A case for coaching: Measuring effectiveness*
Claire Holland** and Tina Hoyer***
*The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Australian Taxation Officer or James Cook University.
** Claire Holland is the Director of the JCU Conflict Management and Resolution Program. She is a senior lecturer and researcher in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and conflict resolution processes.
*** Tina Hoyer is an adjunct lecturer with the JCU Conflict Management and Resolution Program. Tina lead the ATO In-House mediation service and is currently a serving Squadron Leader for the Royal Australian Air Force as a Dispute Resolution Manager.
This blog is a summary of the presentation by Claire and Tina at the 8th ADR Research Network Roundtable, La Trobe Law School, La Trobe University Melbourne Australia, 2019.
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is proposing to trial an innovative ‘case coaching’ model designed specifically for ATO auditors and objections officers (“ATO officers”) to build and strengthen their dispute resolution skills, tax technical capability and corporate knowledge. Designing, implementing and choosing to incorporate a coaching model as part of everyday business is a significant investment for any organisation. The investment is not just in terms of direct financial outlays, but also indirect costs, such as staff time, staff engagement (buy-in vs disengagement), and staff experience. Therefore, it is vital the effectiveness (or not!) of a coaching model is measured to determine its cost, benefits and expected outcomes in order to:
- justify the time and cost to the organisation of implementing a coaching program; and,
- identify weaknesses and strengths in the individual coaches and the coaching program overall so improvements and adjustments can be made.
Coaching programs are often only evaluated at a superficial level, if at all. That is, evaluation is conducted by way of a questionnaire to gauge the reactions of the participants of the program. For coaching to gain sustainable credibility, it has been recommended evaluation should occur not only to gauge the reaction of the participants but also to measure:
- Learnings: that is, the knowledge, skills and attitudes that result from the program and which were specified as learning or developmental objectives;
- Behaviour: aspects of improved job performance that are related to the learning objectives; and,
- Results: relating the results of the program to organisational objectives and other criteria of effectiveness.
Thorough evaluation of coaching programs is also important to build the credibility of coaching as a profession and to contribute to the research on approaches to formal evaluation of coaching programs. The research will assist with consideration of the adoption of the case coaching model as part of the ATO’s business as usual processes, as well as for the potential uptake of similar internal case coaching models by other large organisations (government and private sector).
How will the case coaching model be evaluated?
The evaluation of the case coaching model will be both on a formative (that is, during the planning and delivery phase of the coaching program) and a summative (at the end of the coaching program) basis. Based on program logic design concepts and the theory of change, the anticipated outcomes of the case coaching for the key stakeholders will be the main focus of the evaluation. The key stakeholders and their anticipated outcomes have been identified following qualitative data collection which captured the views and opinions of ATO senior leaders and potential participants of the case coaching project and the most popular themes extracted.
There were five key stakeholders of the case coaching program identified, being the individual ATO officers coached, the coaches (ie. their managers or technical leaders), taxpayers, the ATO and the overall community. The overarching aim of the case coaching is to ensure ATO officers are well-prepared for their interactions with taxpayers and are approaching the interaction with an appropriate mindset with a view to preventing or resolving the tax dispute. If this is achieved, there will be beneficial short, medium and long term outcomes not only for the individual ATO officers but also the coaches (ie. their managers or technical leaders), taxpayers, the ATO and the overall community (being the five key stakeholders of the case coaching program).
The anticipated outcomes of the case coaching model
(i) ATO case officers being coached
In the short term (immediate), the main anticipated outcome of the case coaching is to ensure the ATO officer is approaching the case with an appropriate mindset. That is, ideally the ATO officer should be open to listening to the taxpayer and willing to change their initial assessment/approach to the case, consider other options if appropriate, with a view to earlier resolution of the tax dispute. If these outcomes can be achieved, it will lead to the ATO officer improving their critical soft skills, a sense of satisfaction that they have made the “right decision,” (i.e. it is within the law, ATO policy, and/or has a fair and reasonable outcome), improved technical and corporate knowledge in the medium term (6 months).
Long term (6 months plus) there will be improvement in workplace culture, greater job satisfaction, improved staff experience.
(ii) The coach
In the short term, the coach will gain an awareness of any skills gap as well as confidence the “right decision” is being made and the ATO officer is prepared for their interaction with the taxpayer. The coaching is likely to add time however this should improve over time as staff become more experienced as a result of the coaching. Therefore in the medium term, case cycle times should be reduced. The coach should also observe an improved staff experience which is likely to mean less unplanned leave, improved staff performance, increased efficiencies. All this in the long term will led to an improved workplace culture and overall job satisfaction.
In the short term, taxpayers may feel they have been heard and respected. Through feedback, reports and word of mouth taxpayer statements, other benefits include: feeling the process was transparent and managed appropriately; the outcome was fair (even if the taxpayer is unhappy with the result); improved awareness of taxation obligations; and greater certainty in taxation maters. This will lead to greater taxpayer confidence in the taxation system.
(iv) The ATO
In the short term the coaching is aimed at ensuring the ‘right decision’ is being made (i.e. it is within the law, ATO policy, and/or has a fair and reasonable outcome). A medium term aim is to resolve disputes at an earlier stage of the within the ATO dispute system, thereby saving costs. Effective coaching may ultimately lead to less complaints and litigation. A benefit for the ATO may also be improvements in the sharing of corporate knowledge; improved staff culture; improved reputation of the ATO; and long term, a more efficient taxation system.
The long-term goal for the community will be a general feeling of consistency and fairness in the taxation system and community confidence in the ATO.
The case coaching model is anticipated to complement the ATO’s sophisticated Dispute System Design (DSD) and the ATO’s internal use of ADR methods, including in-house facilitation (mediation), the dispute assist program, and independent review. For further information on the model and ATO DSD see the upcoming publication Holland, C. & Hoyer, T. (in press). A case for coaching: Influencing cultural change at the ATO. Dispute Resolution Review.