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Measuring Impact & Change – Coaching Clients Towards Sustainable Improvements

The aim of our coaching programmes at Hintsa is to help our clients achieve sustainable improvements in their performance and quality of life. This is quite a bold claim, but we strive to make it tangible and measurable for each client so that we can evaluate the impact that has been achieved. In this blog, I’ll outline three areas, which shed some light on how we go about this in our coaching.

Good planning is the prerequisite to measuring change

Having a clear plan is essential for impact measurement for a couple of reasons. Firstly, we can’t measure change, or impact, unless we know what we want to achieve. Secondly, we can’t know what enabled the client to succeed, unless we have identified the actions or habit changes that they will implement during the programme. Because of these reasons, we make concrete, logical and measurable plans for each client programme. I have written another blog on Logical Performance Planning earlier, where you can find more details on how we develop client plans. However, for now, let’s just focus on a couple of key issues.

Our planning process works top down. The impact that we are looking for is not increased steps or more vegetables on the client’s plate. These are ways to get where we want to go, but they are not the end result we want to achieve. It’s important to first define what better life, better performance, and improved health mean to the client and what their current baseline level is. Once these are clearly defined, we can set realistic and measurable future targets. We are not expecting to achieve change with regards to the higher level goals overnight, and therefore impact regarding these is usually measured only at the beginning and end of the programme. With the higher level goals in place, we move on to defining the actions that will take the client there. These are practical and simple habit changes, which can be monitored daily, weekly, or monthly throughout the programme. Let’s take a look next at what types of measurement tools we utilise to quantify the impact and also monitor actions.

Objective data can give us hard numbers

Getting objective data to measure improvements in quality of life, or performance can sometimes be challenging. Improvements in sports performance are usually easily quantifiable, but with the cognitive performance of knowledge workers this is not quite as straightforward. The types of objective markers that we are able to utilise vary somewhat depending on the scope of the programme that we are running. However, many of these are more of a means to an end, rather than the end itself.

Our premium programmes typically include various medical assessments, and these are a very good source of hard data. We may also, for example, measure body composition through InBody analysers and this can show us changes in the client’s weight, muscles and fat mass, and visceral fat. The client’s cardiovascular fitness is typically measured by their maximal oxygen uptake. This can be done accurately by having the client perform a test until exhaustion on a treadmill or an exercise bike. However, many times a submaximal test is more appropriate, or in some situations, it can even be estimated through more simple measures. Another interesting partner that we work with is Firstbeat. The Firstbeat assessment is done by wearing a measurement device for 3-5 days and it utilises data from the client’s heart rate and heart rate variability to indicate how well they are recovering. Finally, various types of wearable devices enable the daily monitoring of the client’s sleep and physical activity levels.

These types of objective data sources are fairly good indicators of improved health and wellbeing, but they do not necessarily directly show that the performance or quality of life of the client would have improved. In fact, when researching quality of life, Ruggeri et al. (2018) have shown how subjective and objective data are distinct types of information, which are both valuable and needed. They found that objective measures may be more suitable in detecting treatment effects, but subjective information is necessary to complete the quality of life picture and to enhance the interpretation of objective data.

Subjective data tells us how the client feels

People may sometimes feel that we need hard objective data, and subjective measures are not accurate, or valid. This is understandable since subjective measures can be less sensitive and also include recall bias (Urda et al. 2017). However, research has also shown that for example when measuring the training load of athletes, subjective measures reflected acute and chronic training loads with superior sensitivity and consistency than objective measures (Saw et al. 2016). We can’t know everything that is going on in a person’s body, or mind, simply by looking at their blood tests, or maximal oxygen uptake values. As mentioned earlier, when measuring something like the quality of life, we need to go beyond numbers and also understand how the client feels.

In our programmes, the key sources of subjective data are our Better Life survey, which is repeated 2-3 times during the programme, and the feedback survey, which is done at the end of the programme. The Better Life survey provides us with insights regarding the areas where the client may experience impact during the programme, and also the habits that contribute to achieving these. Comparing the results of the pre- and post-programme survey enables us to assess the impact of the programme, and also see what types of changes contributed to achieving that. The feedback survey after the programme, on the other hand, provides an opportunity for the client to share more openly about their experiences and feelings.

In addition to the surveys mentioned above, we also utilise various types of scientifically validated questionnaires to assess clients in different areas. These are chosen during the programme based on the needs of the client. If someone is, for example, struggling with sleep, stress, or recovery, we may explore and evaluate their situation further through a questionnaire developed by researchers for that purpose. We do not use these surveys to diagnose any type of condition, but rather use them as a means to understand more about how the client is feeling, and also as a way to measure change.

Bringing it together

This has been a quick snapshot of how we approach measuring impact and change. Everything starts with good planning and both objective and subjective measures are important for getting a holistic understanding of what has been achieved and how.

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