Coaching is a recognised technique in the development of individuals’ performance, as skills and knowledge are deepened and goals are set. But choosing a coach who can help you achieve those goals is one of the most crucial aspects of the process – and one of the easiest to overlook.

First, before you embark on the process of selecting a coach, you need to ensure you are clear about the outcome you are looking for. That is the most frequent cause of disappointment or, at worst, failure. If you are not clear what the ultimate aim of the coaching is, it will be almost impossible to set any meaningful matrices to measure its success. What is it you want to achieve? What needs to change? What do you need the support of the coach for? Does the coach need to have wider skills or knowledge to draw on?

Determining the purpose of the coaching can also help decide the type of coach required – for example, a business, leadership or executive coach, to name a few. Don’t hesitate to ask the prospective coach to ‘pitch’ and explain how they define coaching, the type of coaching they undertake and what their particular label means.

You might want to ask about a coach’s background and experience, or ask them to describe coaching interventions they have been involved in (beware, at this point, if they break confidentiality by naming individual clients), and the tools and methods they use.

At present, coaching is an unregulated industry and anyone can describe themselves as a coach. Recent surveys of HR professionals and other coaching buyers have highlighted that consumers are becoming more diligent in their enquiries. It is perfectly acceptable to ask about coaching qualifications (ILM Level 7, for example, is a highly recognised programme), the number of coaching hours undertaken, supervision arrangements and membership of a professional body such as the International Society of Qualified Coaches or the International Coach Federation.

Good coaches will include the client in the design of the contract that will regulate their contractual relationship: setting the boundaries; specifying the roles of both parties; and describing the methodology to be used. The critical aspect of the contract is confidentiality – this should be discussed and the parameters agreed with you. If there is an organisational sponsor, they are likely to want to be involved in this discussion. All parties should be clear – before the start of any coaching assignment – on what is to be shared with whom, and for what purpose.

A coaching assignment should also, of course, have a beginning, middle and end. While it is impossible to predict at the outset the number of sessions necessary, it should be possible to make progress in three coaching sessions. Refining your initial desired outcome is more often than not the focus of the first session. Think, too, about environment – can the coaching session take place away from your place of work, which signals that a special time and space is being created for coaching?

And finally, it is critical for any organisation or individual to recognise that coaching takes time. Before hiring a coach, ask yourself if you are prepared to protect the time to allow the session to be as successful as possible. If not, consider the signals it may send to the organisation – and how it might minimise the impact of your investment.

Judith Barton
Founder and director of coaching and mentoring at the British School of Coaching

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