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10 Tips for Hiring a Coach for Employees

Posted by David A. Couper, MA on March 26, 2015 9:30 AM

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Somewhere between “this person has so much potential” and “we need someone to turn this person around”, you recognize that it may be prudent to hire an executive coach for one or more of your employees. Either way, it’s not enough to simply hire a coach; you need to match each employee with the right coach.

In other words, you will increase your odds of success by following these ten principles.

1. Has the coach gone through his or her own transformation? Knowledge isn’t enough to make a successful coach. The best coaches understand transformation, because they have experienced it firsthand.

A few years back, I was laid off immediately after a highly successful consulting engagement. My boss asked me into his office and I expected to get a raise. When he started reading a prepared statement written by an attorney, I was shocked. But the upside of that experience is I know now what it’s like to lose your footing and then regain it.

Change is wrenching, difficult and messy. Don’t hire someone who only understands this in theory.

2. Ask about their coaching style. Don’t hire a coach who can’t provide a solid answer to this question. It’s up to the coach to be crystal clear about the way they operate, which then allows you to match a coach with a client likely to benefit from his or her particular approach.

For example, one of our coaches, a physician, coaches one of our physician clients. This works quite well, because the coach speaks in the same manner as his client, citing medical terms and providing evidence for his assertions.

Other times, it might be more helpful to match a physician client with a coach who understands health care administration, because the physician is experiencing challenges that arise mainly from not understanding the “demands” coming from administrators.

3. Pick coaches who listen more than they talk. A person who talks too much is a consultant, not a coach. Consultants have agendas; coaches are open and flexible. Coaches understand that the best plan today might be to listen while the client describes the huge fight she just had with her spouse.

4. Test their understanding of the issues. When you explain the issues to a potential coach, ask them to repeat back what they heard. Check to make certain they understand the substance behind the issues. If they can’t follow your brief overview, they will never be able to grasp the point of view of a client who is having a hard time sorting out the right course of action.

5. Verify they can relate to the person you want coached. Professional coaches are versatile, but they are not magicians. Certain coaches work best with certain clients. A bit of sensitivity in this regard goes a long way. Don’t match a sports fanatic coach with a client who couldn’t catch a ball to save his or her life.

6.  Make certain they have a basic grasp of your business and industry. If everything out of a client’s mouth sounds like a jumble of random acronyms, a coach won’t be effective. S/he must know enough about your business to understand the context and realities with which their client is dealing.

Don’t take this principle too far; you are hiring a coach, not a consultant. The coach doesn’t have to be qualified to perform the client’s job, just knowledgeable enough to understand it.

7. Fit the coach into a larger picture. We look at coaching as one tool within a larger solution. To achieve success, you will also need to involve supervisors, performance feedback, and training. For example, if you provide a coach detailed data about his or her client’s performance, you make it possible for the coach to focus on what has really been happening. In contrast, if you limit a coach to the client’s own perceptions, you base the entire process on what may be a lopsided perspective.

8. Have a plan for monitoring progress. Is the client showing up? Is progress being made? What’s the plan, and how are things progressing? There must be regular communication between HR and the coach, and also with the client’s supervisor. This last part is especially important, because it provides the coach with an opportunity to communicate directly with the supervisor, who may, for example, be inadvertently undercutting the client’s efforts to improve.

9. Be alert for failure. Sometimes coaching doesn’t work. One of every, say, 200 assignments, the coach and client simply don’t mesh. We have over 50 coaches, so if this happens, we have the option to shift coaches. On occasion, a client can perceive that the coach isn’t keeping information confidential or isn’t listening accurately. There are quirks in all human relationships; you need to pay attention and react when there is a problem.

10. Put the costs in perspective. Some of our clients earn over $1 million a year; it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace such a professional. Others manage vital areas in which the expenses can be significant if there is a change in leadership. Viewed from these perspectives, the funds needed to hire a coach seem like a modest and prudent investment in avoiding a major problem. At lower levelsY, you also might have a receptionist or office manager messing things up a bit in a highly visible, client-facing position. A coach can help turn such a situation around quickly, much faster than it would take to hire and train a replacement.

David Couper is founder and CEO of David Couper Consulting, a strategic-effectiveness consulting firm focused on the real bottom-line in business: PEOPLE.

Image: Jeff Pioquinto, SJ/Flickr

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