How many accountants must wish that people, whether they be clients, staff or even relatives, could be the same as a computer – do what they are told to do, work without complaining 24/7 – especially at month end – and do not do mean things like resigning. The accounting profession is not alone in wanting to sideline the people issues. The engineers think people should act and behave like machines, and then get upset when their staff walk out on them. Actuaries reduce people to a formula, and then wonder what is wrong with their model when productivity drops through the floor.

Unfortunately, with the introduction of the CA Charter, the people issue has been turned up a further notch. The accounting profession now has “the duty to support broad based empowerment” and to develop skills. Indeed, this latter is seen as so important that the score card for skills development has been raised to 20%, compared to 15% for other industries. Then there is the additional problem of, having employed a BE appointee, retaining his or her skills.

One area that might be worth exploring to tackle these problems is coaching.

Coaching has its roots in the area of sports and, as such, dates back at least as far as ancient Greece where well-paid coaches trained many of the athletes competing in the original Olympic Games (Carpenter, 2004). In an American Management Association (AMA) report published in May of this year covering some 1000 respondents both in the US and internationally, it was found that coaching continues to gain in popularity. Among respondents who said that their organisations don’t yet have coaching programmes, a sizable proportion, 37% in the North American sample and 56% in the international sample, say such programmes will be implemented in the future.

So what is coaching and how does it differ from various other interventions? The following diagram attempts to simplify the situation.

Diagram 1

Pg22 Dec2008

Here one must decide whether you are looking at:

  • problems or opportunities and whether these are located in the past or the future?
  • if it is past problems, is this an issue for therapy?· future problems, e.g. lack of professional expertise or experience, is this a call for mentoring?
  • is it past events dictating a lack of opportunity, is this a call for counselling?
  • finally is it looking at future opportunities? Then it is a call for coaching.

So what is the difference between mentoring and coaching?

Mentoring generally refers to the relationship between a senior, more experienced employee, who helps a younger, less experienced employee navigate his or her way to success in the organisation (Kram, 1985). Usually, mentor and protégé work in the same organisation. Mentoring tends to be informal—centring on career development, social support and role modelling—and is most intense at the early stages of one’s career (Donaldson et al., 2000)

And coaching?

  • According to the AMA study, organisations employ coaches to help with leader transitions (such as promotions, lateral moves, or international assignments), to retain staff with high potential, to improve performance that is off track, and to help individuals assess where their career is now and where it may go next.
  • Coaching is tied to training programmes in some companies. For example, a manager attends training for some specified number of hours and then gets individual coaching to reinforce and apply things learned in the workshop. Here a recent study found that training on its own increased productivity by 20%. Training + coaching increased productivity by something of the order of 80%.
  • 38% of the respondents reported that their organisations use coaching frequently or a great deal as a way to improve retention rates, while 24% say coaching is used in their companies to improve the outcome of the recruitment process.
  • Finally, there is also “life coaching”, which helps clients set and achieve goals in aspects of their lives other than just business.

What constitutes a successful coaching intervention? ,

  • There is a need for a formal process to measure results and it was found that this increases the chances of a successful coaching programme. Methods include 360° and ROI. On the other hand, the essentially human nature of coaching is what makes it work—and also what makes it nearly impossible to quantify.
  • The more a company has a clear reason for using coaching, the more likely that its coaching process will be viewed as successful.
  • It pays to match the right coach with the right client. Matching people according to expertise and personality seems to be the best strategy. In this respect, it is important to interview prospective coaches first.

Where does a company go to find coaches in a field that has become swamped with “cowboy operators”, who often lack both credentials and skills?

  • In South Africa a professional body (COMENSA) has been set up to regulate coaches and mentors. Based on international criteria, it imposes a strict code of ethics on its members and lays down competencies that its members are expected to employ in a coaching intervention. Similarly the International Coaching Federation has local representation and imposes the same conditions on its members. To become a Practitioner Coach with COMENSA one must have completed a minimum of a diploma course.
  • It is recommended that potential coaches are sourced via a member of either of these two organisations.


The study concluded by stating that it expects coaching to become one of the keys to developing and retaining scarce talent in the future, and that companies that learn to leverage it well will have a significant competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Michael Gardner, MA, is an independant life and business coach.