British businesses now spend as much as £500,000 a year buying in coaching for their workers and managers – yet two thirds believe coaching has become an industry riddled with cowboys and the same proportion never measure whether their money is being spent wisely.
A study by consultancy Chiumento and HR magazine Personnel Today has found the popularity of coaching has soared in recent years, with most organisations now spending between £100,000 and £499,999 a year on external coaches.
More than half of the 497 employers polled said they were using more coaching than a year ago, with a similar percentage anticipating that levels of coaching would continue to increase over the next 12 months.
Yet there was also deep disquiet about the size, quality and lack of regulation of the coaching "industry".
More than two thirds believed coaching organisations were not regulated closely enough, with eight out of 10 feeling more regulation was desirable to stop cowboy operators from descending on their organisations.
It's a similar story across the Atlantic. In late 2005, the Harvard Business Review calculated that American companies were spending more than $1 billion annually on coaching, yet warned that coaching remained a largely unregulated industry and one whose effectiveness was difficult to determine.
Worryingly, in light of these concerns, the Chiumento study also found that two thirds of businesses did not formally measure the return on investment they got from coaching, with many arguing that it was impossible to get more than anecdotal feedback.
Just 13 per cent of the firms polled said they took the time to calculate what they were actually getting for their money when they bought in coaching. Of the seven out of 10 firms that said they now offered coaching, just a quarter offered coaching to everyone, irrespective of seniority, while more than two out of five only offered it to their senior teams.
And more than half of the firms polled said their approach to buying in coaching was "ad hoc".
Sarah Chiumento, chief executive of Chiumento, said organisations were increasingly seeing coaching as a powerful management training tool.
But she added: "A lack of industry regulation, however, has fostered some negative perceptions of coaching that must be challenged if the industry is to flourish and organisations are to reap the benefits.
"Decision-makers who are buying coaching have a responsibility to ensure coaching suppliers have the appropriate experience and qualifications.
"Organisations that view measurement of their investment in coaching and regulation of the industry as 'just too difficult' are potentially squandering their talent development budget," she said.