10 Tips for Business Leaders Hiring a Business Coach

By Marie Taylor, Steve Crabb

If you’re looking at business coaching only from a best price perspective, you’ll probably be disappointed and you may end up with buyer’s remorse. There are more important criteria for you to consider than just price.

When hiring a coach, think of the process as a two-way conversation and building a professional relationship. Not only are you interviewing the potential coach, but a great coach will be interviewing you to ensure it’s a “win-win” for everyone involved. Think of hiring a coach as a collaborative process, and you’ll get a great result.

Be clear about where you want to end up

Begin with the end in mind, and you’ll not only have a direction to head but also be able to describe your goals with your prospective coach. Your coach will then be in a position to lay out a road map that’ll take you from where you are now to where you want to be.

Ask yourself, “What will I have after the coaching is over?” Be as detailed as you can in your response. If you don’t know what you want, how will a coach know how to help you reach your goals?

Be willing to be wrong

Sometimes you simply don’t know what you want, and that’s often the theme for the coaching in the first place: getting clarity. If you already have clarity, be willing to be questioned and challenged about your wants, needs, and assumptions. What you’re aiming for may be unrealistic, not challenging enough, or simply wrong.

During a meeting with a prospective client, one business coach listened to Charlotte outline the detailed coaching plan for her senior management team. She wanted coaching to improve communication skills, accountability, and responsibility, with a focus on improving their ability to delegate. Staff members were underperforming and making mistakes, and people were failing to be accountable or take responsibility for their mistakes. The company had a culture of blame and denial.

After listening to Charlotte’s proposal for a one-on-one coaching program with each senior manager, the business coach asked what the response had been when the coaching program was discussed at senior management meetings. There was no response, because it hadn’t been discussed.

This coach questioned the relevance and effectiveness of wanting a one-on-one program when a group cultural change was what was needed. He needed to coach the organization from top down to be open, honest, accountable, and responsible, and this required them to communicate and work toward these goals as a team. After initially being reluctant, Charlotte agreed, and a senior management training program was arranged, supported by follow-up one-on-one sessions, with the entire management, team including Charlotte.

When you discuss your outcomes with your prospective coach be willing to explore not what you think you want, but what’s really needed. Be willing to find a coach who wants to exceed your expectations.

Seek out a different point of view

When you’re looking to address a particular solution or need, you may want to seek a coach who has an in-depth knowledge of your particular industry or niche. For example, if you work in recruitment, seeking a coach who specializes in recruitment may seem like an obvious choice, but someone who specializes may do what everyone else within your industry is already doing.

Working with a coach from a totally different background and perspective is valuable. That person may challenge the normal approaches to business and help you see possibilities you hadn’t considered before. If you want different results from your competition, be willing to explore different ways of doing business.

Take the time to interview coaches who have great credentials but may not have pigeon-holed themselves to one industry sector. Think outside the box!

Lay the groundwork

Time spent preparing the brief and exploring the framework for a coaching program is time well spent. Be willing to explore with prospective coaches alternative ways of delivering.

If you’re looking for a large-scale program, invest in a preprogram inquiry and diagnostic session. Some coaches will do this free of charge; others will do a diagnostic for a fee, which can then be offset and recovered once a coaching contract has been signed.

Although you know your business better than any coach ever will, an experienced coach will be better able to determine what you really need and how it can best be delivered. People don’t know what they don’t know, so don’t assume that you’ll automatically know what’s available. Ask!

Focus on substance over style

Some students wanted to take part in a team headed by Dr. Richard Bandler, co-creator of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), and best-selling author Paul McKenna. Each year, they trained more than 5,000 people in NLP and coaching. The benefits of being on the team included working with high-performing coaches, sitting in on a minimum of six coaching and NLP training sessions a year, and getting the opportunity to work with hundreds of people in a short space of time.

The question students always asked was: “How do I get on the assisting team?”

The answer was always the same: “First, you don’t ask. Second, I am not interested in what you tell me you have done. I’m only interested in what you can do.”

Only those people who showed the right attitudes were invited onto the team for a probationary period. During this probationary period, they were trained and tested.

Who they had previously trained with, the quality of their websites, their fame, or the number of books they had written had no relationship to their actual abilities to be a great coach.

Avoid falling into the trap of thinking that a society logo or good-looking website is the same as someone being a great coach. Test, test, test, whether in conversations, meetings, or through trial coaching sessions, and you’ll soon sort out those who talk a good coaching talk from those who walk the walk.

Find the best fit for your business

If you go shopping with a list, you’re more likely to return with what you want. In order to find the best coach for you or your team, decide on the criteria and quality of the coach you want to work with before you go shopping.

After telling prospective coaches about your business and its needs, ask them questions like these:

  • Why do you think we would be a good fit?
  • How do you know that?
  • What happens if we find we aren’t a good fit?
  • How would you deal with that?

Get stakeholder participation

It takes two to tango. If you’re looking for a coach to work with other people at your company, you should consider those people’s needs and wants. Talk to them about what they’re looking for in a coach, and assess their willingness to be coached in the first place.

The conversations you have with staff are as important as the conversations you’ll have with prospective coaches. If team members are having coaching forced upon them, the coach may have to spend a lot of time getting those folks in the right frame of mind for coaching before the real coaching can even begin.

Ask prospective coaches for advice on dealing with stakeholder resistance or sabotage. Their answers will give you insights into their experience and help you choose a coach who is equipped to get stakeholders onboard and keep them engaged.

Avoid one-size-fits-all coaching

Great coaches always have more than one set of coaching resources to draw upon. They’ve usually trained with a number of organizations and explored a wide variety of coaching approaches.

When you select a coach who has lot of tools in her toolbox, you know that whenever what she’s doing isn’t working, she’ll have the flexibility to try another approach.

Explore with prospective coaches their different approaches to coaching. Make sure they aren’t assuming that all clients will neatly fit into their coaching-by-numbers workbook.

Manage your expectations

When you search for and interview prospective coaches, always aim for the best you can afford. The highest price isn’t always a measure of coaching effectiveness, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Professional coaches treat their business as all professionals do, and they value their time and expertise. If you want a coach who has invested thousands of hours in perfecting his practice and has a number of books to his name and a string of testimonials, don’t expect him to cost the same as a brand-new coach who has only trained with one coaching academy.

Dot your i’s and cross your t’s

An experienced coach will present you with her standard terms and conditions, usually as part of a contract. This shows she has experience and wants to make sure that the terms will work for both parties.

The terms and conditions should include the following:

  • Clearly outlined fees and payment terms
  • The coach’s policies regarding attendance and canceled appointments
  • The coach’s travel costs, additional costs for travel days, and so on
  • Provisions for ending the relationship or for putting the coaching on hold
  • Arrangements for providing feedback
  • The coach’s policies regarding confidentiality and conflicts of interest