Why the Landmark Baruch Study on Coaching is So Important
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Why the Landmark Baruch Study on Coaching is So Important

In 1997 researchers at Baruch College in New York conducted a study about the impact of follow-up coaching in management training. In organizational environments – businesses, nonprofits, government, educational institutions – periodic coaching is the ultimate retrieval event. And it’s astonishingly effective.

The Baruch study had two stages. In Stage One, 31 top-level managers, mid-level managers, and supervisors at a health agency in a major Northeastern city met with an outside consultant for three days of classroom-style training on various management competencies. The researchers determined that based on this three-day event alone, the productivity of the participants teams increased by 22%. Not bad.

In Stage Two, researchers singled out eight of the 31 participants and trained them to conduct one-on-one executive coaching. The idea was to have these eight participants meet weekly for one hour with the other 23 participants, called “coachees,” for two months to see how effective follow-up coaching could be. The content of the coaching sessions emphasized implementing the new managerial competencies coachees had learned in the three-day training event. Coaching activities included:

  1. Goal setting
  2. Evaluating end results (were goals hit?)
  3. Giving feedback
  4. Problem solving
  5. Practice (e.g., role-playing managerial techniques)
  6. Public presentations at the end of the project where participants summed up their results.

After Stage Two, the researchers found that productivity on the teams increased 88%, four times higher than training alone.

The purpose of the study was to determine whether coaching works. It does.

The event covered three full days whereas the cumulative coaching took the equivalent of a single day. Which only strengthens the argument for coaching. They got extraordinary results with a relatively small commitment to coaching. I’d argue they’d have done even better with a higher ratio of coaching to training.

The study didn’t conclusively show what activities in the coaching processes contributed the most. But the researchers speculated that goal setting was most important. It’s hard to dispute that. A coaching process will only be effective if the coach is “retrieving” the right memories. Clear goal-setting in the Baruch study insured that the coaching sessions were focused on revisiting the concepts that would improve productivity.

The researchers also made a big deal about the public presentation’s impact. Because participants knew they’d have to address their peers at the end of the project, they were presumably more motivated throughout the process to achieve results.

There’s another reason that the presentation was important. The Bjork research suggests that memory recall is better if you vary the context of retrieval events. Role playing, one-on-one managerial coaching, peer coaching and quizzes all allow learners to revisit training in different ways. It makes sense that the presentation, which forced the coachees to recap what they learned in a highly emotional retrieval event that involved public speaking, would make the learning stick.

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