Coaching at work: You can bet on vetting

Number one rule when hiring a coach – vet them very carefully by asking the right questions.

Coaching has fast become a dominant force in personal development. The latest statistics from the CIPD, in its 2008 annual learning and development survey, show that 71% of UK employers use coaching in their organisations – compared to 63% in 2007.

But is its growth moving unchecked? The same survey revealed that just 8% evaluate the effectiveness of coaching via a formal or regular evaluation process. The CIPD’s adviser on learning development and coaching John McGurk warns it is time for organisations to wise up.

“Unless coaching is managed and designed effectively, the results may not measure up to expectations,” he says.

Of course safety measures need to be put in place from the beginning. Organisations need to know that coaches can deliver what they have promised, that their performance will be monitored regularly and that communication procedures are water-tight.

Gillian Ince, head of training and resourcing at Claire’s Accessories, warns that it is crucial to get it right from the start. First, perfect the coach selection process, and always do your detective work.

“I look for word-of-mouth recommendations from fellow professionals,” she says. “I trust them to tell me the truth.”

A face-to-face visit is always essential early in the process. “In this respect think of coach selection as the same as choosing any external trainer or company,” she says.

And make sure those first-stage questions are right, says City University’s Professor Stephen Palmer who also runs the Centre for Coaching. “Organisations should ask a number of questions, depending on who they are interviewing – whether a consultancy or individuals,” he says.

If recruiting an individual coach, ask them about their experience as a coach and understanding of the business area.

“It is important to look for detail about experience,” says Palmer. “Simply asking for a reference or a testimonial is not enough, as this could be old and out of date.”

“And ask about how they have helped clients to achieve their goals,” he says.

A second line of questioning is to establish whether the coach has professional qualifications and if they continually update them.

“Quality control,” says Palmer, “means that they need supervision, also known as coach mentoring. From this question move on to ask how qualified the supervisor is.”

When interviewing coaching consultancies, ask about the overall philosophy of the consultancy before moving into the specifics of the coaches who may be offered to you. Palmer has come across large client organisations who ask coaching consultancies for real-time demonstrations of their skills.

“But I’m in two minds about this,” he says. “It could be artificial.”

He has also encountered organisations who compile contracts of up to 40 pages, covering areas such as their intellectual copyright and complaints policies. “Within these contracts there is usually somewhere to go to, such as to a professional body like the Association for Coaching (AC), for arbitration.”

The CIPD’s advice on avoiding disputes or disappointments is to ask if the coach has indemnity insurance. “This is a form of insurance which is expensive but necessary,” says McGurk. “A bad coach won’t bother with this.”

At the AC, honorary vice-president Lynn Macwhinnie says the association has an accreditation scheme and that is increasingly regarded as important.

“There is also a lot of energy around supervision,” she says. “A collaborative steering group, including the AC, European Mentoring and Coaching Council and International Coaching Federation are all looking at supervision and what it means for the coach.” But this is very much at the talking shop stage and it’ll be a while before there are agreed workable outcomes.

Macwhinnie, who works as an executive coach, would expect to be asked about how she creates a package and what will suit the organisation. Her personal research among other colleagues, she says, has found that organisations are increasingly looking for accreditation or evidence of supervision or qualifications.

“They are also taking up non-directive solutions in a four sessions timescale with a review at the end. Many organisations are setting up chemistry sessions before contracting, designed to allow the client and coach to agree if the chemistry is right,” she says. “And the contract is negotiated with the line manager as well as the individual client.”

Macwhinnie notes a welcome trend – that contracts are becoming increasingly explicit.

“In my personal opinion a contract should contain agreement on the accessibility of the coach, the availability and the boundaries for context – for example that this is not therapy. It should be be very clear about what the company expects from the coach and what the coach is offering. And it is important that someone is not just sent for coaching. It has to be a real learning opportunity – and that individual has to want to come along for it.”

At law firm Thring Townsend Lee and Pembertons, director of people Melanie Richens says potentially the most difficult part of the coaching process is keeping tabs on a relationship which is meant to be confidential. She has been implementing coaching for four years at the 400-strong firm where 53 partners currently have external coaches.

“All coaching relationships are done on the basis that they are confidential,” she says. “But in terms of ensuring that the relationships are continuing, we make sure meetings are taking place.”

Richens has got around the mutual tensions of confidentiality and the need for information by asking coaches to report trends, on a non-attributable basis, to the training manager every six months.

Back at the CIPD, John McGurk says the most effective ways of monitoring coaching delivery and efficiency during the coaching process is to set have a structure overseen by HR and the key stakeholders,

“Use tools such as 360-degree feedback forms and psychometrics to identify and pair coaching relationships and use evaluation and supervision to monitor the effectiveness. Feedback from the client is vital,” he adds.

But what if, after following all this advice the coaching still doesn’t meet expectations? What is the purchaser to do?

“If the coach is not delivering then question why,” says McGurk.

“Questions to ask include whether each of the scheduled coaching sessions have taken place. Ask if the outcomes you specified have been met or have you changed the outcomes? heck whether the outcomes are realistic and feasible. The provider should have told you if they are not feasible but some inexperienced coaching providers would agree unrealistic specifications to gain a contract,” he concludes.

Coaching checklist

Linda Aspey of Aspey Associates – a London coaching consultancy – shares the criteria she applies for recruiting associate executive coaches and which she thinks could be used by any organisation looking to recruit an external coach.




  • Are they an active member of a recognised professional coaching body with an ethical code. Examples of these are the AC, APECS, BACP, BPS and CIPD.
  • Are they accredited or chartered by one of the above or are actively working towards this.
  • Do they have coach, psychotherapy/counselling or psychology training at least 250 hours over at least two years. This should not be distance learning.
  •  Do they have senior management experience or extensive consultancy experience with the corporate commercial sector.
  • Do they have regular supervision with a trained professional and can they explain how they use it.
  • Have they got at least three years’ executive or management coaching experience as a separate contracted activity.
  • Are they qualified to use established psychometric tools such as MBTI or OPQ.
  • Can they describe use of more than one coaching model or approach,
  • Do they have evidence of at least 30 hours of coach- related CPD within the past year.
  • Have they evidence of using and feeding back 360 profiles and an understanding of the potential benefits and risks
  • Do they have experience in working with people in the particular client sector
  • Can they describe their coaching philosophy and approach, understanding of confidentiality , approach to contracting and session management
  • Are they willing to offer chemistry sessions with potential executive coaching clients at no charge,
  • Can they describe how they get feedback and evaluate coaching and what they do with the data.



Linda Aspey

Stephen Palmer

Lynn Macwhinnie


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