The Low Down on Coaching: What it is and What it Means to YOUR Bottom Line

The Low Down on Coaching: What it is and What it Means to YOUR Bottom Line

Stephanie McDilda & CJ Scarlet

Mar 3, 2012

The Low Down on Coaching: What it is and What it Means to YOUR Bottom Line

It seems these days that you can’t go to a networking event without bumping into a dozen people who identify themselves as a “coach.”  Because the coaching industry is not currently regulated, a host of people are offering a variety of services and calling it coaching. This confusion is understandable, considering most people aren’t really clear about what coaching is and what it isn’t. 

Let’s start with a definition. The International Coach Federation (ICF, which is widely recognized in the US and internationally as the professional association for the coaching industry, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” At Roving Coach International (, we like to say that coaching is “a confidential conversation all about you.”

The first exposure most of us had to a “coach” was when we participated in sports as a child.  The coach not only motivated and encouraged you, but also told you what to do, how to do it, and when. The coach knew the rules of the game, was likely trained in coaching techniques, and had experience in the particular sport in which you were participating. With this background, it is easy to see why many people are doing a lot of different things and calling it coaching. Let’s start with a comparison of coaching and some of the other modalities often confused with coaching.

Mentoring vs. Coaching

A mentor has specific experience in the field or subject in question. The mentor often gives advice or tells the client what and how to accomplish something, based on the mentor’s own experience. Often, the mentor is in a position of unequal power such as an expert or a manager, making it unwise or uncomfortable for the client not to follow the mentor’s advice.

A coach has experience in the specific skills of coaching. She may also have other work or life experience in a number of different fields, but that expertise is not the basis of coaching. The relationship a coach has with her client is one of being an equal partner. The coach helps the client draw on his own expertise or helps him determine what input he might need. A coach does not give advice or tell a client what he should do or even how to do it. The coach may sometimes make suggestions, but it will usually be in the context of brainstorming a number of possible solutions from which the client may choose. The coach does NOT need to be an expert in your field to help you become highly successful. When someone tells you they are looking for a coach with expertise in a particular field, they are probably actually looking for a mentor or a consultant. A masterful coach can support clients in any field or profession.

Consulting vs. Coaching

A consultant is someone you hire for their expertise in a specific area, or with a specific type of situation or problem. The consultant will do the work of analyzing a problem and will deliver a solution. He may give the client an illusion of choice by offering multiple solutions (often to address variables in time or cost), but will usually have a preference for a specific solution which he suggests. The consultant may or may not be involved in the implementation and follow up of the solution, but is not often present on a daily basis.

Again, a coach is hired for her expertise in the coaching process. She starts with the basic understanding that the client is the expert in his own environment and totally capable of finding a solution. The coach supports the client in finding the best solution for his situation. Being part of the solution gives the client a better sense of ownership and empowerment. The coach will also help the client hold himself accountable for the implementation of the solution, with immediate analysis of the impact and ability to adjust mid-course as needed. 

Therapy vs. Coaching

One of the biggest points of confusion we see with clients is whether coaching is the same as counseling or therapy. The answer is absolutely not! A therapist (although there is a difference between therapy and counseling, we will use one term here) generally sees clients who are not well from a mental or emotional perspective. His clients need to be supported to be healed. The therapist is an expert on mental and emotional problems and often prescribes a solution for a client (either through drugs or therapeutical activities and conversations). People often seek therapy because they need help coping with difficult situations and this therapy generally focuses on healing the past. It is important that the therapist directs and is in control of the session.

A coach sees the client as whole and healthy. (If they are not, they need to see a therapist.) The coaching discussion usually focuses on the present and future. Part of a coach’s expertise is in asking the masterful questions that assist clients in finding their own solutions. People seek coaching to maximize their strengths and capture synergistic energy between themselves and the coach. In a coaching relationship, the client is in control and chooses the direction of the session. The relationship between a coach and a client is collaborative.

Having made these distinctions, it is important to note that each of these modalities is important and may be the best solution at any given time. If you are looking for someone who has been on your path and can tell you what you need to do, you need a mentor. If you need someone with specific knowledge who can analyze your situation and give you a solution, hire a consultant. If you are struggling with life and its challenges and feel you are having difficulty coping, hire a counselor or therapist. If you want someone who will partner with you, recognizing your strengths and expertise, empowering and encouraging you, helping you identify solutions that not only solve your challenges but support your growth, and help you hold yourself accountable until you become successful… you need a coach.

