Where’s The Bang For Coaching’s Buck?

  • Dan White
  • February 25th, 2021

Getting a good return on investment for a coaching initiative is critical to business buy-in. Dan White, the head of Ezra's Impact Lab, talks about how the perception of coaching ROI has changed over time, and how the new opportunities offered by virtual environments have facilitated this shift in attributed value.

Coaching Bang For Buck

Part of our role in the Impact Lab here in Ezra is to work with clients to design coaching solutions. Key to this design conversation is a question of return. A question of value. What is a good amount to spend on someone’s development, and in our case, on coaching in particular?

Traditionally leadership coaching was never looked at as a “value” learning and development intervention. It was expensive. Really great for the learner, but expensive. I know because I was an executive coach and I charged those rates. It made sense when the learner was earning big six figure salaries but less to the vast majority. For most of us the intervention needed to cost $00s, not $000s.

But despite this vast chasm in cost I always suspected the value was higher whenever the cohort size was smallest, and smallest of all was 1:1 coaching.

When I started my career we used to swear by the efficacy of management development centres in the 90 and early 2000s. Ratios were low. Typically 1:6 and real time was invested, three days or a week. Each participant was carefully stripped down, analysed and re-built in a supportive but provocative environment that drove profound personal insight and lasting behavioural change. It was highly effective, but not highly cheap.

And then the dotcom bubble burst.

And then Lehmans collapsed and the world went mad.

And in between and afterwards we lost sight of the power of that 1:6 ratio somewhat. I found myself working with larger and larger groups. I was set increasingly to transmit. Small group work was largely unfacilitated.

Moving learning to a virtual environment, a change catalysed by COVID, is changing this. It is making 1:1 or at least 1:few ratios possible and cost effective. I believe this is important for the future of adult education in the workplace. It drives relevance, application and behaviour change. It creates greater equality of opportunity and it can drive better business outcomes.

What was true in the 90s I and to some extent has always been and will always be true. Learning in small groups or 1:1 is very effective.

Value should not be measured by the lowest possible cost per head figure, but the lowest cost to drive the required behaviour change or other relevant outcome.

What excites me enormously about the coming months and years is that as we gather more and more data we begin to see that not all competencies are developed at the same rate. It seems some develop quicker than others.

Soon we will be able to further guide our clients as to how to get the biggest bang for their buck from our solutions, including our coaching app. We will be able to avoid starting development interventions that we know are too short to deliver meaningful organisational outcomes, and we can save our clients money by trimming development programmes to be optimally sized.

This way we can be optimally efficient. This is the real goal in delivering value for money in learning and development. All of the investment in time and money spent focusing on what matters most to the organisation and the individual to the extent that the required outcome is delivered.


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