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A Conceptual Framework for Likert-style Coaching Surveys

Posted by Dr. Rosemary Hanrahan, ACC | March 6, 2018 | Comments (0)

Attitude surveys are a relatively simple and low-resource method used to determine a client’s needs prior to the coaching engagement and assess impact during, at the end of or after the engagement.

Likert-style scales are the most popular survey method used to measure attitudes. Attitudes are broadly defined, and they include opinions, beliefs, feelings, intents, preferences and values. Clients can express both the direction and intensity of these attitudes along a continuum response scale.

Creating a Conceptual Framework

As a coach, you can create a conceptual framework and develop a Likert-style survey, which allows you to dive deep into specific topics.

The purpose of the survey should relate to the client’s goals. For example, consider a client who is a hospital administrator seeking to decrease physician turnover. The administrator indicates that professional burnout is an important factor, and she has read that coaching is helpful.

Your review of coaching-related literature yields factors many that contribute to burnout. Coaching is one effective means of addressing burnout in individual physicians. The purpose of your survey is to determine the impact of coaching in preventing physician burnout.

Informed by best coaching practices, you develop constructs and domains as a framework for specific questions. Constructs are abstract concepts that are not directly measurable. You determine that physicians feel disconnected from their career and experience health issues that prompt career changes or early retirement. You define your constructs as career engagement and wellness. To operationalize the abstract constructs, something must be measurable. Domains are interrelated variables that define a construct and are measured by a scale survey.

The critical domains identified for the concept of career engagement are career satisfaction and professional relationships. Domains for wellness include awareness of burnout, practicing self-compassion and physical activity.

Creating Likert-style Subscales

Operationalizing or translating the construct into language that can measure the attribute involves developing several subscales (questions and responses).

Crafting reliable and valid subscales takes thought, attention to purpose, pretesting and possibly outside help. Likert-style scales assume that the strength or intensity of the attitude is linear and falls on a continuum.

Keep these tips in mind:

  • Keep it short. The need for information and feedback determines the number of items in the survey, but it must be balanced with the time commitment required from clients.
  • Don’t reinvent. A literature review may present existing survey scales that are appropriate. Just be sure to check copyright information and cite sources when appropriate.
  • Dig deeper. Use multiple items to measure each domain.
  • Keep it logical. Group questions that focus on the same topic together. Subscales with related focuses and same response types may be formatted in a matrix or table for ease of reading.
  • Keep it simple. Use clear language and avoid jargon. Ask only one specific question per item.
  • Know your poles. Some attitudes are viewed as bipolar concepts where two opposing sides are measured on both sides of neutrality (“very unsatisfied” to “very satisfied”). Other attitudes are unipolar, and only one level of the concept is measured (“not at all satisfied” to “very satisfied”). While unipolar attitudes are preferred, a combination of the two occurs more often.
  • Response choices matter. Begin by writing the endpoints of the scale to ensure that they are opposite. Arrange options in equal intervals and order them from negative to positive. Include sufficient options to discriminate between responses. This usually means offering four to six response choices.
  • Mix it up: Coaching surveys also measure a client’s knowledge or behaviors. Closed-ended questions with checklists and true-false variations may be more appropriate than Likert-style options.
  • Leave an opening: A few open-ended questions at the end of the survey may yield unanticipated information while offering clients an opportunity to express opinions.
  • Follow-up: Send reminders to clients to improve the response rate.

Returning to our example, the survey operationalizes the constructs of career engagement and wellness with five domains, resulting in a 30-item survey (approximately six per domain).

A bipolar Likert-style response scale ranging from “very dissatisfied” to “very satisfied” is used for subscales defining career satisfaction and professional relationships. Frequency of physical activity can be determined with a scale ranging from “never” to “often.” Awareness of burnout is best assessed using a checklist or true-false variations.

Client surveys are a powerful tool for coaches to gain feedback. By employing a conceptual framework to develop a Likert-style coaching survey, coaches can gain clarity about client needs and accurately assess the impact of coaching.

Rosemary Hanrahan headshot

Dr. Rosemary Hanrahan, ACC

Dr. Rosemary Hanrahan, ACC is a coach, author, nonprofit advocate and physician, who brings her coaching expertise to professionals and organizations in the academic, health care and nonprofit sectors. She is the owner and founder of Beyond Words Wellness Resources, LLC. She encourages clients to define their mission, vision, values and goals and develop personal and professional strategies to remain engaged, passionate and productive in their chosen profession and create a healthy and fulfilling lifestyle. She also leads workshops for community groups and nonprofit organizations on topics such as cultivating caregiver resilience, creating a wellness compass and coaching practice evaluation. Rosemary earned her MD and MPH degrees from the University of Pittsburgh, and is a recent graduate of Duquesne University’s Professional Coaching and ADAPT Career Coaching Programs. She serves on several nonprofit boards including ICF Pittsburgh. She can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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