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Does performance coaching work?

By PJ STEVENS Published 15th Oct 2014
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Top Gear, like it or loathe it, occasionally offers much more than just an insight into motoring mayhem.

A few years ago there was a piece on BBCs Top Gear show where James May took up a driving challenge in a TVR. The challenge was simple; Captain Slow to do his fastest lap of a track in a TVR, and then have Sir Jackie Stewart coach him to an even faster time. Sir Jackie’s goal was to improve May’s one-lap best time of 2 minutes 26 seconds by a full 20 seconds.

A 20 second improvement over 2-26 is enormous. In Formula One a few tenths of a second is substantial. To be fair, F1 drivers are at their best, most of the time, and May is no race driver, but still, a 20 second improvement – or some 14% - in your personal best lap time is no mean feat.

During an afternoon of coaching, on and off the track, Sir Jackie coached James May in both technical issues and more personal matters such as attitude, focus, internal communication – that inner language, or voice that you hear – and vision.

After a slow start, James started to lower his lap times under the watchful eye of Sir Jackie. Then a plateau was reached and it seemed that James would get stuck and not be able to meet the challenge. However, Sir Jackie did a specific piece of coaching out of the car, talking about ‘balance’ and ‘visualisation’. After a few more laps, May improved and did indeed meet the goal to reduce his lap time by 20 seconds.

So what does this mean to us who work in business and are not concerned with TV shows or car racing? Technical coaching can make big improvements, but personal performance coaching will make even bigger gains.

Many line managers are promoted vertically because of their technical ability and knowledge, but they may not be (and indeed are often not) able to coach team members from a performance perspective. They may be able to tell or teach staff, but are unlikely to coach effectively unless they receive coaching and support themselves. 

In the CIPD paper The Case for Coaching the benefits and value of coaching is outlined, including better more efficient meetings, improved board room decisions, better self-awareness, improved feedback, better goal setting and goal achievement.

Barclays, the 'Go To' Bank, recognise that performance coaching is key to living their purpose and improving customer service. Their investment in coaching throughout the business is massive, giving ownership to individuals to have coaching conversations at all levels of the business to build performance, engagement and leadership throughout the organisation.

The Bank know you cannot simply tell people to improve, and whilst showing them how to improve helps, engaging with people and coaching them gives longer lasting, more sustainable performance improvements.

Does coaching work? According to the CIPD study, ‘Our case study shows that organisations firmly believe that coaching works. There are measurable impacts at the individual and organisational levels….We conclude that the results from our case study research indicate that coaching is a valuable intervention as long as it’s well targeted, appropriate and supported.’

At Leap, we have coached sports stars including Premiership Footballers, Olympic competitors (including medallists) and several golfers, but most of our time our coaching work is with people in businesses such as Finance, Insurance, IT, Beauty, Retail and Construction. Coaching is about people, so if you employ, work with, manage of lead people, take a look at coaching as an intervention for improving performance.

Captain Slow made a 14% improvement through coaching. What would a 14% improvement mean to your individuals, to your organisation, and to your customers?

There is no doubt that the impact of performance coaching is easier to measure in motorsports such as F1, but the impact in business is no less important or valuable.

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