I have been coaching for over 16 years and I wish I could say that all my clients made fantastic progress. Some did, but others were disappointed with the coaching outcomes and some achieved what they always expected – not much.

The dilemma

Over this time, I have pondered why some people achieve great results and others don’t. What is it that mediates the outcome a client achieves? Is it the immediate context? Could it be the broader environment, or perhaps the timing? Maybe it is the interpersonal dynamics between coach and client? I imagine all these factors would play a part, but I doubt that any of them is the significant influencer on outcomes.

The main factor

I think the critical factor that influences client outcomes is the client’s readiness to recognise the reality of their current condition and their readiness to do what they need to do to move beyond it.

It seems to me that the best coach in the world wouldn’t deliver good outcomes for a client who isn’t ready to accept what is, and commit to the right action to move beyond it. This means that, ultimately, the client will achieve what they are ready to achieve. They are mostly responsible for the outcome they get.

So, how difficult is it to accept what is and commit to the right action to move beyond it? It’s hard to say, because some people have more capacity to do that (more change fitness), and some changes are harder to make than others. I’ll say more about change fitness in another article, but let me say something here about some changes being harder than others.

Two types of changes

Broadly speaking, clients face two possible types of changes. The first type is generally easier to make. The situation here is that the client is basically on the right track, but they need to tweak some things to get a better result. For example, they might be doing many of the right things in their marketing or sales strategy, but a few changes here and there would deliver better results. Of course, those few extra things to do might frighten the socks off the client. So, even a few tweaks can sometimes be a major challenge.

The second type of change is where current behaviours are not working and they need to be abandoned rather than tweaked. The client needs to unlearn old patterns and relearn new ones. Not only does the person need to start doing things they haven’t done before (things they may be fearful of), but they also need to stop doing things that feel natural and normal. This, of course, is more difficult to do.

A question of capacity

The extent to which clients succeed in making these transitions depends largely on their change fitness (their capacity to meet all the demands of the change process), but there are positive steps the coach can make to support them. Here are 3 ideas.

  1. Create a safe environment for change. One of the coach’s main responsibilities is to create a safe and nurturing environment where people can open up and explore who they are, how they think, what they think, how they typically behave, the language they use, how they relate to others, what they are afraid of and why, how their stories impact their reality, and other such things. Creating and holding that space for the client is one of the greatest gifts a coach can give a client.
  2. Guide and support the client in their self-exploration, self-understanding, and their acceptance of the next steps. If the client is ready to open up and learn, the coach can support that process by gently asking the right questions, tying together pieces of the client’s story, and helping the client see what they need to do to move on. They can act as a mirror for the client; a person who wants the best for the client and is fully present in the moment.
  3. Believe in the client. Everyone deserves some hope, and everyone deserves a go. Maybe the client won’t make any visible progress, but you can still hope that the seeds planted today will produce fruit in the future. Things are not always as they seem. The client who seems to make no progress may look back on the time they spent with you and see it as a pivotal moment in their lives. Working with people is like that – you don’t always get to see the outcomes.

More change fitness

In this article I have proposed that the client’s readiness to see their current reality and to take positive action to move beyond it is the most important influencer of client outcomes in coaching. Real change is usually hard. Clients with more change fitness have more capacity to deal with that ‘hardness’ and produce a successful outcome. But there is an important role for the coach to play.

I hope these ideas are helpful, and please do reach out if you would like to learn more about change fitness and change readiness.

Written by Steve Barlow