The growth of personal coaching in business is viewed by some with cynicism. But Duncan Brown says it is more than pseudo-scientific
sop and can deliver real performance improvements to a business

Have you got a coach? If, like me, you have somehow failed to acquire one, you are in a rapidly declining minority. Life coach, executive coach, fitness coach, special needs coach, motivational coach, voice coach: whatever your problem, coaches have the solutions.
Coaching has spread from its educational and sporting roots to become a defining movement of this decade. Be it Cherie and Tony's relationship with Carole Caplin; or the Welsh Rugby Union team's difficulties; or the CIPD's expanding coaching services, we can't get enough of it.
The world of work is far from being immune. The latest CIPD Survey of Training and Development in 500 UK employers found 93% aspiring to create a coaching culture. More than half plan to increase coaching activities.
In some sectors a personal coach has becoming an expected element of the executive reward package. To address below-par performance, 'you need coaching' appears to be becoming a more representative response than Sir Alan Sugar's infamous The Apprentice catchphrase.
Training managers attribute the growth to a range of factors: a reaction against standardised sheep-dip training courses, faster rates of organisational change, and shortages of capable leaders. But the overwhelming driver, they claim, is the need to improve business performance. Some 92% of these managers believe coaching has a positive effect on the bottom line.
Yet The Observer recently condemned the phenomenon as "the latest over-priced, under-regulated, pseudo-scientific sop for the angst-ridden me generation". Respondents in our training survey highlighted a range of similar concerns: a shortage of quality practitioners and cowboy coaching; the failure to integrate the different coaching initiatives with each other and the needs of the business - only 6% have a written coaching strategy; confusing terminology; and, crucially, a lack of mechanisms and metrics in most companies to evaluate effectiveness.
To help to address these concerns the CIPD has been developing accredited standards for coaches, which are being piloted. You can't become a football club manager without obtaining your coaching badges and it should be the same in business. We have also been carrying out research with 25 major employers including the BBC, Dixons, Selfridges and Shell, soon to be published in a book, Making the case for coaching: does it work? by Jessica Jarvis. She summarises the wealth of evidence demonstrating the impact of effective coaching, and all of these companies are extremely positive about their experiences, reporting improvements in business and individual performance, employee and customer attitudes, leadership behaviours and skills, communications and confidence.
Yet they are also clear about the risks and the financial investment required. Coaching, they emphasise, is not cheap, nor a magic solution to performance failings. But they highlight two common factors underpinning success.
First, integrate coaching with your other training. Successful coaching is complementing rather than replacing traditional training methods as part of an integrated development strategy linked to business goals. One participant said: "Improving basic skills is covered by conventional training; coaching is the vehicle to achieve behavioural change that can change the whole culture and performance of the organisation."
Second, be clear about the purpose and type of coaching required. The research found three main variants: technical skills development, as in traditional sports coaching; personal development and support, as typically offered by executive coaches; and helping individuals and teams to improve business processes and deliver change.
Stephen Lehane, director of HR at Boots, acts as a coach to the executive team. To succeed in a highly competitive environment, he believes, requires "engaging people's emotional energy in making things happen". This requires leaders who "listen, explore, involve people and gain trust, which are also the fundamental tenets of a coaching approach".
In fact, as with all the soundest management concepts, there's nothing new about coaching and much of benefit in it, which should hopefully enable it to survive the inevitable counter-reaction.
Duncan Brown is assistant director general, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.