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About a year ago I wrote what I worried would come across as an overly indignant blog posting lambasting a conference on coaching organised and marketed by the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development). My beef back then was the conference had twisted the word coaching to re-spell the word “fad” in order to apply it to a never-changing and never-fulfilled underlying quest for a load of other fads such as “organisational performance”, “value” and the Holy Grail of “ROI”.

One year on and they haven’t removed me from their database so I am sent the blurb and invitation to spend up to £600 + VAT for a day listening to people talk (to slides, I suspect) all about “Proving Coaching’s value and its role in growing business performance”.

Should I give up in despair? Am I alone in finding sentences such as “Workplace coaching is proven to increase productivity, so in a time of cost cutting how do you ensure that it remains within your organisation’s budget?” not just glib but actually quite dangerous. Proven? There is no reference made to what proof there is of the Midas touch of organisational coaching, even though the next breath says “Demonstrating coaching’s ROI is key to embedding it into your organisation.”

I love coaching, I think it is a very valuable thing for people to be engaged in. I think the principles that lie behind the best coaching techniques are intentions toward a person that are honourable and beneficial. But at an individual level. When coaching is dangled in front of an organisation as the be-all-and-manipulate-all to “drive business success”, I get worried. This is made worse by the promise of this conference to offer “practical advice on utilising coaching methods to improve the performance of your organisation.”

My attitude to what goes on in a coaching session is that it cannot be dictated by the requirements of the senior management of a company to produce better profits, even if better profits is a legitimate aim of senior management. The temptation to interfere with or seek access to the topics between coach and coachee would, in that case, be justified because of their possible impact to ROI (however you would show that – which, of course, you can’t).

Oh well, this sounds a lot like last year’s rant, so one of us (CIPD or me) has not learnt a lesson, or is being naive. Plenty of people think you can measure ROI on learning and development projects, so I’m aware that my position is not unchallengeable. However, I can’t see how they can be viewed as realistic since they are measuring quantitatively and retrospectively something which exists qualitatively and as an emergent phenomenon.

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