What does the profile of a good external coach look like? (2022)

The variable quality of coaches who are working in the industry has resulted in practitioners adopting a morediscriminating approach in order to identify high-calibre coaches and secure a quality service. New researchfrom the University of Central England and Origin Consulting (Arnott and Sparrow 2004) reveals that somelarge organisations that use coaching extensively are already using fairly stringent criteria. Apart from theright cultural fit and personal style, the research indicates that they are also keen to establish other coachingcredentials such as evidence of a positive track record, having a structured approach, relevant qualifications,adherence to professional standards and evidence of supervision of coaches.

Here are some of the areas that HR practitioners should consider when selecting coaches:

Appropriate level of coaching experience. Different levels of coaching experience may be required,

depending on the complexity of the issues being addressed, as well as the seniority of the individual. Thecoach needs to be ‘fit for purpose’. For example, the level of experience and skill set of a coach needed toprovide career coaching for a junior manager would be different from those needed when an executive isbeing coached. To ascertain their level of experience, the coach should be questioned about how manyhours of coaching they have delivered, how many coaching assignments they have delivered, what kindsof issues they have coached individuals for, and at what level of seniority they usually work.

Relevant business/industry experience.An interesting, and debatable, criterion when selecting a

coach is whether to look for candidates with relevant business experience (eg of a particular job,organisation or industry sector). Opinions differ as to whether this is a necessary requirement. Mostpeople would agree that coaches do need strong understanding of organisational dynamics and thebusiness world to be effective. However, direct experience of a particular industry or organisation isunlikely to be a necessary requirement for a person to be an effective coach. It is important to rememberthat, while the coach should have a sound knowledge of business, their real contribution is their ability tohelp individuals learn and develop. In some cases, though, industry experience may be desirable. Inparticular, relevant experience can be useful in establishing the ‘face validity’ of the coach (ie for coachesto have credibility with the individuals being coached). The competence and credibility of the coach is amajor part in the process of winning over the individual and creating a good working relationship. Some commentators point out that hiring a coach on the basis of specific experience can be

counterproductive. One of the main benefits of using external coaches is their neutrality and objectivity.They can uncover limiting beliefs, values and assumptions that may be obstructing the strategic objectivesof the individual and the organisation. Coaches should be hired for their ability to help someone seeopportunities for improvements in performance as well as practical ways to help them make changes. Itshould also be noted that, if necessary, HR (working with the coach) can bring in other experts to givespecific technical advice or skills coaching.

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References.Talking to previous clients of the coach is a good way of finding out about their style and

skills, as well as how effective they were in producing the desired results. A good coach should always beable to supply references and it's important for HR practitioners to check them early on in the process toaccurately establish their credentials, experience and ability to deliver.

Background of the coach.Coaches come from a variety of different professional backgrounds. Examples

include human resources, occupational psychology, training and development, sports psychology andmanagement development. Naturally, these different backgrounds will mean that the coaches will bringsome very different experience and skills to the coaching relationship. One of the most contentious debatesis whether or not a coach should have a background in psychology. This is covered in further detail in thesection on qualifications and training (page 48). There are no right and wrong answers here – the key is tofind a good fit with your organisation and the needs and purpose of the coaching intervention.

Supervision.Supervision is a formal, independent process of reflection and review to enable the

practitioner to increase their self awareness, develop their competence and critique their work with theirclient (Lane 2002). Professor Mike van Oudtshoorn and Professor David Lane from the InternationalCentre for the Study of Coaching (ICSC)/Professional Development Foundation suggest a number ofbenefits that supervision can deliver:

- It offers protection to clients – cases are discussed with trained professionals who are able to identifyareas of potential concern and offer advice or referral to specialist support if appropriate.

- It offers coaches the opportunity to reflect on their work and gain insights to improve theirinterventions.

- It offers coaches the opportunity to identify their own personal strengths and weaknesses as a coach inorder to realistically judge what limitations to set with respect to the type of work they undertake.

