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MD Anderson Generating Positive Outcomes With Staff Coaching

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   February 20, 2023

Data indicates that coaching has increased new research publications and clinical trials activated.

Coaching programs at MD Anderson Cancer Center have reduced the staff turnover rate.

There are differences between coaching and mentoring. In coaching, the person receiving the coaching is assumed to have the answers for attaining their career goals and the coach draws those answers out. In mentoring, there is more of an advice-driven relationship, where mentors are experts who share their experiences with mentees to help them grow and meet their career goals.

"In many ways, the coach does not have to be an expert. They must be an expert in listening, asking questions, and being a mirror for the client they are working with to help them get to the answer that is within themselves," says Courtney Holladay, PhD, associate vice president of the MD Anderson Leadership Institute.

MD Anderson has been collecting data about coaching since the launch of its leadership institute in 2018. With the data, MD Anderson staff that have received coaching can be compared to a control group that has not received coaching. "We have seen a significant difference. From fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2022, the turnover for the coaching group was 9%; for the those who have not participated in coaching, the turnover rate was 20%," Holladay says.

There are a couple of reasons why coaching has reduced turnover, she says. "The investment that we are making in the individual makes them feel they are receiving support from the institution. We have heard from candidates who have joined MD Anderson and received onboarding coaching that was a differentiator for them in terms of why they joined MD Anderson. The other piece is that there is a lot of literature that says having goals and career-focused direction leads to engagement within the organization and leads to employees being more likely to stay with an organization."

The data also indicates that coaching has increased new research publications and clinical trials activated.

All staff members are eligible to receive coaching, Holladay says. "We have been building up our programming to be able to coach everyone. We were not able to start there, but we are now in a place where we are able to offer coaching for anyone who is interested."

MD Anderson offers four kinds of coaching.

  • Onboarding coaching is offered automatically to new executives and new faculty leaders as soon as they start working at MD Anderson. There are 15 sessions that typically last about nine months. People receiving coaching have 12 sessions one-on-one with their coach and three sessions with their managers.
  • Traditional coaching involves a series of one-on-one sessions, where the coach works with a staff member on making specific behavioral adjustments to capitalize on strengths and address development needs. Traditional coaching includes 18 hours of coaching, with three of those hours dedicated to a triad check-in, which is the coach, the staff member, and the staff member's manager. Traditional coaching it is typically nine months to a year.
  • Leadership development cohort program coaching can target different competencies and different topics such as holding difficult conversations. This type of coaching also can focus on a particular goal that the coach works with the staff member to attain. The length of the coaching is dependent on the particular cohort program, ranging from five months to a year.
  • On-demand coaching allows staff members to go online and look for a coach. Managers are made aware of the coaching request so they can support the coaching engagement, and staff members are asked to do a quick self-assessment to make sure they are ready for what coaching entails. The length of on-demand coaching is the most variable. If the staff member and the coach are focusing on a specific issue, the duration of the coaching could be three to five sessions. If the coaching is focused on a long-term goal, the duration could be nine months.

Holladay offered advice to other healthcare organizations that are interested in launching coaching programs. "You should start small, build on success, and continue to grow. We have been successful by being very focused on how we could provide coaching early on, how we could do coaching well, and how we could generate outcomes. Then we focused on growing our coach population, which allowed us to ultimately achieve our goal of offering coaching to anyone who wants it."

Related: Cleveland Clinic Promotes Coaching Culture for Physicians

Christopher Cheney is the CMO editor at HealthLeaders.


In recent years, the turnover rate among MD Anderson Cancer Center staff who have received coaching was 9% and the turnover rate among staff who did not receive coaching was 20%.

MD Anderson offers four kinds of coaching, ranging from a few sessions to a year-long duration.

MD Anderson has grown its coaching programs to the point where coaching can be offered to any staff member who wants it.

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