The business of coaching is under pressure to conform. And, as it becomes more widespread, buyers are asking for a more uniform offering.
This is having an impact on the design of coaching programmes and certain elements – usually referred to in coaching circles as part of the 'toolkit' – are becoming de rigueur and top of the list are psychometric profiling tools.
"This could be a growing trend," says coaching and psychometrics expert Gareth English. "As coaching becomes a more formalised process, so the customer will look for a standard approach."
English, who is principal innovations consultant at psychometric questionnaires provider OPP, is involved in developing methods based on including psychometrics with coaching. He has larger corporate clients looking for such packages, particularly when they are nurturing line managers to become coaches. As a result English provides the coach with a guide to questions that will work with certain personalities.
"We look at integrating information from psychometrics with the coachee's development plan and what they might want to do differently. It's like putting expert knowledge in a jar," he says.
English believes psychometrics are valuable but they are tools, not something to be used just for the sake of it. In particular they can help line managers who are having difficulty in moving on with their thinking.
"The personality questionnaire could really help you get a handle," he says. "There are no hard and fast rules as to when to use psychometrics but they can help when the coach is looking for a common level of insight or if both parties feel that they have got stuck."
Psychometric questionnaires are most likely to be used effectively by external coaches rather than in-house managers, because many are qualified to use them.
"Coaches are realising that they need a diversity of tools," says chairwoman of the Association for Coaching, Katherine Tulpa. "Psychometrics are helpful, because coaching involves a self-awareness piece at the start of the process."
For others, it's not just a matter of whether to use psychometrics within coaching but when and how to use them and which test.
Amanda Bouch runs the eponymous management consultancy and coaching business. She says: "The advantage of using a psychometric instrument is that it provides non-judgemental language to describe people's styles and this is a solid platform on which to build coaching."
She says the coach should decide on appropriate approaches once the issues have been identified and the goals established, but the coachee must be willing to participate fully. "The de-brief and learning from this starts developing self-awareness and we would then be able to refer to this information throughout the coaching programme as needed."
Bouch believes psychometrics are useful as a support for leadership development programmes. "They usually include a psychometric and 360-degree feedback as core to the first module. In some cases at the end of the development programme the individuals ask for new 360-degree feedback to see where they have made noticeable progress," Bouch says.
"Participants share the common frameworks and language to discuss and understand difference, and this becomes part of the team's language."
She adds that a psychometric profile could help an individual improve self-awareness, self-management and relationship management skills.
For chartered occupational psychologist and career guru Denise Taylor, who runs a consultancy called Amazing People, the Myers Briggs Type indicator is the most effective way for coaches to increase "their personal understanding" of careers and relationships. "I use them in the second session," she says. "The first session is about building relationships, and by the second, clients are ready to learn more about themselves."
Performance coaching psychologist Sarah Fenwick says the best types of psychometric tools are those which explore personality, motivation, strength and behaviours. "First they can bring additional insight to the coaching process," she says, "and second, they can speed up the diagnostic stages of coaching through highlighting areas at the start of the coaching process that may take several sessions to surface without the use of psychometrics."
Yet although there is excitement and acceptance among the coaching community about the value of psychometrics there is also some caution, as Julie Hay, president of the pan-European body on coaching standards, the EMCC, points out. She says from the outset lines have to be drawn about clarity, and honesty in the use of information gleaned from psychometric profiling.
"If an organisation is paying for the coach they have to be clear about what information is given to the organisation about the individual," says Hay. "The coach has to be very clear in the contracting stage about who needs to know."
Whether psychometrics are employed is "dependent on the purpose of the coaching", she says. "Using coaching to help a poor performer is a different situation from using coaching for someone who might want to talk about their career options. Psychometrics are good for helping a coachee with self-awareness and the test results are for the coachee.
"They are also useful for helping a coachee to see that they might not like a particular job, but not to tell an employer that the coachee can't do that job. That would not be appropriate."
Similar caution is voiced by Carol Wilson, managing director of Performance Coach Training and author of Best Practice in Performance Coaching.
"Coaching is about creating a bigger vision," she says, "and if psychometric tools are used to break through barriers they are a good thing. However some people do not check if the coachees are trapped by perceptions."
She is concerned that if too much emphasis is placed on the results or if they are deployed early in the coaching relationship, then they might reinforce the limiting beliefs that the coachee is trying to overcome. "There is a danger of 'as you say, so it shall be'," she says.
For Wilson, the true worth of the psychometric process is not known. "There has been no scientific research into the value of it. It has not been measured."
Only time will tell if psychometrics are useful to coaching. "Coaching is still developing. I don't know where it will go, but we have to make sure that we are not limiting the coachee," Wilson says.
Conformity and client pressure is resulting in greater use of psychometric profiling in coaching sessions. Is this really wise?
Which psychometric tools?
Training & Coaching Today asked principal innovations consultant at OPP, Gareth English, for a brief guide to the tools and when to use them.
- FIRO-B: This is an indicator of interpersonal style. It is used to help people better understand themselves and their relationship with others. Interpersonal relationships can be assessed part-way through a coaching process.
- Myers Briggs Type Indicator: The MBTI is the most common instrument. "I will often use it early on," says English, "It uses positive language and is well known, which can help people switch on."
- 16 PF-5: This looks at the whole person and their personality across 16 dimensions, which are further grouped into five global factors. "It is useful in high-level coaching. It helps people to look at aspects of themselves outside work that might affect their ability to focus," says English.
- Thomas Killman Conflict Instrument (known as TKI): This is about how a person deals with conflict. "I might bring it in halfway through a coaching contract as it looks at what you are doing in terms of conflict and whether this is for good reason or entrenched habits," says English.