Originally published on LinkedIn

Coaching is a big business, having become one of the most recognisable approaches to personal and business development. The coaching professionals specialise in business, executive, leadership, career, wellness, life and other coaching niches. The 2020 International Coaching Federation (ICF) Global Coaching Study estimates that there were 71,000 coaching practitioners in 2019 worldwide. This is an increase of 33% on the 2015 estimate. These coaches use either evidence-based or belief-based coaching to provide coaching services.

Belief-based coaching is still the most prevalent form of coaching. It has developed without reference to research or theory. This form of coaching is guided by one’s personal experience, limited education, some knowledge of the current coaching practices and belief that the way coaching is conducted is appropriate.

Evidence-based coaching is based on theory and research. It leverages the best current knowledge that is intentionally integrated with practitioner expertise. This form of coaching makes informed decisions about delivering coaching in different settings and about designing coach training programs.

Unlike psychology, for example, coaching is not a regulated industry. There are no formal standards. Instead, the industry is self-regulated, with several professional bodies establishing accreditation and training procedures. However, the training and accreditation is still a voluntary process. Anyone can call themselves a coach.

Now, one cannot say that belief-based coaching does not yield results. Beyond doubt, some coaches have been leveraging their personal experience and limited coaching proficiency to bring about results for their clients. One example is the growing number of managers using coaching skills. The 2020 ICF Global Coaching Study reports an increase of 46% in the number of managers/leaders using coaching skills in 2019 when compared to 2015.

One of the inconsistencies in the maturation of the coaching profession has been the lack of open dialogue. It seems that the discussions are primarily held within closed groups. Addressing this is essential for the profession to move towards establishing a basis of knowledge available to the entire industry rather than focusing on preserving intellectual property.

It is not too difficult to imagine that respect for what we do and how others see our contribution as professionals is significant for many occupations, coaching included.  An evidence-based coaching approach could further this view. Like in some other more mature occupations, clients’ confidence level is much higher when the service provider (coach) has taken all necessary precautions to equip themselves with knowledge and skills and safeguard their professional reputation.

There are four simple steps that all involved can take and that can benefit everyone involved in the coaching industry:

  1. The coaching profession needs to expand the dialogue beyond the closed group. There are benefits in learning from others. There are glimpses of altruistic knowledge dispersal that, if continued on this trajectory, may accelerate the efforts of the coaching profession to establish its credibility as an effective means of change and growth.
  2. Delivering evidence-based training may positively impact the coach training institutions’ reputation and positively impact coaching client confidence when engaging the services of coaches who have received their qualifications at such institutions. Some suggest that standardisation and reductionism may limit future development and halt research excellence. However, by observing other professions, there is proof that having educational standards works better in the long run. ICF is one of the professional associations where coach training institutions can seek accreditation. Other coaching associations offer a similar service.
  3. Choosing an accredited educational institution to complete training may prepare coaches for future expectations. As the industry and competition grow, coaching clients are going to be more selective. The ICF’s Training Program Search Service (TPSS) is one example of where coaches can search for the training providers that meet globally recognisable training standards. Other professional associations may have similar offerings.
  4. Coaching clients, be they individuals or organisations, may need to be more inquisitive about a coach they are looking to engage. Like contracting any other professional, finding more about coaches’ qualifications can assist in the search. The ICF Find a Coach service is just one of the platforms that offer coaching clients a platform to conduct more thorough research.  

As the coaching industry continues to grow, there is more awareness around professional coaching qualifications and accreditation. Increasingly, coaches are completing training through programs accredited by a professional coaching organization, moving from 89% in 2016 to 93% in the 2020 study, as per the ICF Study.  There is an increase of belief-based coaches who seek to underpin their experience with evidence-based training. The coaching profession is delivering more research and evidence to lift its reputation. As evidenced by the PhD research conducted on coaching presence during coaching by Tünde Erdös.  By leveraging professional directories when searching for the right coach—the coach who will best suit their needs—a potential client will uncover the wide variety of coaches available, all with their individual areas of expertise and interest. Finding an informed practitioner with qualifications backed with evidence-based training will become easier as the search platforms become more accessible to those individuals or organisations seeking coaching.