A Day in The Life
Results from the Global Sherpa Coaching Survey


Author Karl Corbett is president of Sasha Corporation,
a human resources consulting firm in Cincinnati, Ohio, founded in 1984.

Contact: karl@sashacorp.com /www.sashacorp.com
© Sherpa Coaching LLC, 2006. All rights reserved.


America’s largest generation is about to retire, emptying our boardrooms and councils of power. Leadership is everybody’s number one concern. Despite the looming importance of leadership development, no one seems to know how organizations will fill the leadership gap. The most talked-about approach is executive coaching.

There’s a growing movement toward in-house coaching, and a cadre of independent coaches out there, yet most surveys on coaching cited in publications and websites date back to 2001 or earlier. In fact, no one has published a survey involving a significant number of working coaches – until now.

In late 2005, the University of Cincinnati’s Executive Education department partnered with Sherpa Coaching, an executive coaching certification firm in Cincinnati, to conduct The 2006 Sherpa Coaching Survey, their first annual global survey on the state of executive and business coaching.

Over 400 executive and personal coaches were surveyed, the largest sampling of coaches ever published. An additional 130 human resource (HR) and training professionals also responded, including many who train in-house coaches and hire coaches from the outside. Polling was largely in the United States, but respondents were noted from Mexico, Canada, Sweden, France, England, Italy, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

IQS Research of Louisville, Kentucky provided online services for the polling project. IQS founder and President Shawn Herbig says: “This was an innovative piece of work, and the number of responses produced a 96% degree of accuracy in the Sherpa Coaching Survey’s results.”

Defining the Field
There’s some confusion about what executive coaching is. As defined by the survey’s sponsors, executive coaching involves “frequent, one-on-one meetings between an executive or senior manager and an expert facilitator, designed to produce positive change in business behavior in a limited time frame.”

This survey explores every aspect of that definition: - Who can best use the services of a coach? - What’s the best background for an executive coach? - How are services delivered, and what do customers really want? - What’s the frequency and time frame for coaching? - How is its value measured?

Summary of results
Coaching has come of age. Although there are still a few novel approaches to business coaching, including “breath coaching” and the “primal drumming circle”, 80% of HR professionals, the customers, rate the value and credibility of executive coaching as ”very high” or “somewhat high”, with only 20% rating current coaching as “mediocre” and less than 1% as “low”.

Human resource professionals were included in the Sherpa Coaching Survey, to both temper and validate what coaches report. The way in which the two groups answer questions differently can show a gap between service offerings and what coaching customers want. Those discrepancies also expose a degree of marketing hype in the field of coaching. Almost 30% of executive coaches claim to charge $300 or more per hour, but only 12% of HR professionals say they actually pay coaches at those levels.

Coaches and HR professionals agree closely about who needs a coach. Twenty percent put coaching into play for individuals in transition: transfers, new hires and recently promoted employees. The remaining 80% were evenly divided, between those who use coaching for individuals with a specific problem and those who see coaching as a normal part of leadership development.

Training and certification is cited as increasingly important with coaches new to the field. There’s no consensus as to who should train and certify, though. The International Coaching Federation has tried to establish itself as the clearinghouse for certifications, but almost 40% of practicing executive coaches and 88% of HR professionals reject the ICF as ”most qualified to train and certify coaches”. This leaves the certification process up for grabs, and universities seem to be making a move.

Who responded?
Among participating coaches, “business and executive” coaches make up 78% of the coaches surveyed, with “life, health and personal coaches” constituting 22% of the pool. Coaches taking part also include career coaches and those who combine business with personal coaching services. Since the focus of the Sherpa Coaching Survey is executive coaching, answers from those coaches clearly defined as “business and executive coaches” are frequently isolated as survey results are reported.

Additionally, 130 Human Resources (HR) professionals responded to the Sherpa Coaching Survey, with several identifying themselves directly as “purchasers of coaching services”.

Who’s Coaching?
The executive coaches who responded to this survey are among the most successful in the field, based on what they say about themselves. In a business where coaches come and go with great frequency, 19% claim one to two years’ experience, while 68% state they have been coaching for three years or more.

Overall, 41% of everyone surveyed lists “extensive training as a coach” as the best background, with a wide variety of “other“ responses making up 33%. Industry-specific expertise is cited by just 10%, indicating that business coaches should be able to establish a credible practice across a wide variety of industries.

Although some counselors and therapists offer ‘coaching’ in their practices, less than 2% of survey respondents say “counseling and therapy” is the most effective background for a business coach.

Delivery Styles
The Sherpa Coaching Survey asked coaches how they deliver their services, allowing multiple answers. Survey data indicates that 39% of all coaching is delivered in person and 32% conducted © Sherpa Coaching LLC, 2006. All rights reserved. Page 3 of 5 by phone. Email is used in 25% of coaching engagements, with Internet chat and webcam delivery accounting for less than 5% of sessions.

Because in-person meetings involve travel time and limit a coach’s geographic reach, some coaches choose to deliver services over the telephone. Live coaching, experts agree, allows a coach to read body language and facial expression. Telephone calls lack those visual cues, and even allow an unfocused client to multi-task during a coaching session. Email removes even voice inflection, and is unlikely to convey or encourage any profound thought.

Despite the obvious, over one-third of coaches in the Sherpa Coaching Survey claim that telephone coaching is the “most effective method” for delivery of coaching services, with one coach professing that phone coaching “removes visual distractions”. The vast majority of human resource professionals know better. 92% say that ”in-person meetings” are most likely to produce positive change.

There may be trends in place that favor client contact. 60% of those in the business 3 years more say live engagements are most effective, while 70% of emerging coaches favor in-person coaching. Some coaching gurus predict that an alternative to live meetings, Internet webcam coaching, will become more accepted as the technology becomes widely deployed and easy to use.

