5 min read

What HR Can Do to Help Leaders Pick an Executive Coach

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It’s tough to know how to buy a complex product you have never purchased before.  You have little, to no frame of reference or knowledge about the product to base your buying decision on.  This holds true for leaders who are choosing an executive coach for the first time.  

Many people select an executive or corporate coach without adequately considering what they are actually looking for in a coach.  In my experience participating now in several hundred interviews with potential coachees, I think we are doing a disservice to the coachee and coach by not better preparing potential coachees for the coach selection process.  When HR is a partner in the process, which is often the case, there are several ways HR leaders can help people to pick an executive coach that is right for them.

By the time a company decides to engage in executive coaching, HR has typically vetted coaches for the following criteria:

  • Type of coaching needs. Common themes include:  performance improvement, role transition, successor development, emerging leader development, high potential development
  • Business experience related to the type of business of the client is in
  • Coaching experience and training related to the type of coaching needs identified
  • Coaching process that supports the culture and type of coaching needs identified
  • Success rates and reputation of the coaches and their firm
  • Pricing that fits the budget and level of quality desired

After sourcing a set of executive coaches that fulfill those criteria, it is common for an HR sponsor to offer a prospective coachee 2-3 coaches to conduct chemistry interviews with.  First, HR sponsors should provide a summary of the criteria above to potential coachees.  This will save time for the chemistry interview to focus on deeper issues that can make or break the success of the coaching engagement. 

How HR Can Help Prepare You for a Coach Selection Interview

Webster defines chemistry as  “the complex emotional or psychological interaction between two people”.  Because coaching is a significant investment in time and resources, most would agree that this complex aspect of coach selection deserves preparation and thought.

While HR can’t vet chemistry for a coachee, they can help a prospective coachee consider their chemistry criteria.  Getting a good vibe from a coach won’t necessarily correlate with tangible impact on a leader’s professional growth.   With a little more preparation, better decisions for coach selection can be made.

HOw HR can help you clarify how to interview a coach

HR has the tools that can help make the process clearer on how to choose an executive coach that suits your goals, your situation and your style – which combined will guide your interpretation of the chemistry you experience with a coach.

  1. Your Coaching Needs: Be clear on the areas you need help.  You may not have all your objectives clarified at the time of the chemistry meeting, but it is important that you and your prospective coach talk about what a successful outcome would look like. This gives you a chance to discuss whether these objectives will be achievable in the agreed time-frame.  It gives you a sense of how to measure the coach’s competence in goal clarifying as well as their experience with clients with similar goals to yours they have worked successfully with.
  1. Your Situation: The executive coach needs to have an understanding of your role, industry and your organization’s culture, dynamics and politics. The coach doesn’t have to have worked in the industry or with your company before, but they do need to learn fast and can quickly gain an understanding of the way your company and industry works. The environment you operate in provides critical context to the coaching experience.  Know the key factors that you are facing and share this with the coach so they can help you understand their experience with clients with similar goals to yours they have worked successfully with.
  1. Your Style: The most effective coaching is tailored to work best with your unique needs and style.  Your core motivations and values will impact your coaching sessions.  For example, if your style is driven by knowing that you value meeting goals and expectations of yourself as effi­ciently and effectively as possible, it can seem daunting to try to make coaching for yourself a priority. You might want to look for a coach that will keep your sessions focused on meeting those self- and professional-development goals that you’ve set for yourself on track, while also reminding you from time to time to slow down and explore some aspects more in depth, when necessary.  Finding a coach that can strike that balance of e­fficiency and depth can help you avoid putting a Band-Aid on a much deeper issue.

HR sponsors can help you tune into your style which will guide you with focused questions about how the coach would work with your style and take your chemistry interview beyond the surface issues.   This will equip you to make a more personalized decision about how a coach will work with your values, strengths, weaknesses and blind spots.  

As a trusted HR Director of Talent and Development acquaintance of mine has said: "Chemistry is something 'invisible' but yet one of the key success factors"

Preparation Chemistry Questions HR Can Ask a Prospective Coachee

  • What do you hope to achieve with executive coaching? How will you know you have achieved your goals? 
  • What conditions in your role, team, culture and industry will be important for you to know your coach has experience with?
  • What do you know about your operating style are potential factors that could impact your coaching experience?
  • What type of style and values are you looking for in a mentor or coach, based on your previous experiences working with a guide?
  • HR partners could also provide additional information to the coaches before the vetting meeting by way of previous assessments, interpersonal style etc. Having this information could lead to better vetting interviews in selecting the right coach
  • What questions can you ask the coach to assess their ability to provide you with the right balance of support and challenge for these qualities? Some examples:
    • Can you describe your coaching philosophy?
    • My purpose for seeking executive coaching is………………. Can you describe other engagements you’ve had similar to mine and the results your clients have achieved?
    • Some of the conditions I face in my role, company culture, industry are …………Can you describe how you would support me to address these successfully?
    • My core values of leadership are …………..  What core values drive you?
    • A few ways I can get in my own way and might impact how I am in a coaching relationship are…………  What strategies would you use to help me with these?
    • How do we establish developmental goals and how do we measure progress?
    • How do you handle confidentiality?

With focused preparation by HR, you can be prepared to be upfront about with your coach about what type of client you are, and what you’re hoping to gain out of your sessions.  With answers in hand to these questions a pragmatic and gut feel comparison of coaches to choose from could be made.  This will help you not only choose the coach that is right for you but will pay off in helping you get the most out of your sessions together. 

If you're looking for more tools on how to pick the executive coach that is right for you, consider downloading our free ebook on the very subject!


What advice did you wish you received when you first started looking for a coach? Tell us below!

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