Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Elva Ainsworth (UK) (USA).

“42” may indeed be “the answer to life, the universe and everything” (according to the famous “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) but what on earth has it to do with you? And why might numbers be interesting to a coach who is already skilled at conversations that empower problem-solving and enable transformational growth? It may be that, “42” means whatever you want it to mean, but so what? The point is that data needs context and then it needs the accurate meaning to be of use. You need to know how a number compares, what the “normal” level might be, what the range of possibilities are, what it may indicate and with what certainty, what the distribution is – to name but a few of the critical pieces of information necessary to accurately interpret data. Understanding the data is just the first step though. Only then can you start to turn data into “insight” which can then, in turn, be a powerful spring-board for a transformational journey through coaching.

Data may be tricky to find and work with but it is supremely useful in transformational coaching – especially when the data directly link with the focus of your coaching – such as behaviour and impact at work.

It grounds the reality of a situation. It provides clarity of detail and perspective that words can only pretend to present. It gives you selling points and persuasive arguments. Despite all of this, it is never about the specific numbers, but rather about seeing the trends, patterns and connections beyond the current view. This is the route to fresh insight and to new perspectives. It is the source of turning facts into phenomenon and it is food for transformational coaching – especially when the data directly link with the focus of your coaching such as behaviour and impact at work. 360 degree feedback is an example of data that gives you technicolour clarity about current behaviour. 360 provide a detailed narrative on your impact at work through the eyes of those very people you most respect. You get to see what people think about your communications, your leadership, your empathy, your judgement and the quality of your thinking – basically whether you are succeeding or failing in their eyes. In fact, you usually get a lot more than you bargained!  But again, it is not about the numbers.

Behavioural ratings, such as those often seen in 360 degree feedback are influenced by the following tendencies: positivity, negativity, central tendency, recency effect, comparison effect, expected impact, stereotypical tendencies, attribution bias, like-me bias, social desirability and other unconscious biases.  In addition to all of these, there can be a number of strategies reviewers can deploy, such as a fear of reprisal, halo effect, attractiveness, low tolerance, etc. With all these complex biases entering the picture, how can you ever know how to interpret a rating? This data is far from being objective; it is subjective in the extreme. But still useful. The key is in the patterns, the big picture and then in the exploration of the “so what” question. This can often be where the coach comes in – to support, generate hypotheses, highlight trends, summarise the overall story and to challenge any overly-narrow interpretation. In addition, a coach can bring the broader perspective of how an individual’s data compare to others as this question of “how good is my data?” will generally be there, whether it is spoken or not.

If you want to cause change, just having relevant data is not enough. There are more conditions necessary for transformation to occur. There has to be:

  • A respected source and a respectful message
  • A feeling of safety for the individual to respond, often privately
  • Time is required for new insights to be processed
  • Something connected to the data needs to be desired
  • Follow-through helps so the insights are not forgotten

In addition, people need to be prepared to receive new insight and then need to be nurtured through the processing before they are even ready to be coached. Get some great data delivered in the right conditions, and you can impact people significantly and easily. This is what is possible for you with 360 degree feedback. 360 data allows you to ground your coaching with an all-round view of them in their current context so you are not simply working with their own version and story by themselves. You are then able to connect the intention of your coaching to assessments outside of you and your coachee’s opinion i.e. ensures your coaching lies fully in their reality, not just their own view of their reality. You will be able to track and evaluate progress, acknowledge positive results and/or blocks and you will be able to gather data you can use for later marketing – to sell your results to others. Tracked behavioural ratings can be your next advert, so remember to gather the 360 data early on so you get a clear “before” and “after” view.

So, with data, it is never really about the numbers yet the numbers provides the gateway to new perspectives and need to be used carefully for this to work – this is the paradox of data in the context of coaching. “42” may never be useful to you in coaching, but beginning-state metrics are critical to ground your intervention and ensure you are not bound to your coaches own story and self-identity. Instead, you can expand their self-awareness, expose their blind-spots and track your effectiveness alongside their growth. You may not often be looking for “the answer to life, the universe and everything” with your clients, but you can nevertheless maximise the transformational impact of your coaching through numbers!

About the Elva Ainsworth

Elva Ainsworth is the founder and managing director of Talent Innovations and author of new book 360 degree feedback: A Transformational Approach (£15.99, Panoma Press). In HR, she enjoyed implementing the brand-new psychometrics, as well as designing culture change and personal development interventions. In 1994, she focused on her love of psychometrics by joining SHL (now CEB), the leading business psychologists, where she managed the 360-degree feedback and management development practice in both the UK and the USA.




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