A lot of diverse people and businesses practise under the umbrella of coaching, including executive, business, career and life coaches. As in all walks of life, some are better than others and your time and money are precious. So how do you identify what brand of coaching will best meet your needs, and who can you trust to deliver a return on your investment? In this blog we offer some practical guidance to help you decide.
Start by working through these simple questions to shape your thoughts and ideas:
25 Questions To Help You Get Started
Context and Outcomes
- What has prompted you to look for some outside help?
- What are the outcomes you most want?
- In what timeframe?
- What will your measures of success be?
- How much are you prepared to invest to achieve these outcomes?
- Is it clear to you that you need or want a coach, or are you unsure about this at this stage?
Type & Profile of Coach
- What type of coach do you anticipate working with at this stage – a business, executive, team or life coach, for example?
- Are you looking for a coach (or other form of support) just for you, for a pivotal relationship, a team(s) or for your whole business?
- What expertise and/or experience will you want them to bring?
- What evidence will you need to feel confident that they have this?
- What sort of personal qualities or traits will you most value in a coach e.g., for them to be challenging, self-confident, energetic, considered, empathetic?
- How will you establish that they have these traits and can bring them effectively to a coaching relationship?
- Will it be important to you that your coach brings a clearly identified methodology or framework to your work?
- How do you imagine the work taking place e.g., one to one, through observation and work-shadowing, in a classroom setting, onsite, offsite, virtually etc
- How frequently do you imagine working with them, and for how long on each occasion?
- What will you expect from a coach between sessions?
- If not you alone, who will be the key stakeholders in the relationship with the coach?
- How might these stakeholders’ views on the questions above differ from yours?
- What insight, if any, will they expect into the progress and outcomes of the coaching?
- What will you expect from the coach regarding the confidentiality of your work together?
- What will you expect regarding any communication between the coach and other stakeholders?
- What, if any credentials will you expect your coach to have?
- Will you expect them to have professional indemnity or other forms of insurance?
- What will they need to demonstrate for compliance purposes?
- Is there anything else that has occured to you as you consider these questions – if so, note it down.
How does business coaching differ from other forms of support?
In essence, coaching is oriented towards helping a client(s) work out for themselves the outcomes they want, the real issues that need to be addressed and the strategies and plans that are right for them in their context. This may unearth issues that the client had not anticipated and can be personally challenging and rewarding.
The focus of business coaches is typically on where a business is in its evolution, what the owners want to achieve through it and how best they might do so in their unique context and with the assets at their disposal. This can include coaching the owners, leadership teams and even the whole business in smaller companies, and/or helping them connect with other experts and advisors.
They will typically draw on a range of business tools and frameworks designed to help the client step back, understand their context and challenges more clearly and take better decisions as a result.
With caveats for generalisation, executive coaches tend to work one on one with individuals who want to address specific challenges, realise particular opportunities or more generally to explore how they can be most effective and happy in their professional context.
The intended benefit of these different forms of coaching is that the solutions are designed by the client and expressed in their language – hence they make sense to them and if the coach has done their job, the client(s) will believe they can implement them.
In both instances, coaches will help clients form well-defined objectives and goals and will regularly check progress against these, and regarding the evolution and efficacy of the coaching relationship.
Business consultants drive towards similar ends, except that they take on more of the burden of working through the options and recommending solution(s) and strategies that they conclude are right for the client. This will be on the basis of their research, expertise and having worked with them and often, others in their sector. This can benefit clients who ‘want an answer’, or who want the reassurance that their options have been thoroughly evaluated and independently assessed.
The potential risk is that the recommendations are shaped by the consultant and expressed in their language rather than the client’s, which may or may not generate the ownership needed for successful and sustained adoption.
Mentors typically offer to share their experience and advise their clients having worked in the same or adjacent sectors as them, or perhaps in businesses with similar characteristics or challenges. They are ‘wise heads’ who are available to provide support and advice as needed. Mentors (like coaches and consultants) may or may not be professionally trained as such, and typically provide this support personally rather in the written form associated with consultancy.
At the risk of simplification, we might summarise by saying that coaches ‘ask’ with a clear intention behind each question, consultants ‘tell’ based on their research and expertise, and mentors ‘advise’ drawing on their experience.
What should you expect from a business coach?
All good practitioners will ideally bring a blend of experience and expertise to complement the client’s – precisely what that blend is will vary from one relationship to the next and will flow from the coach’s beliefs about how best they can add value in each case.
What About Variations In Practice?
Business coaches, consultants and mentors will vary in their practice. Whereas some will stick rigorously to their domain: a coach who insists that they will never consult, for example, others may consciously blur the lines, such as between coaching, consulting and mentoring. Either is acceptable provided that the practitioner is clear in themselves and with the client about their own practice, conscious at any moment of which hat they are wearing and stays within the boundaries of their competence, ethics and professional indemnity.
This becomes especially important at the boundaries with disciplines such as counselling and therapy. A properly trained business coach, for example, will set out and agree clear boundaries with you at the outset of a relationship. They will also make clear what will happen if you start approaching those boundaries, consciously or otherwise, in the course of your work together. If they don’t, take this as a warning sign.
How Important Is Personal Chemistry To A Coaching Relationship?
So far so good, yet in the end, people buy people, don’t they? What happens when you get together and the personal chemistry just doesn’t feel right?
Once again, the importance you attach to this will depend on the sort of support you are looking for. Arguably, it is most critical in coaching and mentoring relationships, albeit there will be many consultants who disagree.
In the case of a coach (or mentor), try to figure out why it doesn’t feel right. Be aware that you may be experiencing this precisely because the business coach represents something you struggle with and seek to avoid. This might be relevant to the reasons you sought support in the first place and it could actually help you to work with them. Or it might equally distract you from the work you want to do. Only you can judge – our recommendation is simply to be curious before reaching a decision and if you feel comfortable to do so, discuss it with the coach.
Some of the remaining steps are obvious enough: look for formal and independently verifiable qualifications and accreditations, and notice what area of coaching these are in. Ask the service provider about their practice and boundaries. Seek evidence of recent clients and testimonials and take account of the type of business and the role of the individuals. Does the coach have a website, a blog or other collateral which suggests a conscious and informed approach to coaching? Are there any case studies they can share with you to bring this to light? What do they highlight and as importantly, what do they omit to mention? Are they clear about the return on investment you might expect? Can they put you in touch with recent clients who will vouch for them?
What Will A Coach Look For In A Prospective Client?
A final and critical consideration is you and your mindset. Are you open to being coached, assuming you can find the right person to work with? Are you prepared to put the time and effort in as guided by them? Are you willing to be challenged, and to accept that the underlying issues may not be as you originally envisaged?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then there is unlikely to be an issue. If it’s no, you may not be ready for coaching and a coach may even decline to work with you.
There are examples of good, bad and ‘downright ugly’ in the coaching world, as in any profession. On the bright side, there are plenty of good and qualified practitioners who are doing great work that is valued by talented and successful clients. Whether you are a sceptic, or even a cynic, we hope that these pointers will have given you pause for thought at the very least. For those who may be looking for a coach, we hope this article and the links below help you find someone who can meet your requirements and achieve the outcome(s), and hence the return, you want.
Now you have read this blog, why not get one step closer to finding out if coaching could help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Book an introductory call below, contact us online or call 0345 222 5618 and we’ll be delighted to help you explore this further.