The longer a coach stays in business, the more in tune they are with clients’ timetables. 44% of HR professionals state that the most effective coaching is delivered “as needed”, rather than on a regular schedule. Just 13% of first-year coaches agree with that assessment, while twice as many 5-year coaches cite “as needed” as the most effective interval.

The introduction of process-driven coaching has created a new attitude among emerging coaches, who seem more attuned to clients’ need for results. Cost-effectiveness is becoming more and more of a factor, as demand for coaches increases. Most veteran coaches say a coaching engagement should take six months or more, or be open-ended, while 70% of first year coaches say coaching engagements should take six months or less.

Show me the money
Building a coaching practice takes time. Among executive coaches in business for one to two years, just 8% report working with more than 10 clients a week. That number increases to 25% for coaches who’ve practiced three years or more. The lean quality of the early years in a coaching career might explain why turnover in the field is quite high.

Businesses who hire coaches look for experience first and foremost. Coaches in business less than a year rely more on private-pay clients, with only half of clients corporate-paid. Coaches in business a year or two state that 56% of their clients are paid for by their employer, and those in business three or more years have over 70% of their clients paid for by employing organizations.

Billing rates are dependent on the market in which a coach operates. More than 60% of life, health and personal coaches charge $149 per hour or less. In contrast, only 23% of executive and business coaches charge those lower rates. Almost half of executive coaches work in the $150- 300 per hour range, with fewer than 5% claiming rates of $500 per hour or more.

If you take at face value the rates coaches say they charge, then their average hourly rate approaches $230 in their first year, $255 in the second and third, $275 in the fourth and fifth years of practice, with executive coaches in business 5 years or more averaging $345 per hour.

From these hourly earnings estimates and the number of clients surveyed coaches cited, the Sherpa Coaching Survey pegs the annual earnings of first-year executive coaches who participated in the survey at $51,000, second and third year coaches at $79,000, fourth and fifth year coaches at $106,000, with those in business more than five years averaging just over $150,000 a year. In contrast to the business world, “life, health and personal” coaches report that their earnings start at just $26,000 per year, and peak slightly above $63,000.

The Bottom Line
When money is changing hands, everyone should benefit. HR professionals who hire or use coaches don’t have conventional control of their side of the ledger, however. Among HR professionals, only 7% said they had a formal process to monitor the value of coaching. ‘Anecdotal evidence’ is the leading way of monitoring the value of coaching, with 55% citing it among HR professionals, while 7% have a formal process.

What’s missing? A way to prove the benefits of coaching. Research on the return on investment to be expected from executive coaching seems sparse, with limited studies in 1998 and 2001 being most widely used to make the case. Experts cite a “leap of faith” taken by organizations who are serious about executive coaching, and acknowledge that there are no widely accepted metrics.
Enter Academia
Training and certification seems to improve a coach’s survival rate in the field. Among executive and business coaches in the business for one to five years, almost 85% cite training and certification as their primary development tool. First year coaches only cite training and certification 64% of the time.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) claims to have a leading role in accrediting coach training programs. ICF-endorsed programs vary widely, though, including training exclusively for mental health professionals, and even a state-licensed vocational school. Some certifications are conducted entirely over the telephone.

With no entrance criteria beyond payment of a membership fee, just 12 percent of the ICF’s members actually hold an ICF-designated certification, according to informed insiders. ICF President Steve Mitten acknowledged in an ICF newsletter in early 2005: “Individuals with no intention of becoming properly trained are joining the ICF and calling themselves ICF coaches.”

Business-centered trade associations, including the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations (ICCO) haven’t been around long enough to gain traction, with less than 5% of respondents citing them as “most qualified to train and certify”.

Coaching programs offered by colleges and universities could be counted on the fingers of one hand just a year ago. A dozen, mostly homegrown programs, are now available. Programs developed by veteran coaches compete with “think tank” education as the industry struggles to produce useful standards.

There’s a marked difference between certificate programs and certifications, too. Certificate programs recognize attendance at a series of classes. Certifications, on the other hand, are much more rigorous, with required testing against a standard body of knowledge. The Sherpa Coaching Certification is the only program endorsed by multiple universities: piloted at Xavier, offered by the University of Cincinnati, Kent State University and the University of Louisville.

The future looks good for this industry sector: Despite the shortage of coast-to-coast options at learning institutions, 14% of HR professionals feel colleges and universities are “most qualified to train and certify business coaches”, beating the ICF by several percentage points.

Final Answers
Business coaching has a long way to go to become a mature industry with recognizable standards. As demand grows for a set of uniform credentials, colleges and universities will almost certainly pick up the slack, as they did 5 years ago when front line staffing was the crisis du jour. The number of both certificate and certification programs will increase, as graduate schools, business schools and executive education programs explore their options.

To consolidate the industry under a single banner, a clear process for executive coaching has to gain universal acceptance. The Sherpa process, detailed in a 340-page book, “The Sherpa Guide”, is an early front-runner. If it can attract the backing of additional university partners, it may well become the operating system for modern business coaching.

Effective delivery methods have yet to rule the day, partly because there aren’t enough credible coaches to cover every locale. When the supply of world-class coaches catches up with demand, face-to-face coaching will be more the norm, in line with what HR professionals and clients want.

Coaching has already become a routine part of leadership development, no longer looked on as an indicator of problems. As those who have a coach show more success and attain higher status, demand for coaching will increase, as well.

Tune in for next year’s second annual Sherpa Coaching Survey, and another look at this fastchanging industry. Results are officially released, and posted at www.sherpacoaching.com, on February 1st of each year.



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