What Coaching is NOT

Coaching is not…

  • Giving advice or “how to” instructions
  • Having a wandering conversation with no specific outcome
  • Wallowing in a gripe session
  • Teaching
  • “Fixing” or healing
  • Directing
  • Sharing an imbalance of power

Coaching is…

  • A relationship based on mutual respect and understanding, established in trust and shared power.
  • An advanced form of listening that acknowledges the client and also recognizes the importance of what is sometimes not said.  A good coach must be highly intuitive.
  • A platform for masterful questioning which supports the client in finding himself and the answers that resonate with him.
  • A format for honest and direct feedback given in a professional, supportive and growth-affirming manner.
  • An opportunity for new awareness, shifts in energy and perspective, and positive change.
  • A dance that follows the client’s agenda, allowing them to wander when it is beneficial, and bringing them back on track when wandering is not productive.
  • A guided conversation meant to forward the client’s agenda.
  • A forum for finding solutions, designing strong action plans and setting goals.
  • A structure for a client’s responsibility and self-accountability.
  • A skilled interaction provided by a highly-trained and experienced professional.

How to Select a Great Coach

When you are seeking a good coach, ask them about their training and experience. Take a look at the program where they studied coaching. What are the requirements for graduation? Is the program ICF accredited? If the coach has no formal training, that should be a red flag encouraging you to run for the exit. Ask them not only how long have they been coaching, but how many clients they have coached. Ask them about the type of clients they have typically worked with. Ask for references and ask those references about the outcome of their coaching. Most of all, arm yourself with education about what coaching is and is not, and trust your instincts about the person you are considering to enter this special relationship with you.

The ROI of Coaching

Now you know what coaching is, but how do you know if it is an effective tool that can really benefit your employees and your company? A number of studies were performed between 1999 and 2009 which captured the return on investment companies might expect when hiring a coach to work with their employees, showing an ROI ranging from 5.29  to 7  times the investment – or $7 in savings for every dollar spent on coaching. (New studies are underway to refresh this data.) This savings comes in the form of greater employee productivity, higher retention rates, decreased absenteeism, and improvements in quality of work products and services.

Additionally, there are tremendous intangible benefits to be had. Companies who hire coaches experience increased collaboration, improved team work, better communications between team members, and, perhaps most importantly, higher levels of employee engagement.

The Bottom Line

To be at the top of their game, employees need to feel valued and know the work they do on a daily basis matters. More than three-quarters of employees (76%) who responded to the 2008 World of Work study published by Randstad, an Atlanta-based employment-services firm, said “feeling valued was the most important factor for happiness at work,” out of more than a dozen options. When asked to identify the employer attributes they valued most, the top response (67%) was “recognizes the value I bring to the organization.” 

Why should this matter to you? Because what matters to your employees, matters to your bottom line. Companies with highly engaged employees are 200% more profitable than companies with low employee engagement.

Coaching, for employees at all levels of your organization, is one of the best ways to grow highly engaged employees and boost your bottom line. In fact, a Bersin (2007) survey ranked coaching and the number one performance-management strategy that generates the greatest business impact.

Going for the Win-Win-Win

As voluntary benefits go, coaching is a win-win-win. Coaching:

►Meets the mental, emotional and professional development needs of employees,

►Improves employees’ work/life balance and overall life satisfaction,

►Makes employees feel like their employer cares about them and is dedicated to their success and well-being,

►Increases self-esteem and self-confidence,

►Improves individual and team performance,

►Leads to better working relationships with direct reports and managers, and

►Increases employee engagement, which:

  • Leads to lower absenteeism
  • Greater employee investment in their company’s vision and goals
  • Higher rates of retention
  • Reduction in costs
  • Increased bottom line profitability

Few voluntary benefits can claim such a hefty ROI.♦

Next month we will explore using situational coaching as a unique new way of capturing critical employee engagement data.

About The Auhors

Stephanie McDilda, M.Ed., is the Chief Vetting Officer of Roving Coach International (RCI). Stephanie is a Certified Professional Coach and Energy Leadership Index Master Practitioner (ELIMP) trained by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching.



CJ Scarlet, M.A., is Chief Rover of RCI, and is also a certified coach and ELIMP. Roving Coach combines the proven benefit of coaching and customized employee engagement data into the Roving Coach Experience™ -- two powerful tools to help employees shift from whining to winning and from winning to leading in 30 minutes! The company helps leaders help themselves and captures what matters most to their employees, leading to a more engaged and productive workforce. Be a HERO and join the movement to Create World Peace in your Workplace by contacting Roving Coach at 800.611.3161 or by visiting