Proposals, feedback process, and why dogs are wiser than you.


How to make your next proposal better than your last one.

Let’s face it, of all the skills you can bring to bear to help your clients, the limiting factor is your ability to get proposals signed. You need to make money. You want to share your genius with the world world. You need to get your proposal written and sold. You need to deliver value at each step of the sales process. Here are three great ways to write coaching proposals that sell. You can be smarter than your competitors.

  1. Less fluff, more value.  Your job is to add value and solve your client’s problems. Nothing else matters. Your model, framework, tactic or magical gifts do NOT provide value to your client. Your solution is the value. Stay focused on the results you can deliver.

2.  Fewer credentials, more results.  Congratulations, your certification/ degree is a huge accomplishment. But nobody understands what it means. Make sure more space is devoted to results than credentials.

3.  Make it easy to understand.  If your buyer has to exercise their brain to realize how good your proposal is, then you haven’t done the work required to make it great. Keep the structure simple.

The Feedback Process


We all talk about feedback a lot. Most leaders think they do it well. But my opinion is that we simply don’t know how to give feedback well. The problem is our inability to give good feedback creates problems down the road.

A lack of feedback gives people unspoken approval for unacceptable behavior. This false approval encourages people to continue patterns of behavior that don’t help them or anyone else.

But it gets worse. Everyone in an organization is constantly evaluating competency. So a lack of feedback not only affects the person who needs to receive, but it also affects everybody else who knows that feedback should be given.

A leader is never out from under the microscope. Giving good feedback is one of the surest ways to encourage effective behavior and to demonstrate leadership competency. It is a skill that can be learned, and we can learn to teach it and demand it as part of our culture.

Feedback leads to learning.

The Leadership Wisdom of Dogs


The attributes, traits and characteristics that separate leaders from the rest of the pack can be clearly seen in the behavior of dogs: loyalty, perseverance, friendship, teamwork, honesty, bravery, ingenuity, playfulness, curiosity and an unflagging desire for more information.I call it the Fido Factor.

Faithful leaders earn the trust of their team and their customers by doing the right things and living up to their word.

Inspirational leaders move people to do the meaningful and the extraordinary.

Determined leaders combine perseverance with a dose of fearlessness to keep moving toward goals.

Observant leaders are committed to taking in as much information as possible in order to make the best decisions.

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What the heck is The Process? 

Our Credo: (if you like these beliefs, then you’ll love us)

1.      Chaos in the marketplace for “professional coaching” can be reduced with outcome-based protocols.

2.      The strengths of professional coaches (e.g., integrity, fairness, collaboration, leadership, bravery) can be leveraged to co-create the future of professional coaching.

3.      Teams are stronger than individuals. Collaborative projects reduce individual risk and yield higher rewards.

4.      Expert leadership coaches and authors will contribute best practices and attract more users or followers.


There are over 50,000 “professional coaches” in a $7B global industry that lacks professionalism.  Literally anyone with a business card can self-declare that they are a “professional coach.”


The result is chaos in the marketplace, unethical practices, and a market ripe for disruption and consolidation.

The Process is a community of expert leadership consultants and coaches.  Join us.

Your Next Steps (How you can help):

1.     Are you subscribed to the Process? If not, click here

2.     Forward this email to ALL the leadership consultants you know.

3.     Are you an expert?      Yes, you are.   Submit some expert content and share your genius with the world. Click here.

Thanks for being part of The Process,

Patrick E. McLean and Doug Gray

What is the best certification or methodology for executive coaching?

Recently I was asked this question by someone who desperately wanted to be certified as an “executive coach.”

Be careful.  Here are the facts.

There is not one “best coaching certification or methodology for those who work with executives,” for several reasons.

1. Executive coaching is a new approach with a short history (about 20 years) within psychology (about 100 years). The protocols that would be “certifiable” have not yet been well defined.  There is no external board or established practices, as in other professions such as healthcare, finance or law. I often ask, “Who certifies the certifiers?” (And I have been certified by several coaching providers for decades.)  One example of certification based on my dissertation research with global professional coaches is here.

