Ensuring coaching standards measure up

Let’s face it, coaching qualifications could do with some quality control. Well, it could be on its way.

Would you recruit a mechanic who only had three days’ training from an unknown provider to fix your car? Probably not – but there is still the danger that someone with the equivalent amount of training as a coach could be called in to ‘fix’ a difficult manager or nervous chief executive.

“This is no exaggeration,” says professor David Lane, director of the International Centre for the Study of Coaching at Middlesex University. “I have seen such ads myself on the internet: ‘Train as a coach in three days and gain a certificate in coaching’.”

As he says, the certificate is from an unknown source, and neither the would-be coaches nor the potential clients have any idea of the quality and validity of the training.

Coaching has been bedevilled by such uncertainty throughout its phenomenal period of growth over the past five years, and it is a prime source of the countless doubts about its benefits. HR departments and other buyers of coaching services scratch their heads over how to measure return on investment without knowing, in the absence of any quality standards, what to measure.

But Lane says all this could be about to change. “A marker has been put down,” he says. “And for the first time, it has been made clear what standards look like.”

Rewarding quality

The marker is the European Mentoring and Coaching Council’s (EMCC) UK Quality Awards, which, he says “have generated considerable excitement”.

They aim to clarify the complex field of coaching and mentoring training, and have been compiled from the EMCC’s research into coaching and mentoring competencies.

“It means people buying coaching and mentoring services will find it far easier to understand the quality of what they are buying,” says the EMCC’s UK Standards Committee chairman Mike Hurley. “And it means HR and learning and development specialists will find it easier to choose appropriate programmes for developing coaching and mentoring skills in their own managers and leaders.”

The awards could also provide reassurance to potential coaches, adds Hurley.

“People who want to train as coaches and mentors can be confident of the quality of the training programmes they choose, and training providers can design their programmes to the respective standards and get recognition for the quality of their provision.”

Any training organisation that tries for a quality award will certainly have invested time and money. It costs at least £3,900 to pay for EMCC assessors to examine a programme. The process can take up to three months, during which time assessors will assist with self-assessment, gather evidence and submit evidence to a quality awards panel.

“The assessment was as rigorous as I had hoped it would be,” says John Webster, chief executive of consultancy The Chief Executive’s Office, which trains senior directors to become business coaches. It won a quality award in June.

Buyers of coaching will probably be reassured by the amount of detail that went into identifying the coaching and mentoring competencies, which in turn created the quality framework.

The research data, drawn up by the EMCC’s standards project director Pauline Willis, has eight main competency headings, such as ‘values and approach’, and ‘communication and facilitating’. Beneath these sit broad competency categories, such as ‘building the relationship’ and ‘goal focus’.

Up to 10 statements were used to define and test the validity of the competencies. So, for example, the most important elements of the competency of building the relationship were seen to be “establishing trust, building rapport, and providing a clear explanation of the role of coach”.

Not just ticking boxes

But working with an organisation to look at their coaching programme is not a tick-box exercise, says Willis.

“The competency framework is used to support the assessment of the quality award,” says Willis. “Working with an organisation to look at their coaching programme is a facilitating process. It is a benchmark against industry best practice.”

The EMCC’s work could help unify the coaching profession. “We’re keen to work collaboratively with others,” says Eileen Arney, coaching adviser to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “And we welcome the EMCC’s work in this area.”

The CIPD is developing its own coaching standards but, as Arney points out, it is at an early stage, and the two bodies will work together to avoid duplication.

At Sheffield Hallam University, Bob Garvey, the UK’s first professor of coaching and mentoring, welcomes the advent of a kitemark for the learning and development provision for coaches, especially as it is research-based. “Time will tell, but the EMCC is changing the playing field,” he says.

Award categories

“The EMCC Quality Award recognises four categories of coaching training. They are not given to individual coaches,” says Marina Dieck, head of the EMCC Quality Award.

  • Foundation This level of award is for organisations that train line managers to provide coaching/mentoring as part of their existing role. Such courses are seen as equivalent to NVQ level 3 and 4.

  • Intermediate This is for training used for internal specialists or senior management who develop others at management levels. Courses with this type of award are likely to be an undergraduate degree or NVQ level 5.

  • Practitioner Courses for practitioner coaches or those that offer a postgraduate certificate could apply for this award.

  • Master The quality award at this level assumes the holder is competent to practise via a master’s degree in coaching/mentoring.

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