Infinite Potential

Collecting qualitative data in coaching: The immediate and long term value proposition

August 5th, 2016

If coaching is a continuous process, then the possibility of gathering data to demonstrate the value of coaching is also continuous.

People ask me, how do you measure value?

How will we know the coaching had impact?

The answer is to collect qualitative data throughout a coaching engagement. Qualitative data can point to the ROI that the coaching is yielding.

If qualitative data is an important potential ROI measure it raises the question, “How do I collect such data?”

(What IS qualitative data? See:

Of course as an executive coach other practical questions arise such as:

“How do I do this without burdening my client?”

“How do I do this and respect confidentiality boundaries?”

“How do I do this without creating too much burden on myself?”

Keeping a journal is a powerful tool to use during coaching. My suggested method of journaling has a low overhead, yet can deliver powerful results. So my answer to these questions is to have an integrated, value added process within my coaching engagements that has the potential to yield very rich qualitative data. I will be presenting two such processes today. One more simple and elegant. The other more rigorous and a little more time consuming. I have clients who have used both and found tremendous value if they do.

Both methods capitalize on crucial moments during the coaching engagement, often between coaching sessions, where either breakthrough or incremental learning is occurring. For example, when an executive has prepared to lead his or her team in a new way to develop new behaviors, they might want to reflect after the team meeting to capture important learning. Or if the coaching has helped someone prepare for a crucial conversation, reflecting on the process and outcome of the conversation can consolidate learning. The core principle in this process is Action -> Reflection. This principle is at the heart of adult learning in general and Reflective Learning in particular (Schon).

Simple and Elegant

This method is a simple journaling method. Some people resist the idea of having to take time to journal. Many don’t feel they have the luxury of time to journal. But this simple method makes it as easy as possible and even the least “anal” person can find this method worth the effort since it is so simple. Formula: Stop, write down your top of mind thoughts about a situation. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Just capture your immediate thoughts when considering an event that occurred within the last 24 hrs (memory decays significantly past 24 hrs). Each journal entry could be as brief as a short paragraph. Just capture the essence of what just happened and anything important that you notice.

This journal entry itself can solidify learning and capture enough about the situation to easily recall the situation for later reflection either with or without your coach.

More Rigorous

For someone who likes to analyse more deeply and is willing to put more time and thought into their reflection, a reflection log can be incredibly useful.

For this purpose I have adapted the instrument developed by Dr. Francine Campone that she calls a Reflection Log. Originally used in coach training, this tool is an excellent tool to gather qualitative data during a coaching engagement.

Within this document there are FOUR columns.

Event My Left Hand
Action & Outcomes Insights/Learning Intentions
For any event you want to reflect upon, note the event here. An event may consist of a few lines of dialogue, a single question and response or prompt and response, or a lengthy segment of a meeting or discussion devoted to exploring a single topic or idea.  Write down (in bullet form or sentences) a brief sketch of the event. If you provide some brief context to the event, make sure you identify the specific event, for instance by BOLD-FACING that part you want to focus on. In this column, try to capture the essence of those thoughts, assumptions, beliefs and expectations which were in your mind and which you did not deliberately communicate to the person or group.  This is also the place to note any instinctive reactions or “gut feelings” you might have experienced but that probably weren’t voiced. Imagine you’re a video-camera capturing what an observer might see and hear in the exchange AS A RESULT OF YOUR OBSERVATIONS and ASSUMPTIONS.  Focus here on what YOU did and how others responded to the specific event. Note as much as possible of the actual language you and others used.  Describe gestures, actions, vocal qualities. In other words, what did you DO as a result of  Columns 1 and 2, and then what happened?

Action: (What you did.)

Outcome: (What happened as a result.)

This is where you look at the fit between your left hand column, what you actually did and the outcomes.  If there’s a gap, pose questions which might help you consider alternative explanations; probe your assumptions; examine your rationale for speaking differently from how you were thinking.  If there’s alignment between the second and third columns, use this column to explore why you believe the strategy was effective.  Note what you might do differently next time to generate better outcomes (in the case of the gap event) and to build on interactions which appear to be effective.



The reflection log can yield deep insight and learning. For instance it can reveal assumptions you were making about an event and how it influenced your action and results. The immediate value this can yield is in the significant learning that can occur. The longer term value journal entries can yield come from the significant ROI that can be implied by the stories that emerge from the journal and the qualitative data it contains. Of course the journal is “owned” by the person who is journaling, but they can select specific action-impact stories from their journal that they want to share, which illustrate impact that they attribute directly to the coaching conversation. When my coaching engagements include a closure meeting with my client’s manager or HR representative, these stories are compelling and often demonstrate the impact that coaching has delivered. In my next blog entry I will be presenting and discussing a simple surveying method that can help coaching clients capture change and growth that they believe is directly related to their coaching experience.


[easy_sign_up title=”Sign Up for Future Blog Entries” phone=”1″ fnln=”1″ esu_label=”Registrants” esu_class=”InfinitePotential”]

[Contact information is NEVER shared without your specific permission.)