There is a strong international move to professionalise the coaching industry and I fully support this approach. We want to make sure that consumers, instead of just buying ‘coaching’ as a ‘nice to have’ commodity, will consider ways of ensuring that they are gaining a professional service and value for money. Those who engage coaches – and particularly executive coaches - would benefit through being more confident as to what to expect. Coaches need to make sure they have earned the right to offer the service that they promise to provide. Currently there are too many grey areas and no real barriers to entry.
Often organisations or individuals invest in coaching without knowing what questions to ask the coach before engagement. There are many variables to be considered. I have outlined a few of the watchpoints which may lead to more successful outcomes. My questions should not be considered as a comprehensive list as many of them will be dependent on the context. So rather consider the list below as a starting point for developing your own approach, whether you are a Human Resources (HR) or Learning and Development (L & D) professional or an individual interesting in being coached. Coaches might consider this useful in creating awareness as they should be able to answer these questions without hesitation.
The suggestions below are based on my own experience as an executive coach, through mentoring emerging coaches engaged in post-graduate studies at various universities and through my own academic studies.
1. When contemplating engaging an executive coach, the first question to consider is whether the candidate really needs coaching or would benefit more through counselling, mentoring, consulting or other approaches? Would another modality better match the person’s needs? Is their manager trying to delegate their managerial responsibilities to an external coach? Where does the coaching need truly lie?
2. If it has been established that coaching is the right path to follow in order to address certain issues, the next question is which coaching approach would be most suitable? Bearing in mind that there is lack of clarity in defining types of coaching, examples might be leadership, executive, integral, performance, neuro-based coaching, or a combination.
There has been a shift over the last few years in the reasons for engaging coaches. International surveys show that while coaches were engaged mainly for corrective reasons ten years ago, now leadership development has become the primary purpose for engaging coaches. Thus coaching should not be viewed as punitive or something that is inflicted on some-one who is not performing, but rather as a way in which to enable individuals to become more productive and flourish. Most coaches nowadays use a strengths-based approach helping people to use their natural strengths and find their own solutions and in so doing, enhance their capabilities. An added advantage is their being able to confirm that they use and evidence-based approach.
3. How committed and open is the person to being coached? Are they prepared to uncover blind spots and build new neural pathways in order to become more productive? Are they prepared to put effort into seeing things differently, changing and finding new solutions for themselves?
4. The big question: Even if this person would benefit through coaching, and the right kind of coaching is being offered, are you sure that the coach being considered is the right coach for this candidate at this time? There needs to be synergy, relationship and trust and the candidate needs to be eager to engage in a coaching programme with this coach at this time.
5. Professional coaches are bound by a Code of Ethics and this varies according to the coaching organisation to which they belong and through which they are accredited. The candidate needs to have had sight of this document and be comfortable regarding the coach adhering to this code and be prepared to work within this framework.
6. Would the format of the proposed coaching programme suit the needs of the organisation and candidate? There are many factors to consider. For example I offer only a six-month programme with one-hour sessions (at flexible times) two weeks apart. The organisation or client may not wish to engage in a programme of that length. These sessions may either be in-person or via Skype (or other electronic means). A person may prefer ‘in person’ sessions and this may not be possible if the client and coach are in different geographic regions. In addition, my programme includes 10-15 minute assignments each day and the potential client may not be prepared to commit to that. The price is also a factor under consideration.
Those first six points can more easily be considered after a ‘chemistry session’ has taken place. Most reputable coaches will offer a complimentary compatibility check session where potential coach and coachee meet for an hour to build relationship and explore possibilities. This ‘contracting’ between the coach and participant at the outset of a programme is vital to establish expectations and agree the way the coach and coachee will work together.
7. In addition, specific questions should be asked regarding the credibility, professional qualifications and experience of the coach. You might find this table useful although not all questions will be relevant on all occasions:
In explaining why these questions are relevant the following may be useful background information:
a. Their being credentialed either through the International Coach Federation (ICF) or Coaches, Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA) or other reputable coaching body is important because it is more likely to ensure professional standards.
b. There are various levels of credentialing, e.g. ACC, PCC, Master Coach. The more experienced a coach, the more likely they are to have a higher level of credentialing. (But this is not always a true reflection of the person’s capability.) And please ask them to provide proof. Often, although coaches might be members, they are not actually credentialed.
c. It is important that they have kept their credentialing current. This will mean that they have not become complacent and they continue to develop themselves and keep up to date in line with the requirements of that qualification.
d. There is an overabundance of organisations offering training to coaches. Knowing about the institute through which they trained does give an indication of the thoroughness of their training as some organisations promise unrealistic outcomes and do not breed quality coaches.
e. Even within one training organisation, more than one coach-training course is likely to be offered. Some of these courses are more intense than others or address different types or levels of coaching e.g. life coaching versus executive or leadership coaching.
f. These courses vary in duration, too and cover different models, tools and techniques.