2. The coach training industry is estimated at 53,500 global coach practitioners and over $7B in annual revenue, with 115 accredited coach training programs (ICF, 2016). The reality is that coaching certifications and silly acronyms abound.  I co-developed one back in 1999, when there were only about 20 ICF accredited coach training programs.

3. There is market confusion about definitions and coaching outcomes. The result is that vendors have responded to the market confusion. A gap exists between theory and practice because executive coaching lacks rigorous measurement, evidence-based protocols and standard processes. The largest organization, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) stated “the top future obstacles for coaching are (a) untrained individuals and (b) marketplace confusion (ICF, 2016).” That survey understates the confusion. Your question illustrates the desire by many to “get certified.”

4. In any marketplace vacuum, competitors emerge. Countless colleges and universities will declare that their certification programs define standards. Be careful. That archaic model presumes that academics know best, and we are increasingly aware of disruption in the marketplace. I like academics. My dissertation explored the competitive advantage of coaching protocols, using global professional coaches. As the “coaching profession” develops momentum, I encourage you to study the practical market demands for coaching protocols. You may want to be cautious. “The top future opportunities for coaching are (a) increased awareness of the benefits of coaching, and (b) credible data on ROI/ROE/outcomes (ICF, 2016)”. In short, we need to define protocols for outcome-based coaching, including useful certification programs.

5. Certification programs exist. I favor the ROI methodology described at the ROI Institute, and a 2-level executive coaching certification process. Last week the co-founder, Patti Phillips, and I discussed certification programs that moved beyond knowledge to practical demonstrations of mastery. She encouraged me to focus on practical applications. (Disclosure: I trademarked the AD-FIT coaching protocol when some F500 clients asked “How do you operationalize what works?” Those details are at Products Archive – Action Learning ( and throughout this website. The fact is that “Many professional consultants or coaches do not adhere to evidence-based protocols (Foster & Auerbach, 2015; MacKie, 2014. Citation sources available upon request.)

6. Organizational clients may design their own executive coaching certification programs. They are cost-effective and foster cultural expectations. (Disclosure: I also serve as an engagement manager and executive coach at CoachSource | Executive Coaching Excellence (, the largest global provider of executive coaching.)  Those internal coaching certification programs are customized internally, with expertise from coaches like me, for specific business outcomes that are proprietary.

Bottom line: Certification for executive coaching implies a mature profession with protocols that satisfy a market demand.

If useful, please contact me here. I’d love to discuss your interest in executive coaching certification programs.

All the best, Doug

What is the ROI of business coaching?

There is too much confusion regarding return on investment (ROI) for your investment in business coaching.


Let me clear the confusion by describing two sides of the ROI coin, and share an example of a coaching client who demonstrated a 300 % ROI from his investment.


One side of the ROI coin states “If  you cannot demonstrate ROI from any initiative, then it will not be funded.”   That makes business sense, and has defined most decision-making models.  Examples abound from Peter Drucker’s famous maxim “If you cannot measure it then it does not exist” to Alan Weiss’ maxim “The only measure that matters is improved results of the client’s condition.”  My corollary is, “Behavorial outcomes or performance outcomes can always be measured quantitatively (with numbers) or qualitatively (with descriptions).”


The other side of the ROI coin states that human behavior is inherently complex and unpredictable, therefore measuring that complexity is impossible.  The notion of accurately measuring the impact of that change is impossible (even with artificial intelligence gathered from big data sets.)  My corollary is, “The pace of change is slower today than it will ever be in the future, so respond to the challenges today.”  What are you waiting to measure?  Organizational psychologists distinguish between True Measures (T, an absolute from Aristotle), actual measure (t) and degree of error (%e).  One formula to measure that complexity is T = t(%e).  The main point is that complexity can be measured within ranges of acceptable error.


My experience is that ROI can be measured and must be measured.  Here is the formula that I use, adapted from my good friend John Mattox’s (2016) book, Learning Analytics; Measurement innovations to support employee development.  (Yes, my testimonial is on the back cover.  I strongly encourage anyone interested in ROI to purchase and study this book.)  Another great resource is the ROI Institute, founded by Jack and Patti Phillips.


