Inside Insights: What to consider when hiring an Executive Coach

Mike Gellman

Yes! I had just received the green light from my boss to launch and manage a full-fledged coaching center for a Fortune 500 company. We had just successfully wrapped up a five-month pilot career management program to prepare a diverse cadre of employees and front-line supervisors.

Many organizations have long recognized the benefits and positive impact on business outcomes. Investments in coaching consistently show improvements in leadership effectiveness, productivity, quality, retention, satisfaction, and team engagement to name a few. ROI studies typically show returns of 5:1 for each dollar invested and often can reach 50:1 and higher returns.* These numbers are consistent with my personal experience in 20+ years of coaching leaders at all levels.

Among my many tasks in managing the coaching center, we needed to build a pool of qualified internal and external coaches who would meet the company’s needs for developing individual contributors, emerging high-potential leaders, and Executives. I learned a few things along the way. If you’re a Human Resources leader, department head, or entrepreneur, here are some tips to be mindful of when considering hiring a coach either for yourself or others in your organization.

Ten Tips for Hiring an Executive Coach:

1. identify the problems you wish to solve and the outcomes you want to achieve as a result of hiring a coach.

Are you mostly wanting to prepare individuals for their next role, improve effectiveness in their current role, or keep them engaged and committed to the organization? Common goals that coaches help clients with include increasing confidence, enhancing executive presence, expanding influence, improving delegation, adopting a more global or strategic mindset, and facilitating change.

2. Hire for the right reasons.

Coaching is most effective when it’s voluntary and genuinely focused on the leader’s development. Over the years, I’ve had organizations seek to coach one of their leaders as a “last ditch” effort before terminating them due to performance-related or legal issues. If you’re just going through the motions and coaching is merely a checkbox item, you’re better off saving the money you were going to spend and investing it in someone else with a future in your company.

3. Be flexible on experience and results.

Coaching as a profession is very diversified. When evaluating prospective coaches, consider the number of years they’ve been coaching, industries they’ve served or operated in, type of clients and teams they’ve coached, cultures they’re comfortable navigating including union vs. non-union environments, and the results have they achieved coaching around similar situations. Given that just about anyone can call themselves a “coach,” consider checking to see if they are certified through the International Coach Federation (or a similar organization). The ICF is the gold standard in the coaching profession. While many excellent coaches aren’t officially certified, it’s worth inquiring for an added layer of assurance.    

4. Ask whether they invest in their self-development.

I estimate that I’ve spent over $25,000 over the past four years on having my coach, attending and presenting at conferences and industry-related meetings, participating in mastermind groups, and obtaining additional training in advanced coaching practices and tools so that I can up-level my coaching. Just as you have various employees and other assets that can become outdated, coaches can become stale in their approach. One of the questions you can ask a prospective coach you are considering is whether they have a coach for themselves! To what extent are they continuous learners? The ones that “walk the development talk” can give you an extra layer of confidence.

5. Determine whether their approach aligns with yours.

We interviewed a coach once who created and used an elaborate coaching model that, while quite clever, would have gone over the heads of most of our line managers who needed something more straightforward, easily grasped, and applied to their everyday challenges. I encourage you to ask prospective coaches to describe their coaching philosophy, ethical standards, and process from contracting to completing the coaching engagement. You can ask about the frequency and duration of coaching sessions, assessments, and progress checks, as well as how they can partner with you to support your overall goals and others who will receive coaching.

6. Be as transparent as possible with the needs and constraints you’re under.

Are you and/or others in the organization ready, willing, and able to make the commitment that coaching entails? Are there any company politics, operational pressures, or timelines that need to be considered? I once had an HR Director mention they wanted to hire a coach for the CEO of the organization who was experiencing some personal problems that were affecting his performance at work. Unfortunately, it wasn’t revealed until later in the process that the CEO still needed to be informed and convinced to commit to a coaching process. It ended up being a waste of time for both parties. By being upfront with prospective coaches, they can help you realistically determine if coaching is a viable solution and brainstorm some alternate strategies.

7. Prepare a realistic budget. 

An investment in a standard six-month executive coaching engagement for an executive or high potential leader varies widely but typically ranges between $12,000-25,000. Sometimes it can be much more than that. For individual contributors, coaching is often available at lower rates based on volume. However, numerous nuances make coaches more or less valuable and worth the investment. By doing some initial homework about the coaching marketplace, you will become more empowered and effective in negotiating rates and conditions with prospective coaches that will fit your budget. You’ll also have greater justification should you need to secure additional funds to invest at the level that will get you the results you desire.

8. Interview multiple coaches and ask lots of questions before making the decision.

While referrals are great and should be weighted favorably, what works for one leader may not be the best fit for another leader. Ideally, plan to interview a few coaches. Develop a list of selection criteria and key questions to ask of each coach you’re considering and/or provide some sample questions to leaders in your organization who will be working with a coach. This will help ensure your selection process is robust and that any concerns are adequately addressed.

9. Take a test drive. 

When I was managing the coaching center, we typically would identify two or three prospective coaches and arrange for the leader to have a 30-minute “chemistry” meeting with at least two of them. Most coaches are gladly willing to offer a complimentary coaching session or consultation to prospective clients to allow them to get a feel for the coaching process, ask questions, and determine whether or not the right chemistry exists. If you’re looking to provide coaching for a large number of leaders, you don’t necessarily need to cobble together a coaching corps on your own. Some coaching firms have multiple coaches that you can choose from. These coaches have already typically gone through a vetting process. Plus, if one coach doesn’t work out for some reason, they
can usually quickly provide an alternative coach which can provide you with fewer headaches and greater peace of mind.

10. Communicate candidly and courteously. 

Treat your prospective coaches as you would a friendly neighbor. Keep the lines of communication open and be candid with them about the status of a potential coaching opportunity. If you ask a coach for a formal proposal, acknowledge that you’ve received it and set a time to discuss it. When there’s little probability or intention of contracting with them, give it to them straight and set them free rather than having them jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops or stringing them along for months without resolution.

Coaching is a Relationship Business

It’s important to note that coaching is a relationship business. By incorporating these 10 guidelines into your selection process, you’ll be much more likely to find a coach(es) with just the right combination of skills to unlock the potential of your employees and leaders.

What are the most important criteria for you in hiring a coach?

If you are looking to bring coaching into your organization, feel free to book a complimentary Discovery Session with me. I have a fantastic team of coaches who can help your leaders and employees become more empowered, effective, and essential during these difficult times.

About the Author:
Mike Gellman is an Executive Coach based in Orange County, CA. He acts serves as a speaker, facilitator, and trusted advisor with 15+ years of experience in Fortune 500, nonprofit, and family-owned organizations. He’s the author of Pipe Dreams: 7 Pipelines of Career Success and CEO of High Five Career Coaching. High Five Career Coaching facilitates transformational team building, training, high potential leader development, and other organizational solutions among socially conscious, purpose-driven organizations, leaders, and technical professionals throughout California.

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*ROI Sources: