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A Perspective on Evaluation

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In that setting, what matters to each stakeholder is related to what’s important to them relative to the client’s changes and their impacts. For example, the client is probably interested in their experience during the coaching engagement, what they learned and how they can apply it on the job. The client’s manager might be primarily concerned with how their report is now performing on the job and the impact of those changes. And, as coaches, we may have cares about how effective we are, how well we managed the process, and what the client learned.

Each stakeholder has their own perspective and their eyes on what matters to them. What can we do to respond to them? In conversation with the organization, usually HR, we can make decisions about which stakeholders (or all stakeholders) we will account for with our evaluation efforts. Keep in mind that as the number of stakeholders increases and the number of evaluation questions to answer increases, the effort it will take to plan, design and do so (and the related cost) may also increase.

Measurement

The questions we want to answer through our evaluations will help each stakeholder answer the questions, ‘What happened?’ and ‘Were we successful?’ Any question will have a range of legitimate measures we could use. We must select among the alternatives for what we believe will address each stakeholder’s concerns, preferably given their input. For example, evaluation about the learning that occurred answers questions about ‘What do you know now?’, ‘What can you do now?’ or even ‘How confident are you that you will use what you learned?’ Evaluation about new or enhanced behaviors on the job might address such questions as:  ‘How much better are you doing this now?’ or ‘What newly learned behavior are you now applying?’ If we are evaluating business impact such as quality, we might be asking about changes in rework, error rates or number of accidents. Finally, as a coach, we might be inquiring about our effectiveness with questions about ‘How soon were you able to apply this?’ or ‘What barriers did you experience to applying what you learned?’ Organizations may be imprudently frugal about whether or not to evaluate and indifferent about what to measure. I think it’s our job as coaches to raise the issue and have the conversation.

Contracting

That evaluation conversation can be held most effectively when doing initial contracting with the client organization. My experience is that when the evaluation conversation is ignored or held later in the process, it invariably produces upset and strained working relationships. When we talk about evaluation and what the organization wants to accomplish through our coaching, we set up a virtuous spiral of intention. Through our discussion, we get to elicit organizational support and alignment, not only for the proposed coaching but also for our evaluation efforts. We can agree on the stakeholders whose opinions we want to consider. We can talk through the logistics of data collection (who does what?) and data analysis (what methods will we use?). Either during contracting or within the first two months, we can discuss what measures to use and then select or design them. We can put those things in place that  make it possible for us to tell the story of ‘What happened?’, ‘Was it successful?’, perhaps even ‘Was it worth the investment?’ if we do an ROI study. We tell that story in our report to stakeholders, sharing relevant data, interpretations and recommendations, while making conservative, credible claims about what we enabled.

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