“The practice and use of executive coaching has been growing over the past decade as organizations recognize that leaders require developmental opportunities to learn and demonstrate different behaviors and mindsets. Since the pandemic began in 2020, leaders have faced an increased need to better understand teams’ levels of stress, engagement, and motivation to support productivity, well-being, and engagement in the workplace. Coaches help leaders quickly develop and demonstrate the capabilities needed to lead in times of high stress by offering targeted, personalized, and focused development.” (The Conference Board-Global Executive Coaching Survey 2021)
Coaching is most certainly a powerful tool … when it’s the right coach. As a Partner of a Global Coaching Firm, I’m often asked, “How do you choose an executive coach?” To ensure you engage the right coach, here are the 10 critical questions you need to ask:
1. Firm Experience: How long has the coaching firm or coach been in business? What clients have they served?
Look for experience specific to the Executive level/C-Suite or the requisite management level you are seeking to coach. How long have they been coaching at that level and across what industries, yours included? Ask for references and make those calls.
2. Referenced Coach: Am I choosing a coach that has been adequately vetted?
Be cognizant of where are you sourcing your coach. If you are using a coaching firm, make sure they have thoroughly checked their coaches’ references. Caution - there are coaching firms that broker their talent. In such cases, firms may thoroughly vet their brokered coaches and check all references, yet in other such cases, brokered coaches may simply sign up to be a coach with very little screening and little to no advanced training. Ask for details about how coaches are vetted and again, check references.
3. Culture Match: Does the coach or coaching firm take the time to understand my organizational culture?
Listening is at the core of coaching. Does the coach/coaching firm listen to your needs and ask smart questions, or are they more focused on selling themselves? Do they take the time to understand your organizational culture? Behaviors and leadership practices that are accepted in one organization may not be accepted in another. Successful coaching engagements are based on mutual understanding and culture matching.
4. Flexibility: Does the firm offer flexible coaching plans to meet our coaching needs and budget?
Successful coaching firms are experienced in developing and providing executive coaching plans that meet the client’s needs, both human and financial. If you have time, budget, or other constraints, be sure to address them upfront.
5. Methodology: What type of coaching methodology is employed?
There are a number of generally accepted and proven methodologies for executive coaching. The firm or individual coach should be able to clearly articulate their methodology and a corresponding value of the process. The lack of a well thought out coaching methodology or the inability to articulate one upfront, should be an immediate red flag.
6. Chemistry: How does the firm align the best coach with our needs for this engagement?
Chemistry is critical for success. All personalities are different – both your executive and the executive coach. What type of personality and chemistry characteristics will best engage your executive; gain their confidence and trust; support an effective and professional coach/coachee relationship; and, facilitate a successful outcome? Make sure the prospective coach or coaching firm offers a diverse slate of coaches to meet your chemistry needs, then organize chemistry checks with your coachee and consider letting him/her select their final coach from the slate presented. Giving your coachee ownership in choosing their coach, will ultimately enhance and strengthen the engagement.
7. Business Experience: Does the specific coach have relevant business experience?
How long have they been coaching at the executive level? How many engagements? Most recent? What is their track record for success and how has that been measured? Be sure to understand the complete depth and duration of his/her experience. Reputable firms and coaches will be able to provide this input.
8. Training & Certifications: What training and certifications has the coach received?
There is not any one certification that guarantees credence and credibility. A more holistic approach typically yields a more qualified coaching candidate. In addition to the breadth and depth of certifications, look at their education, advanced training, and relevant experience, both as a coach and as a business professional.
9. Success Measurement: How does the coach measure progress against my stated expectations and objectives?
All successful coaching engagements have a beginning, middle, and end. What is your timeline? What are the measurement points and how will progress and ultimate success be measured? This should be openly and directly discussed upfront, so both you and the firm/coach you select are clear about timing, expectations, and sustainable results.
10. Duration & Boundaries: Are there defined boundaries around on how long the coach is engaged?
Achieving targets should define success over a specific period of time. An effective coach steps in, makes plans, cultivates change to drive impact, and then steps out. Vague or lack of time specificity upfront is cause for concern. Ask about assignment duration – how often do assignments extend and why? The goal of coaching is to create sustainability, not to create dependency on a coach and certainly not to create a crutch. And always be cautious of “lingering around” to increase billable hours.
Executive coaching is an investment in human capital at key levels in your organization. A successful coaching engagement has the potential for a multitude of positive impacts, both to your organization and to your bottom line. Take your time upfront, ask the key questions, ensure the optimal match, and measure results.
To your success!
Susan Madonia is an ECC Partner and Executive Coach based in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Susan hails with over 20 years of proven HR and leadership experience leading successful organizations amidst significant transition and change. Prior to ECC, Susan led HR and M&A integrations at Elkay Manufacturing (VP and Officer), Sara Lee (VP), and Ameritech (VP overseeing 30,000 employees), where she was an integral part of the leadership team that built a first-class Customer Service Division which received the prestigious J.D. Powers Award for Customer Service. Susan holds a MS in Organizational Communication from Illinois State University and a BS in Business Administration and Organization Communication from Carroll University.