g. Approaches to coaching change over time and good courses continuously improve. So it is a good idea to find out how long ago the coach completed their course. If they are credentialed, keeping up to date will be a requirement, but if not, ask what they are doing to keep abreast of changes.
h. Coaches may qualify in an approach using models and techniques underpinned by specific philosophies. In some courses, such as the University of Stellenbosch Business School M Phil (management coaching) course, students develop their own coaching models based on strong theoretical foundations. However, even these evolve over time. I know mine has! Coaches may branch out into a different realm, too. For example they may shift from life coaching to management coaching.
i. Even highly qualified coaches may not spend many hours a week gaining more coaching experience. Although they might have been coaching for years, many coaches do not engage for more than a few hours a week in individual coaching. International surveys show that most coaches are involved in other activities as well, for example training. How much experience does the coach really have?
j. Group coaching has gained in effectiveness and although not relevant if you are engaging a coach in one-on-one coaching, a coach’s understanding of and involvement in group coaching is an indication of their current active involvement in coaching.
k. Building up coaching hours is important as their total number of coaching hours is an indication of experience. Many coaches qualify and then do not consistently spend time coaching.
l. Although for reasons of confidentiality a coach may not be able to divulge the name of coaches or client organisations, they may nevertheless be able to provide a reference to attest to their coaching capability. Which areas do they concentrate on? For example, I am an executive coach and most of my clients are leaders. Many of these are in professions in fields such as law and accounting.
m. Academic experience alone does not necessarily convert to quality coaching. Experience in an organisational environment adds to the coach’s capability especially if being engaged as an executive coach.
n. I believe that coaches who are bound by Codes of Ethics such as ICF or COMENSA should provide the relevant Code of Ethics to the organisational representative and to the coachee before the start of the programme.
8. Initially be clear on the desired outcomes in order to address the issue facing the candidate. These outcomes may change or gain more substance during the coaching programme, particularly during a longer programme, thus remaining flexible is also important. For example, a risk and safety manager came to me for coaching with his main issue stated as ‘no one listens to me’. We restated this as ‘I can’t get people to listen to me’. In his position it was important that people took immediate action once he had given a message. As the coaching proceeded and he became more aware of his cognitive functioning, we realised that his issue was procrastination. He didn’t deliver his message timeously or confidently and the staff would wait for him to repeat the message. So we established his main issue as procrastination which permeated through his entire ‘way of being’ affecting work and personal domains. Working on procrastination, we were able to shift his fundamental approach and enable him to flourish.
9. An important issue is how the coach will deal with ‘duality of client’. Where an organisation is offering to sponsor a candidate in a coaching programme, the coach needs to consider what outcomes the organisation (or sponsor) anticipates and separately what the individual (from here onwards referred to as the coachee) considers their needs to be. Thus in a situation like this, the coach should take into account the needs of the two clients, the organisation/sponsor and the coachee. What are the organisation’s/sponsor’s expectations and what does the coachee need to gain through a coaching programme? We all have blind spots so the coach will need to assess what the coachee’s issues are, despite what they might verbalise their issues to be. And thus sometimes, the goal of the coaching may shift as the coachee and coach build stronger relationships and as the programme progresses.
10. Before the start of the coaching programme, a meeting between the organisational representative, coach and coachee should take place to agree areas such as reporting dates, format of what is to be covered in the reports, how they should take place (e.g. in person, via Skype) and to whom reports should be directed. This contracting prior to the start of the programme is essential. I have found that in addition to the organisational representative, coach and client, various other stakeholders are sometimes included. Last year I was coaching an executive where two report-back sessions were planned where five were present and they were based in four different countries. And that worked perfectly because it was planned in advance.
11. What reporting system will both the organisation’s representative and coachee be comfortable with in order for the coach to report progress? This again affects the element of ‘duality of client’. There has to be trust between all parties. I advocate that it is agreed ‘upfront’ that neither reporting nor discussion between coach and organisational representative will take place without the coachee being included. I also believe that it is best practice to confirm, in advance, that the coach will always advise the coachee what he or she intends saying at that meeting or in the report. Where reporting is in writing, it should be agreed that the coachee be copied on all communication at that time (and not afterwards).
In summary: would this person benefit through coaching, what kind of coaching would be most suitable and is the coach being considered sufficiently qualified and experienced and the right person to coach this individual? Does the programme being offered match the needs of the organisation and the individual? Has the contracting been adequately dealt with?
The above is my understanding of some of the issues which HR Directors, L&D Managers, individual clients, or others face when considering including coaching as a form of development.
I encourage you to ask the right questions in order to match the right coach with your requirements. If you need any help please let me know and I’ll gladly help to clarify issues with you.
This is the first of two articles regarding the engagement of a coach. Next we’ll explores levels of coaching which are perhaps most relevant to Integral Coaching but certainly provide insights for other types of coaching, too.
For more information on leadership development or executive coaching, please contact Brenda personally: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone +27 82 4993311