Opinion: Matchmaker, matchmaker, find me a coach

Much time and money are wasted by organisations that fail to the match clients and coaches.

Well deployed, coaching can increase an organisation’s productivity, organisational strength and customer service. For the individual, it promises to improve their leadership effectiveness, personal mastery and job satisfaction. But the ‘wrong fit’ can lead to disillusioned staff and squandered organisational resources, and many organisations are not taking the time to match-make appropriately.

Some organisations don’t achieve the right match because they think just having a coach is enough. Coaching that thrusts any coach on any employee is wasteful – 99% of bad fits can’t be fixed, which means it is crucial to get it right from day one.

Although it can be time-consuming, getting the match right pays dividends and is the single most significant factor in predicting successful outcomes. I have met key senior players who have turned away from individual personal development because they thought their coaching was “woolly” and “directionless”.

Experience will equip the most accomplished coaches with the self-insight and tools to adopt a chameleon-like quality with which to approach each new engagement. But other factors must be considered. For example, current business issues that the client is wrestling with; comparisons of those to the background of the coach; the client’s self-awareness and receptiveness to feedback and their behavioural patterns and thinking styles; and the proximity and availability of both parties.

These cannot always be assessed on paper. Our coaches sometimes have dinner with executives so that both parties can decide whether the common ground and quality of interaction are likely to make a suitably dynamic relationship.

The intangible success factor is the extent of personal chemistry between the coach and client. If the match is not right, the client will be reluctant to accept feedback and unwilling to try new approaches. A calm, analytical person may not respond well to a passionate, energetic coaching style. Likewise, although coaches should be slow to judge, even the most professional of us can struggle to care about, or commit to, supporting those whose values differ significantly from our own. Opening the door to the possibility of change requires a coach to understand what motivates the individual and be able to use this knowledge to advise on constructive personal development.

Finally, matching evaluation should be built into the coaching process, with both coaches and clients being given explicit permission to assess, and if necessary veto, their proposed partner. Periodic updates should be undertaken by both parties based on progress against objectives and relationship effectiveness. Time spent on the matching process is never wasted.

Adrian Starkey is head of coaching and executive development at DDI Europe, an HR consultancy.

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