Businesses spend billions of dollars on executive coaching engagements each year, poor coach-coachee fit could be an expensive problem. Although there are countless factors that determine the success of an executive coaching engagement, principal among them is matching coaches with coachees. The strength of the coach-coachee relationship determines not only how coaching recipients perceive the outcome of coaching, but it also increases positive outcomes and reduces rare unintended negative effects.
“A good coach-coachee fit is necessary to build the environment of trust necessary for a successful coaching engagement,” said senior coach Bernadette Cabrera (AIIR | NYC). “Poor coach-coachee fit undermines the engagement.”
As HR and talent professionals, how can you make your coach matching more successful? Start with these five considerations:
Executive coaching can produce incredible results. Studies have shown that coaching can produce an 88% increase in individual productivity. Additionally, the mean ROI for companies investing in coaching is 7x their initial investment, with more than 25% of companies reporting ROI between 10 to 49 times their initial investment. But, coaching is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
The most important questions in coach matching are: What does the coachee need to accomplish, and how will coaching support them? Is the coachee a seasoned executive who needs a fresh approach? A young leader transitioning into their first role as a VP? A high-performer managing people for the first time?
Each coachee brings a unique experience and set of developmental needs that requires a nuanced approach to produce lasting results. For example, the AIIR Global Coaching Network, a group of over 100 executive coaches located around the world, represents a broad spectrum of specialties. This includes many critical topics, from engagement and executive presence to team effectiveness and transformational leadership.
The best coaching firms follow a rigorous coaching methodology to ensure consistency and effectiveness across coaching engagements — if the coach you’re considering can’t point to their methodology, keep looking. The style in which each coach delivers on that methodology, however, can vary.
Some coaches are naturally more directive, using candid feedback and their own experience to create clarity and direction for coachees. Others prefer a more supportive approach, relying on insightful questions to help coaching participants uncover insights.
“It’s important to discuss coaching style preferences with coachees in advance of an engagement,” said senior executive coach Mark Frederick (AIIR | Los Angeles). “Prospective coaches ideally have an informational interview with the coachee to make sure there is a sense of fit. And, using a coaching style assessment like the Coaching Mindset Index® helps to determine what sort of approach will resonate with a particular coachee.”
While geography was once an important consideration in selecting an executive coach, virtual coaching is now the norm, which empowers individuals to connect with coaches around the globe.
A 2008 study revealed that only 26% of executive coaching sessions were conducted virtually. In the decade since, technology has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, including executive coaching — the majority of coaching is now conducted virtually, with only 32% of sessions conducted in person. Additionally, research indicates that a well-designed virtual coaching engagement can be just as effective as one conducted in person.
When does geography matter? When it enriches the coaching experience — for example, a young executive on their first international assignment connecting with an expat coach.
The coaching industry has experienced explosive growth over the past decade. Unfortunately, for every executive coach creating value for their clients, there are scores of unaccredited, inexperienced coaches doing the opposite, and leaving a trail of coaching-skeptical leaders in their wake.
Professional accreditation is a good start, but the correct coach-coachee match requires “mutual respect for each other’s competencies,” said Cabrera. Coaches should possess not only professional accreditation and an understanding of the behavioral sciences, but also relevant business experience working at the coachee’s level, or in their industry.
The workforce is changing — it is growing increasingly diverse in age, ethnicity, identification and sexual preference — and research has revealed a linear relationship between increased diversity and inclusion and the bottom line. McKinsey found that companies with the highest levels of gender diversity were 15% more likely to financially outperform their industry medians, while companies with the highest levels of racial and ethnic diversity were 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. Smart companies are taking note, and making an effort to increase diversity and inclusion at every level.
Just as companies benefit from a diversity of experiences, so, too, can coaching clients. Sometimes a coachee can benefit from a coach with a similar background — a coach who understands the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ executives or Latinx high potentials, for example. In some situations, coaching clients can benefit from a coach with a different experience or worldview than their own. Older executives, for example, may benefit from the experiences of a Gen X, Millennial, or even a Gen Z coach.
Considering recipient needs, coaching style, geography, professional experience and personal background can create huge improvements in your coach matching process. Partnering with a coaching firm like AIIR, which uses a proven process to match its clients with the right coach, adds a second layer of assurance to the process.
Still, bad matches happen. What comes next?
“Both coachee and coach should feel empowered to indicate that the coaching fit is not working for them at the beginning of an engagement,” Frederick said. “Sometimes the relationship can feel forced when there are time and budget constraints, but it is critical to make sure that the fit works for both sides sooner rather than later.”
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