Here is version 1 of the formula I use:  ROI = (benefits-cost)/ cost.  For instance, if the benefits of coaching investment for 12 months are $20,000 in new revenue, and the cost of coaching was $10,000, then the ROI of that investment was ($30,000-$10,000) or $20,000/ $10,000 or 200%.  Pretty impressive ROI, right?  But coaching was not the only reason for that new revenue of $30,000, therefore that 200% ROI number is not valid.


Version 2 of the formula I use is ROI = (benefits x % attributed to outcomes)/ cost.  For instance, if the benefits of coaching investment for 12 months are $30,000 in new revenue, and the percent attributed to coaching was 40%, and the cost of coaching was $10,000, then the ROI of that investment was ($30,000 x .40 = $12,000-$10,000) or $2,000/ $10,000 or 20%.  A more accurate assessment, perhaps, but 20% ROI is not as impressive.  Version 2 is also called adjusted ROI.


Here is a real example from one of my clients that illustrates how to assess the ROI of business coaching:


  2015 2016 2017 (expected)
Products $200,000 $190,000 $250,000
Services $20,000 $55,000 $70,000
  $220,000 $245,000 (+10%) $320,000 (+23%)
% attributed to coaching 20% ($44,000) 20% ($49,000) 20% ($64,000)
– Cost of coaching $12,000 $12,000 $12,000
ROI of coaching 367 % 408 % 533 %


The bottom line?

  1.  The ROI of your business coaching investment can be measured based on behavioral outcomes and performance outcomes.

2.   The ROI of your business coaching investment with Action Learning Associates is guaranteed to be positive.  Since 1997, we have provided that guarantee, and it has been true 100% of the time.


What are you waiting for?

Call Doug Gray, PCC, today at 615.905.1892  or contact us here.

What are you waiting for?

Download this list of services and investment levels now:

Book Review of Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith (Crown Business Books, 2015)

(Disclosure: I am a fan of Marshall Goldsmith because he is an enthusiastic role model for countless executive coaches. When I shook his hand at an event hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership, I told him so. And when I was given four copies of this book to distribute to our largest CoachSource clients, I told them something favorable. Marshall Goldsmith has celebratory cachet as a thinker and a champion.)


I wanted to love this book, but it fell short.


Triggers can be defined as “any stimulus that defines our behavior.” That broad definition enables Goldsmith to go beyond Skinnerian behaviorism, or beyond antecedent-behavior-consequence, or Duhigg’s cue-routine-reward model.   The “Circle of Engagement” model includes five steps: trigger-impulse-awareness-choice-behavior. The primary focus of the book is to “help others achieve lasting positive change.”


Structures help us define individual behavioral change. Goldsmith defines three structures: the AIWATT question, the “Six Engaging Questions” and the “Wheel of Change.


  1. The AIWATT question can increase engagement. Ask yourself, “Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required, to make a positive difference on this topic?” Am I willing at this time… is the short version.


  1. The six “Engaging Questions” can be useful early in a coaching engagement, and when measuring behavioral trends. The questions are: 1. Did I do my best to set clear goals? 2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals? 3. Did I do my best to find meaning? 4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships? 6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?


  1. The Wheel of Change can be described using two axis or four spokes on a wheel. One axis is the Positive to Negative axis, which “tracks the elements that either help us or hold us back.” The second axis is the Change or Keep axis, which “tracks the elements that we determine to change or keep in the future.” This descriptive model encourages clients to explore what they may need to create, eliminate, accept or preserve in order to achieve their desired behavior change.


The remaining content includes anecdotes from Goldsmith’s broad client base. His charming, self-effacing style often made me smile. The inclusion of the Buddhist anecdote reminding us that anger is always directed at “an empty boat” is a perfect reminder to stay focused on our internal locus of control in the moment. The resounding feeling I had is that the book made me feel good, consider using some of these structures, and then wonder “Now what?”


There are no citations of published works in this book. However, an emerging body of academic research does exist. Positive psychology provides the theoretical construct that the profession of executive coaching sorely needs. There is abundant research in well-being. Seminal leaders include Richard Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Model and studies using neurobiology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and optimal experience research, and Martin Seligman’s work in PERMA (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishment.)   These are evidence-based thought leaders, with broad following, who are not referenced by Marshall Goldsmith. That fact makes me wonder, why not?


