The Big Ten Questions to ask When Looking For a Coach
You might find this a bit of a surprise, but over the last 25 years in the coaching and consulting sector, how rarely I get asked for any of the Ten Big things, you should think about before selecting an executive coach. Now, that is not to say there are not valid reasons behind this. In some cases, I get referred through a 3rd party or trusted partner where prior vetting was assumed. In other instances, referrals have been through business associates, again, where my good character is accepted. Even so, I would still suggest looking through this list and using it when selecting. As a buyer of coaching services, getting things wrong could have detrimental effects on you as a coachee and, if this is part of a transformation programme, you could lose credibility. So here it is—Ten Big topics to explore with your coaching provider.
Credentials are a great place to kick off any vetting process. Coaching credentials should include:
a) Formal coaching education from an established provider. The coach must have been through training and knows how to deliver a good service. The coach understands the boundaries of their expertise, the fundamentals of providing a coaching service and the code of ethics they must follow.
b) A professional coach should also be a member of one of the three accreditation bodies. These are the International Coaching Federation (ICF), the Association for Coaching (AC) and the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC). To maintain their membership, they must have completed coach training, undertake continuous professional development (CPD), undertake supervision with a trained coaching supervisor and carry insurance. The accreditation bodies collaborate, aligning their standards so that membership of any of the three will deliver the same results.
c) If you have additional coaching requirements, you may look for further training and experience in these areas. Family businesses and political organisations are two such examples that spring to mind. Suppose you are looking for a strategy coach for the defence industry; you would look for someone with experience and qualifications suitable to that environment. We will talk about types of coaching later in section 5. Please remember that additional training is not a substitute for coaching training itself but seen as supplementary to a) and b)
d) Some coaches might also be thought leaders in their field or in coaching itself. These individuals may have written a great deal about their subject, and you can get a sense of the coach from this material. I am thinking specifically of people like Erik de Haan, Director of the Hult Ashridge Centre for Coaching and Professor of Organisation Development and Coaching at the VU University Amsterdam. He has published some 200 academic articles and books and is a practising coach. If you have got the money, he might be of interest to you.
2) Price, Budgets and Delivery Plans
My next topic is how much coaching should cost. Coaching shouldn’t be expensive, and if you select the right coach, you should get improvements in organisational performance, so it’s a win all around.
Prices for coaching have changed over the last two years due to Covid, with most coaching going online using Zoom, Teams, or something similar. Going online had the affected taking some of the cost out of coaching, and as a result, prices have dropped.
Whether they be a sole trader or sizeable digital delivery platform, any good coaching provider should be flexible and provide you with a plan to suit your time and budget requirements, so shop around and see what companies are offering. You should be able to get some price reductions on large volume programmes.
Generally, coaching sessions last an hour, and you will get a good coach from £250 to £500 per session. Remember that this covers the coach’s preparation time, coaching session, and post-session note writing and homework delivery.
More senior executive coaching might be more like £800 to £1250, let’s say if you’re a CEO of a major multinational. More than that figure, there is some question around the additional value gained from spending more money. As with all things, to some extent, it is down to what the market is willing to pay.
The price of your coach will vary depending on the industry sector and If you chose a large company as your coaching provider, you would be paying for corporate overheads as part of the fees, so they will be more expensive.
There are some great digital coaching platforms out there just now offering great value. The Coach Hub is quite well known globally, whilst Know You More is an up-and-coming provider in the UK. Both offer flexibility for coaching at scale.
3) Business Sector Experience
There is a school of thought that says coaches do not require any sector experience to practice. In my view, this is probably over-simplistic as some expertise can help understand the environment, mentality, jargon, and other nuances. So, this can be useful, but please remember that the coach is working on human relationships primarily. Knowledge of the sector is less important than empathy, reflexivity, or active listening skills.
The main danger for business sector experience is when the less self-aware coach projects their own experiences onto the client, often with disastrous consequences. Your journey and that of any coachee is not the same as the coach’s experience. The coach is there to listen to the coachee, not the other way around.
4) What is your coaching discipline?
A coach may well have specific training and work within a small number of disciplines, such as career and transition, combined with executive coaching.
I have laid out a list below of the most common types of coaching. If the coach follows their ethical principles, they will be honest about their abilities, skills, and limitations.
a) Executive Coaching
b) Leadership Coaching
c) Business and Performance Coaching
d) Career, Succession and Transition
e) Personal and Life Coaching
f) Providing feedback from a 360 assessment or psychometric tool
g) Relationship Coaching
h) Team Coaching
i) Group Facilitation
5) What is your coaching approach?
A coach’s approach and is a product of influences during their training. For example, my influence is the person-centred philosophy developed initially by Carl Rogers. This approach means that I spend my coaching session supporting clients to develop their ideas and solutions to problems. I do not tend to dictate. Listening and reflecting are critical parts of my practice. Potential clients who want a very directive approach should look elsewhere.
So, in basic terms, you have the following styles of coaching.
a) Democratic – Not directive at all and is a very self-empowering style of coaching.
b) Authoritarian – This is coach directed and tends to work when the coachee is not the client. The client may be the HR Directorate in a large organisation.
c) Holistic – This is a life coach style looking at the whole person.
d) Autocratic – This a coachee controlled process often where there are specific performance goals to reach.
6) How Long Have You Been Coaching?
Time served is an obvious question, and on the face of it, it sounds simple enough. Do not assume that people who have been coaching for 30 years are wise and wonderful because unless they can show signs of professional growth, they may be stagnant. You might find that using someone new to the industry, who is energetic and full of new ideas much more suitable.
Time in coaching is still a great question but only in context with the other nine questions on the list.
7) Tell me about some of the other client issues you have faced and how have you improved things?
To clarify, all coaching should be confidential, and it is imperative to respect this aspect of the client coaching relationship. However, it will be possible for your prospective coach to discuss issues and their approach in broad generalist terms. Discussions like this give you a real sense of how they work and the process they might use with you.
8) What are the success criteria?
Success Criteria is something that you should discuss with your coach or provider company before starting the programme. There are a wide array of methods for doing this. You can also get a mid-point assessment to check progress, which can prove instrumental during larger coaching programmes. Surveys for a more extensive programme work very well, and your provider should do this for you. If there is a specific task the coachee had to complete, that may be the success criteria. 360 feedbacks, before and after, also works well.
9) Duration and Boundaries?
This about how long and how many sessions the coachee can expect.
10) Ask for a reference client
Any good coach will have several reference clients they can call upon and give you feedback on performance and style. If they don’t, this is a big red warning flag. There should also be several references on their website.
Once you have attended to the Big Ten items to ask listed above, you should then progress to the chemistry meeting where you and the coach speak and decide if you like each other enough to work together. Getting the right coach for you is critical because the benefits can be spectacular.
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