How Coaching Works


Coaching is a rapidly growing area of professional practice, widely accepted in government and corporate sectors, where coaching positions are created within human resources departments and external coaches are engaged to work with executives. However, coaching is still an emerging field and there is a level of confusion about the industry: about the range of coaching services provided, about how coaching works and about the qualifications of coaches.

Coaches working in organizations, as opposed to Business Coaches or Life Coaches, aim to improve the skills, performance or personal capacities of managers. Here are some examples of areas in which coaches help clients. Coaching can assist clients to:

  • improve the performance of their staffs
  • accept the responsibilities of leadership and develop those skills
  • relate better with people - staffs, clients, superiors
  • communicate more effectively
  • manage their time
  • develop confidence to apply for higher responsibility.

Let's be clear: coaching is not a soft option. Coaches use a coaching framework and process for achieving those ends: clarifying expectations at the start, reaching agreement on a goal and ensuring an action plan is written down. Commitment and progress are monitored, achievements applauded and the consequences of failing to keep commitments are established. A change in behavior is the desired outcome of any coaching agreement.

Coaching starts with a respectful relationship - valuing the person and their skills. A goal and an action plan are developed cooperatively, acknowledging skills, resources and needs. The coach builds on the client's existing strengths: asking questions and using a variety of coaching tools to help the client discover those strengths, clarify their own situation, identify their own solutions and plan a path that suits their needs. The coach then supports the client as they progress, helping them to reflect on decisions made or actions taken, and challenging for accountability and higher achievement.

How can we judge the value of coaching? Depending on the purpose of the coaching, personal satisfaction and learning can be determined and individual behavior change can be assessed. However, the links between coaching and specific business outcomes are complex.

The causes of complex outcomes are themselves complex, and indeed often unknowable. The contribution of any one factor (such as coaching) in producing a complex organizational outcome such as improvement in team performance or bottom line profitability is extremely difficult to isolate.1

Questions are often asked about the coach's expertise and experience; the qualifications of coaches needed for a particular engagement. One key challenge is that unlike other forms of education, for lawyers, teachers, doctors or managers that claim a distinct body of professional knowledge as a base, coaching draws upon knowledge from multiple disciplines including psychology, business principles, education and the social sciences.

Coaches working in an organisation usually will be able to draw on the knowledge, skills and experience from more than one of these fields. They will also have additional training in coaching skills from a professional coaching school and will probably have earned accreditation from a professional coaching association, such as the International Coach Federation Australasia, the Australian and New Zealand Institute of Coaching or the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches.

The cross-disciplinary nature of coaching is one of its major strengths as it can draw from a range of sources in order to meet the changing and complex needs of a post-professional world. However, this flexibility also requires discipline if it is to be effective.1

The best place to look for answers to your coaching questions is in Coaching in Organizations,1 developed by key stakeholders in the coaching industry, and published by Standards Australia in May 2011. The need for a better understanding of what coaching is and how best to engage, manage and evaluate coaching was the driver behind these guidelines. It has set a precedent for the rest of the world and is predicted to continue transforming coaching.

Although these guidelines and this article focus on formal coaching by professional coaches, the principles and fundamental skills of coaching can be used by managers and team leaders. As one coach wrote, "Coaching has the capacity to bring humanity back into the workplace".2 The guidelines provide a framework for issues that need to be managed; coaching principles, values and ethical considerations. Managers simply need to be taught the basic skills of coaching.


  1. Coaching in Organizations HB 332-2011 (2011). Sydney, SAI Global, Standards Australia
  2. Downey, Myles (2003). Effective Coaching: Lessons from the Coach's Coach, Sydney, Cengage Learning

Copyright © Jennifer McCoy

About the Author
Jennifer McCoy

Jennifer McCoy is a senior associate with Business Performance Pty Ltd as well as running her own consulting practice. Jennifer specializes in generational leadership and workplace communication. Through her coaching practice, she assists small and medium sized businesses build leadership skills, improve communication and develop teamwork. Jennifer can be contacted at

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