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What to look for in an external coaching provider

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15th Mar 2011
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Are you thinking of investing in coaching? Or perhaps setting up on your own as a coaching provider? Hannah McNamara gives the community some tips.

Visit the website of any company operating in the learning and development arena and you're almost guaranteed to find coaching listed as one of the services on offer. On the one hand it's great coaching is now so mainstream that you have choices. On the other hand, when tasked with finding the best team of coaches for your senior management and employees how do you choose between them all?
In this article, we explore the key points to consider when deciding on an external coaching provider.
 

Specialists vs. generalists

Whether you decide to go with a specialist coaching company or a training company which also provides coaches will depend on the outcomes you're looking for. If your intention is to use coaching to embed the learning from a training course, it makes sense to buy both services from the same company. However, if you need a coach or coaches to work with senior people, it might suit you better to go to a specialist executive coaching provider. At the highest level, many coaches are also called on to act as a mentor to their client, so a specialist will help you to get the match between coach and coachee exactly right.
 

Account management

This is especially important when you are looking for coaches to work with a team. Look for a coaching company which has a structure for account managing your business. On smaller projects it is possible to work with independent coaches, however when you are organising coaching for more than 3-4 people, it can become an administrative nightmare to have to manually track who has taken their coaching sessions and when they are due to meet with their coach again. Unless managing the coaching process is part of your ongoing role, it's best to find an organisation that can do all of this for you. In addition, think about what would happen if the coaching programme isn't progressing in the way that you hoped. A well structured coaching company should be able to explain who to speak to and how any issues will be resolved.

Credibility

If you are going to 'sell' the idea of coaching within your organisation, you need to be sure that the coaches you put in front of your senior people have the credibility factor. Are they used to coaching at an executive level? Do they understand the language and jargon used by the coachee? Are the people having coaching likely to take the coach/coaches seriously? In the case of a particularly feisty coachee, can the coach be assertive and manage the relationship in a respectful way without either party losing face? You can usually tell this just from speaking to one of the directors/partners in the coaching company and trusting your gut. Following up references will also help.
 

Cultural fit

The executive coaches you choose should be able to quickly understand the culture of your organisation and adapt their style accordingly.
 

Relevant experience

This is an interesting one because, of course, you would expect executive coaches to have experience, but what makes experience relevant to the individuals being coached? Despite what you might think, it is not absolutely vital for the coach to have held the same position as the person being coached. What is important however is that the coach has experience of the kinds of challenges that the coachee is facing and knows how to handle them. Ideally, look for coaches who have themselves held senior positions within organisations and can demonstrate success with similar clients.
 

References

Any self-respecting executive coach should be more than happy to put you in touch with other clients who you can contact for a reference. When you follow up on the reference, find out about the aims and objectives of the coaching programme they were engaged in – did they achieve the outcomes they were looking for? What was it like to be coached by them?
 

Chemistry

The chemistry between the coach and their coachee needs to be right to have an effective coaching relationship. Ask the coaching company whether they are willing to meet or talk with the individuals being coached to make sure it's right before the programme starts.
With the right partners, the coaching process can be an incredibly effective way of developing the skills of your people.
 
Hannah McNamara is the managing director of HRM Coaching Ltd, a specialist executive coaching and leadership development company based in London, UK with clients all over the world. HRM Coaching works in partnership with HR/L&D and their other providers to ensure an integrated learning development programme 
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