Finding The Perfect Coaching Partner

  • Ami Au-Yeung
  • December 15th, 2020

Finding the ideal coaching partner for your organisation can be a significant challenge. Ezra talks through the key considerations and what questions to ask to put together a world-class business coaching RFP.

Coaching Partner RFP

Faced with a pressing need to help your leaders forge ahead through an increasingly uncertain world, you’ve decided to take the plunge and partner with a leadership coaching firm.

What a smart cookie you are.

Coaching is a difference maker. In the world of development, it’s a superpower that can supercharge your people.

It can help leaders at all levels of your organization become more effective, more empathetic and more productive. Ultimately, a well-coached leader will help make all of your people more engaged and productive. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario in leadership development.

But for most organizations, developing an appetite for coaching is not the toughest part. The real challenge is finding the right coaching partner. And that, my friend, can be a real mind-bending experience.

So many providers, so many approaches, so many promises. The leadership coaching industry is a complex matrix of solutions, technologies and philosophies. It’s also an industry that is chock full of posers – fitness trainers, wellness gurus and holistic practitioners – moonlighting as professional business coaches.

In a bid to help you understand the true and full power of coaching and how to find your perfect coaching partner, we’ve decided to pull back the curtain and tell you a few things that many other coaching firms won’t. Think of it as your coaching partner checklist.

What leadership coaching is (and what it isn’t)

In short, coaching is one of the most powerful development tools ever created.

It’s a very personalized, intimate, one-on-one intervention that focuses on collaboration between coach and coachee to achieve pre-defined outcomes, some organizational and some personal. It’s all about setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change in a way that works for an individual leader.

Coaches do not “tell” coachees what to do; they help leaders examine the challenges they face and then identify their own solutions. It’s all about the journey to grow as an individual and the coach serves as a guide. It is, in every way, a true partnership.

If that’s what coaching is, then what is it not?

Coaching is not mentoring, counselling or training. Although valuable in and of themselves, those disciplines are more about imparting wisdom or knowledge to a leader. Although they may involve coaching-like approaches, the relationships are more hierarchical, particularly in a mentor-mentee scenario.

And let’s be totally frank. Although you may have many hobbies and share an interest in a particular type of cuisine, coaching is not about swapping recipes for healthy eating or setting fitness goals. It’s not guidance on yoga poses or meditation. Those are all valuable and satisfying activities. But they do not fall into the realm of professional coaching.

How to start a search for the perfect coaching partner?

If you’re company has never provided coaching at scale, or limited coaching solutions to a select few senior executives, then you’re going to have to do some homework before you can start looking for that perfect professional coaching partner.

To be effective, a coaching solution needs to be fully aligned with an organization and its leadership culture. There is very little value in providing coaching for leaders that is at odds with the expectations the organization has for those leaders.

So, methodically ask the following questions and record the answers. They will help to inform your search for a coaching firm.

  • Who makes decisions about leadership development in your company and what are their expectations?
  • How would your organization define the goals for your leadership and talent strategy?
  • How would you define and measure success in leadership development?
  • What are the ideal behaviour and mindset changes you would like to see from your leaders after they are exposed to coaching?
  • What strengths do you want to see enhanced?
  • How would you like your employees to act differently?

When you can answer these questions, then you are ready to start looking for a coaching partner. You now know how decisions about leadership development are made, the goals and modes of measurement and the desired outcomes. Let’s start shopping for a professional coach.

How to find your perfect coaching partner

Be warned: this is a very competitive industry and there is a huge variance between the real coaching pros and the posers. You will do much better if you understand how to spot a real coach but also if you have a list of must-have requirements.

Your coaching partnership must involve:

A firm that offers certified, accredited and 100-per-cent full-time, professional coaches. A coaching partner that takes the time to ask you questions to find out your organization’s needs and desired outcomes. And you definitely want a coaching partner that will ensure that the work completely aligns with organizational and leadership culture.

You can deduce a lot of this information from reading a coaching partner’s website or marketing content. But a better approach is to structure an RFP that will give you all the answers you need to pick the right firm.

The coaching RFP checklist

Here are some examples of questions that absolutely, positively must be part of your RFP:

  • What professional coaching credentials do your coaches hold? There are a lot of self-trained, self-identified coaches out there. You definitely want someone with credentials from a recognized leader in the coaching profession, like the International Coaching Federation.
  • What experiences do your coaches have with coaching diverse employees from different backgrounds and industries? Your employee group is a collection of individuals with diverse experiences, backgrounds and career goals. Your coaching partner should be able to find you coaches that are similarly diverse and possess a wealth of related career experience.
  • How big is the coach pool? It’s important to have a broad selection of coaches to pick from. Both to ensure that your leaders are getting coaching when they need it, but also to ensure that there is proper fit between coach and coachee.
  • What languages do your coaches speak and where are they located? Business is a global concern now and coaching needs to be able to reflect a broad array of languages, cultures, and time zones.
  • What is the diversity mix of your coaches? For example, gender, racial diversity, LGBTQ+. Diversity and inclusion are important considerations in picking a coaching partner. You definitely want a partner that can draw upon an extremely diverse roster of coaches that reflect the importance of gender, race and sexual orientation.
  • How do you match coaches with employees? Coaching firms with small coach rosters will not allow for an intensive matching process. A broad and deep pool of coaches, and a process that helps coachees identify the kind of person they want to work with, will ensure a good match.
  • Describe your coaching process? Even with global certifications, different firms still employee different models of coaching. Ask a prospective coaching partner to define their approach. As well, is there a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach or flexibility to design coaching solutions that fit the individual?
  • What type of technology do you use for the coaching platform? With the pandemic still impacting face-to-face business interactions, it’s more important than ever to know the full details of your coaching partner’s technology platform. If not in person, then how will they deliver coaching? Will they rely on off-the-shelf video conferencing apps, or do they have a full proprietary platform that allows for seamless integration of coaching with scheduling, feedback and the measuring of outcomes?
  • Can your coaching partner measure outcomes? Many coaching providers deliver the service but offer no way of gathering insights or generating reports on feedback and outcomes. If your organization is paying the freight for coaching, don’t you want to know the impact it’s having on your people?
  • Who are some of your clients and what do they have to say about your work? Testimonials from other client organizations are a very good way of assessing the quality of any coaching firm. Let’s face it, if a coaching partner is good at their job, why wouldn’t clients want to sing it from the rooftops.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s certainly a good start and it captures many of the most important questions to ask a prospective coaching partner.

Coaching can have a profound impact on an organization and its people. But only if you have taken the time to find the best coaching partner. Best in terms of service, technology and outcomes.

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