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Coaching Evaluation - ROI vs ROE...

Written by Annette Cairns on .
return on investment jar

Return on investment vs return on expectations... which is right when evaluating coaching?

Many moons ago when I was completing my CIPD qualifications I wrote a Management report called “Beyond the Happy Sheet” in which I explored how training and coaching is evaluated in the workplace. A chance conversation at the Trusted Coach Directory about Return on Investment for Leadership programmes led to a flash back, and before I knew it I had commented that ROI may be outdated and perhaps different measures were possible.

On Wednesday I co-facilitated a session at the Trusted Coach Directory on ROI vs ROE (Return on Expectations) which led to some great conversations about how easy ROI or ROE are to measure.

Our opening questions was “When was the last time you had been asked about ROI”?

The answers raged form “Never” to “A tender I have just completed” which really got me thinking. I had been working in collaboration with three other people on a tender and we had been asked the same question. As a provider of this programme how would you show Return on Investment? We scratched our heads and talked of Kirkpatrick and wrote something which we thought covered the basics.

Ah the Holy Grail of evaluating training and coaching. And how realistic is it in relation to Leadership Development either as a management population or an individual?

There is a quotation from Sloman in 2009…"the obsessive, neurotic divination around ROI is inappropriate and no longer tenable". This was written in 2009 and still RoI is considered to be necessary for evaluation…or is it?

In my time as OD Manager I had put a number of business cases together to support training initiatives and most of these business cases I showed RoI calculations. I had waved my finger in the air, calculating an increase in motivation of 1% through better leadership, and as we all know, an increase of 1% in motivation means an increase of productivity. Continuing with the maths showed just how much an increase in productivity would bring to the bottom line. It was all suitably vague and didn’t actually show how it was going to be measured…and it was approved!

But…and this is quite a large but…did we ever really follow it up? Did we ever work out what the metrics were going to be to work the ROI out? And if we had should we have calculated the ROI of calculating the ROI!

If you are a learning & development professional reading this now, please let me know if you have ever, ever been able to do a really sound RoI on any learning intervention? There are so many other variables at play here, including personalities, marketplace, will, commitment etc etc. that I would love to know how you did it!

If we do need to measure and evaluate, what is better way to do it than ROI?

If the interventions are aligned with what drives the organisation, the value will be apparent. Improving productivity and outcomes are more important than the question of whether it will pay for itself. Senior manager expectations must be to have a workforce that it fit for purpose and able to ensure that they achieve organisational objectives.

So how about looking for a Return on Expectations and setting some clear performance outcomes. At the same time ask for commitment.

In order to be able to do this there needs to be a collaboration between the provider and the organisation right from the very start to determine exactly what the hoped for outcomes are. What do you want people to be doing differently as a result of this intervention? What behaviours are you looking out for that are measurable, that will show that the intervention has been a success?

And who’s responsibility is it?

The other question this raises for me as an external provider (who has been asked to show how we measure this) is…Who’s responsibility is it to undertake the evaluation?

This is what really struck me when we were trying to fill in the tender.

As a coach I contract very carefully and clearly with my client and their organisation to state that it is the client’s responsibility to undertake any actions they commit to following on from a coaching session and they are accountable for their success.

How can external providers be held responsible for undertaking an ROI if there are so many variables that are out of their control?


In both coaching and training there must be conversations right from the start which clearly cover desirable outcomes with an indication of how this will be measured. A collaborative approach s the best way to do this. However once the intervention is completed it is the client’s responsibility to undertake the evaluation beyond the happy sheet.

Then of course the next question is …How can we ensure that the learning is taken back to the workplace and put into practice…

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