coaches & mentors
September 8, 2016

How you are using coaches & mentors in business today

By Paul Laughlin

As a break from our month focussing on applying insight to marketing, it’s time to share the results of our coaches & mentors poll.

You may remember that back in August, we launched a short survey on use of coaching & mentoring. Thanks to those who participated. We now have stable enough results to give an interesting, at least initial, picture. As someone who works as an external coach & mentor, some of these results have surprised me. See if they accord with your experience.

Following advice on understanding the difference between coaches & mentors, together with when you might need each, I was keen to see take-up. So, questions in this poll centred around 3 topics: use of coaches; use of mentors; personal development progress.

Here is what you shared…

Use of coaches

In answer to the question, “Do you have a coach?“:

  • 57% No
  • 43% Yes

Despite the progress in take-up of coaching in the UK. I am not surprised to see it still lag behind the US. However, 43% is still a higher percentage of coaching take-up than I have seen in other surveys (so there may be a slight participation bias in our results). Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how those 43% use coaches.

The following questions were only completed by the 43%, who answered ‘yes’ to having a coach.

In answer to the question, “What type of coach are they?“:

  • 33% Executive Coach
  • 33% Leadership Coach
  • 33% Professional Coach

Given the preponderance of ‘life coaches’ & ‘NLP coaches’ I have met at coaching events, it’s interesting to see those did not make the list. The focus on the most senior leadership roles still appears to hold true. But, it was interesting to see professional coach selected as a title as well.

In answer to the question, “Are they external to your employer?“:

  • 100% Yes

The first result to not have an element of surprise. It accords with my experience that most leaders (who do) only hire coaches externally, or view any such internal work as ‘mentoring’.

In answer to the question, “Do you believe you need a coach, to develop your leadership or to sustain high performance?“:

  • 60% Don’t know
  • 20% Yes
  • 20% No

This is perhaps the most concerning answer so far. There has been quite some debate within the coaching community about the need to improve methods of measuring effectiveness. To be able to demonstrate genuine progress or ROI for clients. This answer underlies the importance of that quest. If coaching clients themselves aren’t convinced they need a coach, there is probably more work to do on demonstrating what coaching delivers for them. We all need to see robust, understood, metrics become commonplace.

Use of mentors

The next three questions in our survey focussed on the use of mentors, with similar structure (to allow comparison with feedback on coaches).

In answer to the question, “Do you have a mentor?“:

  • 67% Yes
  • 33% No

Those results bear out my own experience, of selling coaching or mentoring services into UK & European businesses. Many companies appear to value ‘technical’ or ‘professional’ mentoring, whilst remaining sceptical about coaching. Despite that, my experience is mentoring engagements almost always involved elements of coaching & it may become apparent that is the client’s primary need. But, as they are more widely taken-up, let’s see how mentors are being used.

The following questions were only completed by the 67%, who answered ‘yes’ to having a mentor.

In answer to the question, “Do they also work for your employer?“:

  • 60% No
  • 40% Yes

Given the common situation of mentoring being provided by senior leaders within a business, this answer also surprised me. It seems, perhaps in line with the experience I shared above, that the take-up of external mentors has increased. It may just be the language used, or perhaps reflects the time poor nature of many business leaders. Are companies struggling to free up their own senior leaders for mentoring & opting to buy-in mentoring expertise instead? Either way, it confirms the greater popularity of mentoring rather than coaching services.

In answer to the question, “Do you believe you need a mentor, to develop in your career or succeed within your current organisation?“:

  • 40% Yes
  • 40% No
  • 20% Don’t know

A more positive answer than the equivalent one for coaching, but still the majority answering “don’t know” or “no”. Perhaps the most interesting comparison is the lower number of undecided. It seems experiencing mentoring either clarifies that it is optional or identifies a clear need for this support. Once more, mentoring seems to be better understood than coaching.

Personal Development

Our final three questions focussed on respondents progress in their personal development & time commitment to any form of such investment.

In answer to the question, “Do you have clear goals for your leadership development this year?“:

  • 50% No
  • 50% Yes

A concerning lack of clarity amongst responders to this question. If leaders really only have a 50:50 chance of having clear goals to develop their leadership capability, a need for goal-orientated coaching or mentoring is clear. It’s perhaps not surprising from increasingly time poor leaders, working in business that too often focus on short-term targets. However, it is still concerning & perhaps something for prospective coaches or mentors to emphasise more – the benefits of such goal setting & how they can help clients use them.

In answer to the question, “Are you on track to achieve your goals?“:

  • 60% Yes
  • 40% No

Given the lack of clear goals identified in the previous answer, this positive view of progress risks looking overly optimistic. But, with hindsight, perhaps the wording here encouraged leaders to think about their wider goals. Another interpretation is that without clear goals it is easier to persuade yourself that you are doing fine. Certainly, believing you are on track, whilst potentially lacking clear goals or any accountability mechanism – could be a recipe for complacency. Does that also drive a lower uptake of coaches?

In answer to our final question, “How much time (per week) do you give to your personal development?“:

  • 67% 1-2 hours
  • 17% 3-4 hours
  • 17% >1 day

In the full version of this question, participants were asked to consider all development activities (coaching, mentoring, reading, training, events, etc). In that context, leaders spending on 1-2 hours a week (<5% of a 40 hour working week) seems far too little. Perhaps another sign that “short-termism” can rob leaders of investing what they need to grow & develop in their leadership. For myself & leaders I work with, I’ve found that if you are not protecting sufficient time to develop your leadership skills, you not only fail to grow but also burnout quicker.

What are you going to do about it?

I hope those results were interesting. Feel free to share in our comments section whether the scores aligned to your experience.

If you have been challenged by this post, to reconsider investing more time in your personal development & perhaps seeking a coach or mentor, then stop right now. If that thought is going to become more than just wishful thinking, the best thing you can do is commit to an action you are going to take as a result.

What will you do differently, within the next 2 weeks? Write it down, preferably with an app that will remind you.

I wish you well with your development as a leader. Today’s customer insight teams need the best leaders possible.