- It offers coaches the opportunity to learn from peers who have had similar cases and experiences tofurther develop their skills as a coach.

- It offers coaches the opportunity to keep up to date with professionals developments in the field and tocontinually work to increase their competency as a coach.

Because of these benefits, many in the coaching world believe that supervision is an important part of acoach's continuing professional development. There is less agreement, however, about what exactlyconstitutes ‘supervision’ and whether it is necessary throughout a coach’s career or just while they are beingtrained. During selection, HR practitioners can question coaches about their supervision arrangements sothat they feel comfortable with how they review their coaching relationships and keep their skills up to date.

Breadth of tools, techniques, models.Coaches should have an extensive ‘kit bag’ of tools and

techniques that they use in different situations and with different clients. Coaches should be able to clearlydescribe their favoured approaches, but you should watch out for coaches who push particular models andare unable or unwilling to flex their approach to suit a particular individual/organisation. Good coaches willuse models, techniques and frameworks from a wide range of theoretical backgrounds, including


HR people should not be overawed by the high number of different models, frameworks or techniques.As with many things, the simplest tools/techniques are often the most effective. Coaches should use toolsthat are ‘fit for purpose’ to encourage reflective learning and change, and they should be able to describethese clearly and concisely during selection.

Understanding of boundaries and approach to referral.Coaches should understand the boundaries of

their expertise. This means that coaches should not knowingly accept an individual into a coachingprogramme if they need specialist support beyond the competence of the coach or the resources available.In this situation, the coach should encourage the individual to seek appropriate support from a qualifiedprofessional. It is essential that coaches understand their own limitations and can see when their

methods/techniques are not able to address an individual’s needs. In this situation, the coach, in conjunctionwith HR, should follow a process to identify an appropriate practitioner to refer the individual on to.

Relevant qualifications and training.Coaches should be able to demonstrate that they are competent

in the provision of coaching services. One way of proving this is to demonstrate that they possess arelevant qualification. A considerable debate surrounds what is considered a suitable ‘relevant

qualification’. A key debate is whether or not coaches need to be fully qualified as chartered psychologistswith the British Psychological Society (BPS). Advocates suggest that these individuals will have a solidunderstanding of how people work, covering topics such as personality, learning, behaviour, motivationand so on. Berglas (2002) argued: 'I believe that in an alarming number of situations, executive coacheswho lack rigorous psychological training do more harm than good. By dint of their backgrounds andbiases, they downplay or simply ignore deep-seated psychological problems they don’t understand.'However, other parties argue that although coaches need a good understanding of relevant psychologicalprinciples and theories, it is not necessary for them to be formally qualified as a chartered psychologist.This is because coaching qualifications should cover relevant psychological theories in enough depth toprovide individuals with a necessary grounding for them to operate as a coach.

The training of coaches should be fit for purpose. There is definitely a place for short introductory courses,but, as with any discipline, expertise will vary depending on the length of the course, level of

qualification, depth of study, practical experience of delivery and extent of supervision and supportreceived while studying.

There are now a number of different training routes for coaches, and new professionals have a wide rangeof options to choose from. Specific coaching qualifications, ranging from masters-level to short courses, arebeing offered by institutions across the UK and across the world. Understandably, a qualification that isspecific to ‘coaching’ would seem like the most relevant qualification for a coach to have. However, peopleshould remember that these qualifications have only been available relatively recently and therefore themajority of professionals delivering coaching services will not possess one of these newer qualifications. Insuch cases you should examine their other formal qualifications and experience.

It is also worth noting that if you are employing a coach for the specific transfer of skills (eg skills-basedcoaching on presentation skills), you should look for any further ‘skills-based’ qualifications they might need.

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There is a large number of providers involved in training and accreditation in the fields of coaching. Usefulsources of information on page 74 provides information about some of the different coaching providers,including their contact details and details of the courses offered.

