This article explores how to assess client progress in coaching and is mainly written for people who are new to coaching (as well as old hands). I will be considering how to assess client progress in coaching by referring to one of the 11 Core Competencies outlined by the International Coach Federation (ICF). This is also reflected in the Competence Framework outlined by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC).

How do you measure progress?

So, you coach a client for some time and you arrive at this question: How do you assess how much progress the client has made? This is an important question and you need a strategy to arrive at an answer.

On the surface, it might seem easy – just ask the client how helpful it was/is. That’s okay, but it might not give you the information you need. So let’s try to improve on it by looking at a few specific areas you could consider.

Here are 3 questions to keep in mind: How much, how important, how different?

How much has changed?

How much has changed? Has the client made many new discoveries? Have they dug deeply into their perception, beliefs, values, attitudes, and story? Has the client learned much about how they see the world and how they have behaved in the past? Have they gained many new insights about themselves and the world? Obviously, the more the client has learned in scope and/or depth, the more effective the coaching has been.

How important is the change?

How important is the new learning to the client? Perhaps it is very important because they have learned so much about themselves and the world, but how much a person has learned is not the only measure of its importance. Or maybe the client only learned one thing, but it has been a breakthrough in their thinking. You could judge the effectiveness of the coaching based on the importance of what the client has gained through it.

How different is the person?

How different is the client because of the coaching experience? Maybe they haven’t learned a vast amount and they haven’t had a breakthrough, but they could still feel and act in very different ways because of the coaching. Sometimes small changes in attitude and behaviour can produce massive changes in what happens. So the effectiveness of the coaching can be assessed according to how different things are for the client.

Core competencies

With these 3 questions in mind, let’s look at Core Competency No. 9 ‘Designing Actions’. An equivalent from the EMCC would be ‘Outcome and Action Orientation’. Here is what is contained in this competency (emphasis mine):

  • Brainstorms and assists the client to define actions that will enable the client to demonstrate, practice, and deepen new learning.
  • Helps the client to focus on and systematically explore specific concerns and opportunities that are central to agreed-upon coaching goals.
  • Engages the client to explore alternative ideas and solutions, to evaluate options, and to make related decisions.
  • Promotes active experimentation and self-discovery, where the client applies what has been discussed and learned during sessions immediately afterward in his/her work or life setting.
  • Celebrates client successes and capabilities for future growth.
  • Challenges client’s assumptions and perspectives to provoke new ideas and find new possibilities for action.
  • Advocates or brings forward points of view that are aligned with client goals and, without attachment, engages the client to consider them.
  • Helps the client “Do It Now” during the coaching session, providing immediate support.
  • Encourages stretches and challenges but also a comfortable pace of learning.

5 categories

This Core Competency defines some outcomes you hope a client will produce. These can be broadly grouped together into 5 categories – what you want the client to:

  1. do with new learnings – demonstrate them, practise them, deepen them
  2. explore – specific concerns, opportunities, alternate ideas and solutions, now possibilities for action
  3. evaluate – options (determine the relative value of various alternatives)
  4. decide– decisions relating to their behaviour
  5. apply– apply what has been discussed and learned, do it now

How will you know?

These 5 areas are very general in nature and could apply to all clients in a variety of coaching situations. The question is, how will you know if the client has done these 5 things? How will you know how much/many of them they have done? How will you determine how important these things have been to the client? What methodology do you have to assess how much difference they have made?

Design specific tasks

To answer these questions, you need to design specific tasks that will give you the information you need or observe them as they arise during the coaching sessions. For example, in point 1 (above), get the client to demonstrate that they have learned something new. You could ask them a leading question and see how they answer it. Or, you could give them a task to apply the new knowledge at work during the coming week. The point is, you need to come up with activities the client can do to show they have made progress – something they can now do (know, feel) better than they could before.

These ‘assessment tasks’ or observations will help you assess how much progress is being made on one level, but to determine the ‘How much, how important, how different?’ questions, you may need to seek direct feedback from the client. So, a mixture of direct observation and self-reporting will be involved.

Assess regularly

Don’t wait till the end of the coaching sessions to evaluate progress. You need to do it all the way through, so you can adapt your methods and approaches according to client progress.

In summary, to assess the progress of your coaching clients, you must combine a mixture of methods to determine specific outcomes on multiple occasions. It gets easier with practice and being thorough in your assessments will help you refine your approaches and methods. If you wish to discuss any of these ideas, please reach out to me.

Written by Steve Barlow