Evidence Based Coaching and The Importance of Insight

In any change situation there is going to be better results if there is reliable, valid and timely evidence and feedback.  And who has access to that can make a profound difference.


This is what my head told me I was doing!

Brisbane has long history of producing world champion swimmers (Leisel Jones, Keiren Perkins, Hayley Lewis) and many more have trained here. I’m not one of them. I’ve been encouraged and given feedback as I happily churned out a few laps at the University of Queensland pool or perhaps the Centenary Pool. Keep my head down, lengthen my stoke, reach out more, keep my hips higher, increase my kick rate and breath both sides. I worked at everything I was told and there was almost no improvement in my results. I thought doing it harder and getting stronger would help. It didn’t, at least not much! Then something important happened.

A friend did some video! Arrggghhhh! In a city of elegant and efficient swimmers, I was ugly … truly and profoundly ugly. I don’t think any part of my body conformed to the messages I was sending from my head. I could see the disconnect and it wasn’t good. The evidence was confronting. I did get a bit better however I believe I would be needing that video evidence and feedback regularly. I’m not a natural. Fortunately I have been happy to pursue activities that I have more talent for.

The thing is that in some situations I have been asked to coach a person and I didn’t even have the benefit of seeing them in action. I had to rely on indirect feedback, self reported data and eyewitness accounts to help diagnose the situation and help find a way forward for the person. Sure there was some good and accurate information. The thing about this story is that anybody who knew anything about swimming and could actually see me swimming knew what was wrong. And they could tell me and I still couldn’t get it right. Despite everything I was still overestimating my performance compliance. I needed to see for myself what was going on. Only then did I experience and understand the profound gap I wanted to bridge. And that was not entirely welcome from me.

In business we are well aware of the need for SMART feedback (Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Reliable, Trackable or some variation on this acronym). The coaching relationship is no different. Yet I have on occasion been asked to help a person where this essential ingredient has been missing. The possibility of real insight by both the coach and the client is small. That dramatically increases the risk of failure to get the results. It’s not good for the client and can be a real professional downer.


  1. At the outset identify what access you have to the person and any diagnostics that are available before agreeing to the nature of the relationship (coaching, counselling, mentoring) and the goals of any relationship.
  2. Be wary of taking on assignments where there is very limited access and diagnostics. Hear-say and self reported data can be very unreliable.
  3. Look for evidence that the person being engaged has real insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
  4. Insight is not the same as motivation however it is essential particularly regarding improving complex behaviour and skills.
  5. If you can’t negotiate to see the person in action then see if it possible to get video or other hard evidence to work with.



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Filed under Change Management, Coaching and Counselling, Uncategorized

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