The relationship between coach and subject is the key ingredient of any coaching programme. That’s why it’s important to spend time matchmaking.
There is no magic formula for achieving a successful relationship between a coach and their subject.
That is what Adrian Starkey, head of executive coaching at global HR consultancy DDI thinks. However, he says the relationship between coach and subject is supremely important.
“The critical success factor lies in the relationship between the coach and subject,” he says. “Although companies may view the process of ensuring the right fit between coach and subject as time consuming and costly, getting that correct fit is the single most important factor in achieving a successful outcome.”
Call it chemistry, call it rapport – the coach and subject must click to build a successful, open relationship. “Unless you get the match right at the beginning of the coaching relationship, you may as well not start at all,” says Karen Frost, director of leadership development organisation, Values Based Leadership.
Organisations should not assume that one coach will suit all coaching candidates. Even if a widespread coaching programme is being introduced, any potential coaches and candidates need to meet and have thorough discussions before any kind of formal relationship is entered into. Everyone should be prepared to have frank, honest discussions about what is expected from the outset.
All three parties – coach, subject and organisational sponsor, be it an HR or training person – need to know and agree with one another why the coaching is taking place, what the desired outcomes are, what the process will be and how it will be reviewed.
But getting the chemistry right does not necessarily mean that the two parties need to have a similar personality type.
In fact, Sean Weafer, CEO at First Coach International and honorary vice-president of the Association for Coaching, thinks that contrasting personalities can sometimes make for a more productive relationship. “A good match is not necessarily a good match of personalities,” he says. “Sometimes the difference in personality sparks the difference in perspective necessary for good coaching.”
While Starkey agrees that different personality types can work well together, he also thinks it is very important that the coach builds up a strong relationship and level of trust with their subject before challenging them too much. “A classic example of a challenging match is when a pragmatic, bottom-line focused subject finds it difficult to work effectively with a coach who initially places a high degree of emphasis on softer skills,” he says.
“A more effective approach is to initially meet the subject on their own terms and build respect before moving into what might be unfamiliar territory.”
It all comes back to the issue of trust. The subject needs to believe that the coach knows what they are talking about, understands the issues at stake and can help them add real business value. Weafer thinks that coaches look more credible in the eyes of their subjects if they have similar backgrounds, business expertise and even shared interests.
Age and gender
Age can be an important factor. Some people feel that older coaches have more gravitas, more life and work experience and therefore more to offer. That said, Frost says it depends on the subject’s needs and expectations. “I have had a senior manager in their 50s wanting a coach who was much younger so that they could learn new ideas,” she says.
Gender can also be a consideration for some people. The organisational sponsor really should be asking these questions before any potential coaches are even put forward, to save wasting time.
Organisations also need to do their homework regarding the qualifications, experience and reputation of the coaches they intend to use. Anyone can set themselves up as a coach, but a good coach will have qualifications, membership to a coaching organisation and their own supervisor.
If you don’t ensure you offer candidates experienced coaches who meet their needs, you could end up matching your potential top performers with coaches who lack the necessary skills to develop them. “Some organisations believe that simply having a coach is enough, but coaching is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” says Starkey. “Coaching arrangements that force a coach on an employee is wasteful and the majority of bad fits can’t be fixed,” he adds.
by Roisin Woolnough
Helen Pitcher, chair and CEO at Cedar International on matchmaking:
“We do a lot of work with BT. I get a brief from the group head of HR who will telephone me and explain the problem. Between us we work out who will be the best person to work with them, whether the coach should be male or female, their level of commercial experience and so on. I need to know particular nuances about the individual. The initial meeting with the individual is about the chemistry and competencies of both sides. We need to find out what they want from the coaching relationship, the key success points, how it will be measured and how much time they are prepared to commit. This preparatory work is essential.”