According to the International Coaching Federation, there are now some 50,000 professional coaches in a $7 billion industry with little consistency. (Disclosure: I have been certified at the ICF-PCC level since 2006.) The Conference Board 2014 survey, from 142 companies, defines external executive coaches compensation ranging from $600-200/ hour depending upon the size of the company, developmental needs of the leader, and seniority. The average investment for 6 months and 40-45 hours is $25,000. The 2014 ICF survey states that the average salary is $214/hour. The market realities and financial value of executive coaching are significant.


My experience of countless “coaches” is that the profession sorely needs a) a scientific evidence-based backbone and b) a theoretical backbone.   Without such theory, science, and applications, the profession of executive coaching is at risk.


In hindsight, I realize that I wanted Marshall Goldsmith to provide some leadership or insight into these aspects of executive coaching. Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers does not address any of these academic, social and market realities. Hence it fell short of what I had expected. I can imagine him chuckling and retorting, “OK, so what are you going to do that would make you happier?”


Perhaps that is the subject for a different blog.


Call me if you’d like to discuss this book?

Fee ranges for coaching services

There is chaos in the executive coaching and leadership consulting industry.

The top 6 reasons for that chaos include  1) low barrier to entry by anyone who chooses to call himself an “executive coach,” 2) low accountability for the coaching process, 3) unclear business agreements and ROI, 4) proliferation of “certification programs” (often by self-congratulating organizations and/or universities that respond to perceived market opportunities), 5) digital overwhelm of choices at low cost and variable quality, and 6) clients or buying agents in organizations who fear taking action.     My opinion is that the chaos in the coaching industry can be reduced.

So here is my effort to reduce the chaos, by providing fee ranges and best practices.   Please forward this page to your colleagues.

1.  Individual Coaching or Consulting Services.  Fees range from $3,000- $50,000 for 6 months.   Individual coaching may be defined as a customized leadership development process that enables leaders to practice new skills or behavioral outcomes.  Individual consulting may be a more directive style, where we provide expertise based on world-class examples or evidence-based recommendations to accelerate your leadership development.  The average executive coaching engagement is $25,000 for 6 months, about 40 hours.  The average small business coaching engagement is $6,000 for 6 months, about 18 hours.   Typically, an individual coaching process includes an intake, meeting with key stakeholders, written action plan with behavioral outcomes, clear measures of success/ KPIs, quantitative and qualitative assessments, satisfaction survey, and demonstrated behavioral outcomes at completion.   Be wary of anyone who offers a term of engagement shorter than 6 months, because behavioral change takes time.  Be wary of anyone who provides an hourly rate, because that is a transactional approach and it may be unethical (Do I really need to extend this coaching engagement if we have not met the desired outcomes within 6 months?)   Be wary of additional fees for assessments, a sample intake, books, materials, or excessive travel…  Only select coaches who provide tremendous value and exceed that promise.  Only select coaches who guarantee results for their services.  Only select coaches with many testimonials demonstrating clear behavioral outcomes.  Still confused?  Then call us for details or schedule a complimentary, confidential session here.

2.  Team Coaching or  Group Coaching.  Fees range from $1,000 per person to $4,000 per person for 6 months.  There is a trend toward providing coaching services that bundle clients together by team (e.g. the IT department in Houston) or by group (e.g. all district managers or all newly promoted supervisors.)  Many coaches bundle these services for one reason– because the coaches then make more money.  We all need to make money.  However, that is not a compelling reason to bundle valuable services into a commoditized market such as “online team-coaching modules…”  We do not recommend these online modules because there is no evidence that the results are significant.  There is conflicting data on the significance of team coaching engagements.  These programs must be customized for specific organizational needs,  they must have executive sponsorship, and they must have milestones for phases of success.  Yes, we can provide team coaching programs for any organization.   Contact us for details or referrals.

