Which coach should we hire?
This is a question many HR professionals are asking themselves when it comes to deciding on who should coach their executives and other employees. The coaching market has grown massively in the past decade, with more than 30 000 members in accredited coaching federations such as the ICF (International Coach Federation) and even more who are not accredited. Accordingly, it can be very confusing for organizations to make a decision regarding their executive coaches. In this post, I present a number of questions organizations can ask themselves to make this decision process easier.
I. What are the needs of the person to be coached?
This is central, since the coachee (i.e. the person to be coached) is the target of the intervention. However, the needs of coachees differ depending on their readiness for coaching and their developmental or professional needs. If the person needs to be given the opportunity to apply leadership skills, more reflective coaching might be applicable. In reflective coaching, the coach mainly provides feedback and stimulates self-reflection. If the person needs additional insight, motivation, or skills, an interventionist approach would be more effective. Here, the coach helps the client with goal-setting, formulates action plans and fosters skill development e.g. through role modeling and deliberate practice.
II. What are the needs of our organization?
This is related to the question of why a person needs to be given a coaching. What does the organization hope from the coaching? Is this related to performance management, e.g. when a person lacks the standards to fulfill a position successfully or to change management, when roles and skills need to be acquired to meet new or changing job requirements? Lastly, it could be a talent or career management need, where the person has to develop capabilities for future roles and long-term opportunities.
III. How can we support the person to be coached?
It is also important to consider to what extent the coachee will be able to apply what he/she learned during the coaching at work and how others will react to it. When an organization is supportive in that way, people are more likely to transfer what they learned to the workplace. Moreover, if the social environment is not ready for this, it could happen that the coachee is confronted with resistance when he/she uses new skills.
IV. What background should the coach have?
After looking at these three questions, organizations can start their search for a suitable coach. There has been a long debate on whether coaches with certain backgrounds are more effective than others are. For instance, some argue that it is especially important that coaches have business experience and technical expertise, while others regard knowledge of psychology and behavior science as more crucial. However, does a coach’s background say something about his/her approach and working method? This question was examined in a large survey study among executive coaches with psychology or non-psychology background (Bono, Purvanova, Towler, & Peterson, 2009).
Overall, they found indications that the background of coaches can predict how they will conduct coaching, what assessment tools they may choose and how they will evaluate coaching effectiveness. Psychologist coaches reported having more experience in coaching and getting more clients through direct referrals. Non-psychologist coaches reported having more sessions with clients and also used more e-coaching (e.g. telephone or skype-based) compared to psychologist coaches.
Regarding differences in the approach and working method, it turned out that psychologist coaches were more likely to use multisource behavioral ratings as diagnostic and assessment tools. Whereas, non-psychologist coaches were more likely to measure coaching effectiveness by directly asking the client about improved self-confidence or self-understanding. Moreover, psychologist coaches were less likely to report using techniques with weak empirical evidence such as psychoanalysis or NLP (neurolinguistic programming).
Thus, psychologist coaches seem to be more likely to favor strong measurement methods, obtain data from multiple sources and use empirically validated techniques. These findings suggest that organizations should choose coaches with a psychology background, if they are in need of sound assessment and diagnostic. Especially when it is not clear what the coachee actually needs (see question 1), coaches with psychology background may provide more insightful answers and effective approaches compared to non-psychologist coaches (Bono et al., 2009)
Bono, J. E., Purvanova, R. K., Towler, A. J., & Peterson, D. B. (2009). A Survey of Executive Coaching Practices. Personnel Psychology, 62, 361–404. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1744-6570.2009.01142.x