The most important step in setting up a successful coaching engagement is the process of the coachee finding the right coach.
Be it a single coachee for whom the Organisation needs to find the right coach or a cohort of coachees for whom the Organisation needs to find the right panel of coaches, be it finding a coach directly or through a coach provider, or be it a coachee directly trying to find a coach for themselves (typically entrepreneurs and business owners), the process is quite crucial and everyone needs to get it right.
So how does it really work? In my role as a coach provider for over 15 years, I have seen many methods work petty well – yes, there is no single golden way to do it.
Given that it is a partnership and an alliance, we can use the analogy of marriages (merely to bring clarity). When we talk about marriages, we often ask if it love or arranged. The truth is that even in marriages it is not so black and white – there are variations and combinations – there are arrangements and hard facts and then there is compatibility. As far as coach and coachee pairing is concerned, most often it is part arranged and part love. That is perhaps why the term “chemistry” creeps into these discussions. More about that later.
The arranged part
In most cases, there is some kind of a sponsor or facilitator who plays a crucial role in setting up the engagement. It could be the Manager, the leader of the business with active involvement of HR.
Their role in the “arrangement” part is to be rigorous in verifying that the basics are in place in shortlisting coaches.
Often times, sponsors (Manager and or HR) have a very sound understanding of the coachee(s), their needs and preferences. Especially where managers and HR have spent time in formal or informal talent discussions, they are in a position to make an informed choice keeping the interest of the coachee in mind.
Armed with these insights they look at professional credentials and coaching credentials.
Does the coach have the right professional credentials that will help them deliver value to the coachees – a successful career, been there and done that, the rich and varied work and life experiences that will be of value to the coachee. While coaching is “technically” content free, they do look for familiarity with the industry and broad context because that really helps.
Then comes coaching credentials. What is the quality of the coach education program they went through? What has been the track record as a coach? What is the range of work done?
Sponsors will also attempt to gather some references if needed. That can be a great source of comfort.
The sponsors and HR may meet the panel of coaches and then make an informed final selection or a shortlist.
Where the coachee has implicit trust in the Manager and HR and genuinely believes that they have their best interest in mind, the coachee will typically go with the coach presented to them by the sponsors. Of course, there is the usual caveat that the coachee has the freedom to meet the coach and turn down the selection should they have a serious concern – something that happens very rarely.
In certain organisational cultures, they let the coachee truly make the final decision. They typically present a panel of maybe 2 coaches and let the coach choose.
Chemistry and compatibility
Now, if a panel of coaches pass through these two vital filters, then confirming the choice or choosing one of them is where good human judgment, gut feel, leap of faith, trust and other subjective factors come to play, because one is now looking at the human side of the coach – the person, the being. This is the chemistry part, or in our analogy the “love” part.
So, what does chemistry or compatibility really mean, from the coachee’s point of view?
Good chemistry and compatibility may mean saying yes to all or at least some of these questions:
- Do I feel comfortable in this person’s presence, can be myself, open up and feel comfortable sharing?
- Do I respect this person? And does this person seem to respect me for who I am?
- Do we have things in common – views, values, concerns?
- Do I get the sense that this person will accept me for who I am and not judge me?
- Am I eager to learn from this person?
- Does this person inspire confidence?
- Did I experience empathetic presence and good listening?
- Was this person interested in me?
- Was there something endearing about this person? Someone I wish to meet again and work with.
Truth is that seasoned and successful coaches are likely to have worked quite a bit on themselves and their “being” dimension. It is therefore fair to say that they will score fairly well on these dimensions. That indeed is the true test of a coach.
Coachees can hit it off so to speak with their coaches in their first interaction or the chemistry can grow over a few meetings. Of course, in some rare cases, it can also deteriorate over time.
In summary, some arrangements (to verify Professional credentials and coaching credentials) and some love (ascertaining adequate chemistry and compatibility) make for a good coach – coachee relationship. This way, the responsibility of making it work is shared by all involved.