3.  Organizational Coaching or Consulting Services.  Fees range from $15,000- $100,000 per person for 6 months.  Fees vary by role of the leader (c-suite or a HiPo), geography (Asia or North America), and client expectations.  There is massive value to any organization if you can be guaranteed access to pre-qualified coaches in New York as well as Mexico City or Paris.  We are affiliated with CoachSource, the largest global provider of executive coaches, in over 1,000 in 45+ countries.  These service providers can provide breadth for any initiative in any geography, thereby increasing the likelihood of your organizational alignment or new program implementation.  If you are interested in a scaled solution for a specific industry or business need, then you need to select an organizational coaching service provider.  We have selected and managed  hundreds of executive coaches at multiple F500 global organizations since 2005.  Contact us for details.

4.  Organizational Assessment Services.  Fees range from $500- $28,000 per person.  Assessments range from an individual validated tool such as the Hogan Suite or DISC (there are over 15,000 validated assessments) to multi-rater, multi modal assessments with high predictive validity.  We can provide virtually any individual or organizational assessment.   Assessments are essential to leadership development.  Just as you would never go to a physician until the nurse provides your vitals, we recommend using validated assessment tools to measure behavioral changes over time.  We often provide assessments by themselves for your new hires or a newly promoted leaders.  We always include assessments in coaching solutions, as part of the process.  Contact me for details or referrals.

Since 1997,  we have seen tremendous changes in the business and leadership coaching services industry.  As a timely example, minutes ago I received a cold call from a “leader” in the sales coaching software industry.  I quickly learned that he knew less about the industry than he should, and I excused myself from the call.  You can avoid the chaos.

If you are interested in seeing trend survey reports from the coaching industry, or from our research on the relationship of positive psychology on business leaders and executive coaching, please contact us.

Now you have some pricing numbers and best practices.  So what is your next step?

  1.  You have to vet coaches.  Call 3-4 of the best.  Read their testimonials.  Make sure that they are working on their own professional development.  I have hired sales coaches at times.  And business coaches at other times.  The terms were clean.  Their value was tremendous.  I currently work with 2 of the best coaches in North America.  (Perhaps I need more help than most people.)  Make sure the consultants that you select focus on value, and guarantee their work.
  2. Take a small step:  Contact us.  Or call 704.995.6647.  Or schedule your initial consultation here.

There is no reason to be fearful amid the chaos.  

Nashville: A new address and 7 examples

After 7.15.14 our new address is:

3482 Stagecoach Dr, Franklin, TN  37067

704.995.6647 cell

Special Offer:  Please call for a free consultation in your Nashville area office to discuss your leaders or your business.

Why did we relocate?

1.  Personally: to support my wife’s career, and her recent promotion.

2.  Professionally:  to develop new relationships in a new geography, while continuing to provide value to clients in any geography.

Life requires adaptation to new environments.  A coaching question is:  How are you moving?

Here are 7 examples of new affiliations and movement in the last 13 months:  

  1.  The Brentwood, TN Rotary Club (a long time Paul Harris fellow) committed to “service above self.”
  2. Member of the Williamson, Inc Chamber of Commerce, in Franklin, TN
  3. The Association of Talent Development (ATD) board member in professional development (2015-15) and membership (2015-16);  created a Special Interest Group (SIG) for Consultants and hosted monthly meetings on countless topics since January, 2015
  4. Member of the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB)
  5. Member of the Nashville Technology Center (NTC); accepted by Launch TN grant funding program to apply for federal grant to the NIH or USDA, using consultants Mark and Catherine Henry, with mentoring from Jim Stefansic PhD, to assess the impact of telemedicine programs in rural disparities
  6. Promoted the TN-HIMSS conference in October, 2015 for healthcare leaders, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers
  7. Created and hosted monthly meetings on “Talent Analytic Trends” at local businesses, including Rustici Software, the “best technology company in Nashville” and a global leader in SCORM and Watershed, their Learning Record System; those meetings featured leaders and new technologies that are redesigning how we measure talent, careers, and human achievement.

Quite a list for 13 months in a new town.

Back to that coaching question:  How are you moving?

Call any time to discuss what is next for you, your leaders, or your business.