development and support. Individuals who are not meeting the required standard of performance for reasons either inside or even outside their control, are targeted.
Personal/life coaching Aids in recognising and attaining personal goals and objectives which includes every domain of life. Most life coaches take a holistic approach and assist the coachees in identifying the way that different areas of their lives impact each other. Improving one area also results into achievements in other areas.
Team coaching Team coaching is usually undertaken with the purpose of improving the performance of work teams. This type of coaching can be an effective vehicle for clarifying team goals, establishing common ground between team members, recognising individuals’ values, needs and strengths and developing a cohesive way of working together.
Development coaching Learning about our way of thinking, feeling and behaving as well as our perceptions and the impact that these have on our experience of the world and our actions.

What do you need to know before employing a coach?

One needs to have a sense of the value and impact of coaching interventions. Asking the right questions will help the sponsors to determine the appropriateness of a coaching intervention as well as selecting the right coach:

  • How does the executive coaching process influence the executive’s behaviour, personal development, career development, leadership style, family life and health?
  • How does the coaching process change a leader or executive?
  • How much change can be expected in a 12 month period?
  • Does the coaching intervention enhance the executive’s performance on the job?
  • What can one expect with regards to the improvement of competencies?
  • What is the type of learning that takes place during a coaching process?
  • Can it be supported with more formal types of learning?
  • In what way will the coaching influence the executive’s ethical decision making and actions?
  • Does remedial coaching work in preventing derailment?
  • What are the limits of remedial coaching?
  • When is a person not coachable?
  • How can the ROI of an executive coaching intervention be assessed?

Sponsors should also be clear on the expectations which they have from the intervention. This requires an effective contracting process which compares the coaching service offered to the expectations of the sponsor.

Profile of a successful coach?

The profiles of successful coaches can be analysed with regards to their knowledge and skills, competencies and professionalism.

Knowledge and skills

  • Business experience
  • Goal-setting tools and knowledge of strategic planning
  • Grounded in the theories of therapy or consulting
  • Knowledgeable about the industry in which they coach
  • Knowledgeable about the organisations they are coaching in
  • Knowledgeable on new leadership, theories and models, and management techniques
  • An understanding of developmental theory
  • Knowledgeable on different psychological tests and instruments


  • The ability to facilitate sustained behaviour change in the work context
  • The competence in identifying habitual self-defeating scripts
  • Providing insights about what drives the executive
  • Converting insights into observable behaviour change
  • Distinguishing between healthy and more primitive defences
  • Operationalising the self-actualisation pattern congruent with business objectives and the executive’s aspirations

The qualities of the coach:

  • Some advantages of external coaches include: Anonymity, confidentiality, experience in many businesses, expertise in political nuances, less likely to evaluate, judge, expertise based on extensive experience and more objective
  • Research showed that gender can sometimes be a factor, in combination with age and position
  • A coaching code of ethics
  • A trusting and approachable person

Internal capacity vs. external coaches?

According to the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology, there are a number of situations in which external coaching would be better positioned to provide coaching services. These situations include:

  • Supporting senior executives at the top of the organisation
  • Coaching when the trust in the organisation is low
  • When there is a low possibility for success (i.e. remedial coaching)

More specifically, external coaches are more often used in situations which require political neutrality, maximum objectivity and the highest levels of confidentiality. These factors often play a crucial role in the success of a coaching intervention.

External coaches are likely to provide a broader and deeper array of experience and other factors such as personality, functional expertise, geography, age or even gender can create a better coach:coachee fit.

To find out more about how coaching can improve your business or which type of coaching is appropriate to your organisation, please contact us.