Membership of professional bodies.Buyers of coaching services should certainly consider membership

of professional bodies as part of their selection criteria. Professor Stephen Palmer, Past Chair of the

Coaching Psychology Forum, believes: 'the good practitioners are likely to be a member of coaching-relatedprofessional bodies, have relevant qualifications and take part in ongoing continuing professional

development.' As the table in the appendix demonstrates, all the main professional bodies demand thatmembers adhere to codes of conduct and ethics with associated complaints procedures. While this is not awatertight guarantee, it does offer some avenue for complaint if the services delivered are unsatisfactory.

Professional indemnity insurance.Coaches can be asked whether they subscribe to professional

indemnity insurance. Holders of professional indemnity insurance may be understood to take theirprofessional services more seriously by preparing for any situations where they unintentionally have anegative impact on their clients. In order to be clear, HR practitioners can ask coaches whether or not theyhold professional indemnity insurance, with whom and for how much. This also provides the organisation(and HR practitioner) with some legal protection if problems arise as a result of a coaching interventionintroduced by them. Before a coach is formally hired, the HR practitioner should ask to see their certificateof insurance.

Other qualities/personal characteristics.The best coaches are those who give honest, realistic,

challenging, feedback, are good listeners and suggest good ideas for action. Beyond looking for specificqualifications, experience and knowledge, it is important to look for coaches who have certain qualities,skills or personal characteristics that are critical to successful coaching. Different qualities may be neededdepending on the specific individual, the problems being tackled and the organisational context. However,it is widely agreed that there are some general skills that characterise effective coaches. These include:

• Self-awareness and self-knowledge • Clear and effective communication skills

(verbal and non-verbal)

• Relationship-building skills (including ability toestablish rapport)

• Flexibility of approach

• Listening and questioning skills

• Ability to design an effective coaching process• Ability to assist goal development and

setting, including giving feedback

• Ability to motivate

• Ability to encourage new perspectives • Ability to assist in making sense of a situation• Ability to identify significant patterns of

thinking and behaving

• Ability to challenge and give feedback• Ability to establish trust and respect• Ability to facilitate depth of understanding• Ability to promote action


The European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) has drawn together an extensive map of the specificknowledge, skills, behaviours and personal attributes of coaches and mentors that relate to the generalabilities described above. This important initiative has engaged participants from the UK, mainland Europeand Australia and is the most comprehensive review of coaching and mentoring professional standards andtheir associated behavioural indicators.

Building on this work, a key output will be the publication of a set of coach and mentor standards. Thesestandards will be an important future resource for organisations in supporting the decisions associated withselecting coaches and mentors as well as the design and evaluation of coach and mentor training

programmes. More information about this project can be found on the EMCC websitewww.emccouncil.org.uk

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Part 7

Coach selection and matching

Because of their knowledge and experience of recruitment, HR practitioners are well placed to undertake athorough coach selection process. Many of the processes used in general recruitment can be adapted to fit thecoach-selection process, as the same general principles apply. Nevertheless, you should still take time over theselection process to make sure you find the right match for both the organisation and individual concerned.Even if just a single coach is being hired, it’s still worth using a rigorous, carefully thought-out process.

The details of the selection process to be used when recruiting a coach will depend on whether you areseeking to recruit a single coach to work with an individual, or a pool of suitable coaches that you can then‘match’ to individuals in the organisation as and when coaching is identified as a suitable developmentintervention. If you are selecting a coach to work with an individual, the first step will be to look at theparticular needs of that individual and draw this into a desired coach profile. An example of a coach selectionprocess in this instance is shown in Figure 17. However, it is important to make sure that the process youadopt will suit the particular needs and culture of your organisation.

Figure 17: Example of a coach selection process when recruiting a single coach

When an organisation is implementing coaching for a series of individuals in the organisation, it is oftensensible for the organisation to identify a number of suitable coaches (a ‘pool’) who fit the desired

requirements of the organisation. This allows the organisation to recruit a series of practitioners who fulfil theorganisation’s basic requirements, but who may also have different specialisms or approaches to coaching.Developing a pool of coaches in this way also allows the possibility of offering individuals a choice about who

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