Coachee Preparation — a Key Step in Successful Matching

Here at the-Coaching Blog-run by Gerard O’Donovan, our aim is to constantly bring value to those seeking to improve their lives. Therefore we have a policy of publishing articles and materials by guest authors whom we value and appreciate. Today’s guest author is Caroline Taylor.


Executive Coaching is primarily concerned with improving organisation capability through focused development of individuals. This almost always involves a change in behaviour. So, why, when readiness for change is such a central tenet of good Organisation Development practice, does this aspect get neglected at the “softer” end of OD initiatives?

Poor preparation of coachees is one of the most common weaknesses in coaching activities. It is often the most costly, especially when it results in a poor match. In today’s climate, maximising return from coaching programmes is a pressing priority.

Where coachees are unprepared there are several likely results:

  • Coaches spend valuable and often chargeable time preparing the client.
  • Clients may come to coaching with a degree of uncertainty and suspicion.
  • Some coaches, well briefed by the organisation, find that the client has not had the same information. This creates an undesirable “messenger” role for the coach.


The constraint for organisations is time and resources. Research by Jericho Partners found that many HR Directors are keenly aware that their coaching processes need to be improved. They just don’t have the capacity to get to it and it remains too low on their priority list. However, under investment in preparation may be a false economy. Fortunately, there are a few important steps you can take to help your coachees get the most from coaching.

Defining coaching

Coaching is still undefined for too many people. This often creates unrealistic expectations on the part of the coachee. The definition also changes depending on the culture, maturity and strategy of each organisation. Coaching needs to align with the business goals and be seen as part of a broader development strategy. It can’t be seen as sitting in isolation. Therefore a common language and understanding its purpose is essential for sense making and for removing mystique, which often does more harm than good.

Good practice guidelines for defining coaching:

Create an agreed description of coaching for everyone to use.

  • Link coaching to organisation values and goals.
  • Explain how coaching differs from mentoring, consulting and counselling.
  • Don’t assume a level of understanding about coaching — especially with senior leaders.
  • Make sure your coaches, especially external ones, understand your definition.

Deciding purpose and objectives

The need for clarity here is dependent on the seniority of the individual. However, without clear objectives there are many coachees who suspect some form of remedial objective on the part of the organisation. This leads to defensiveness — the question “Why am I here?” quickly becomes a barrier. It also results in the coach spending time — often more than one session — helping their clients become clear on the purpose of coaching for them.

A lack of clarity and agreement also results in the coachee setting their own objectives. When these don’t align to those of the organisation, problems may follow.

Good Practice Guidelines for clarifying objectives:

  • Be clear and transparent about the purpose of coaching.
  • Create a process that enables reflection and discussion about coaching objectives.
  • Involve the line manager in agreeing objectives.
  • Encourage personal goals as well as organisation goals.
  • Consider a more flexible, individual approach for top executives.

Personal Readiness

At a macro level, considerable thought is given to timing and organisation’s readiness for many people initiatives. Somehow this gets lost at the micro level of activity — individual readiness. For coaching, there are two potential problems here — timing and mindset.

Coaching programmes are often triggered by specific events such as a development programme or a promotion. Whilst this makes sense, personal circumstances and workload can create potential challenges for coachees. Address this early on — otherwise it becomes a block to engagement and learning.

The mindset of an individual is also critical. An open mind, willing to explore new perspectives and make time for thoughtful self-assessment and reflection is essential for successful coaching. Someone who is not ready to make this investment, or pays lip service to it, is unlikely to get value from the opportunity presented.

Good Practice Guidelines for ensuring readiness

  • Check for work or personal conflicts that may get in the way.
  • Offer support where appropriate to negate the conflict.
  • Do some readiness checking — attitude, openness etc.
  • Defer the coaching if there are no obvious solutions or the conflict is significant.

The coaching relationship

For people who have never been coached, there is great value in spending time preparing them for the coaching relationship.

The more senior a leader is, the less feedback he/she receives. The feedback they do get is often lacking in substance. Leaders often feel a need to show strength; showing vulnerability or uncertainty can feel quite alien to them. They may also be unaccustomed to being challenged!

Leaders also, in many cases, desperately need time to think. They spend so much time fighting fires or rushing from one initiative to the next that thinking time is rare and reflecting becomes a forgotten skill.

Therefore, these elements, which feature in most effective coaching relationships, may initially feel very uncomfortable. Preparing an individual for this will enable a deeper level of trust in the process. It also enables the coach to spend more time working on issues that will move the coachee forward.

Good Practice Guidelines for describing an effective coaching relationship

  • Be clear about some of the uncomfortable moments — and the longer term gains.
  • Share some anonymous examples from people who have experienced coaching.
  • Emphasise the unique opportunity for total honesty and openness without risk.
  • Be clear and consistent about the confidentiality of coaching.

Selecting a coach

Little is written about matching coaches to coachees. However, some simple steps can enable a coachee to select the right coach.

Many organisations now adopt a matching process which frequently involves some pre-selection and presentation of a number of coaches for the client to select from.

This seems to work pretty well but it also requires some guidance for the coachee in their selection criteria. However, research shows that an uninformed coachee usually selects someone with whom they feel safe — often someone very similar to themselves.

An informed, prepared coachee however, often recognises the value of a coach with a different perspective or background. This can help to make the coaching experience truly transformational.

Good Practice Guidelines for coach selection

  • Encourage coachees to reflect on what style will best support them with their objectives.
  • Discuss the merits of similarity and differences in a coach.
  • Consider the ideal ratio of support and challenge from the coach.
  • Invest time in selecting the shortlist of coaches — ensure they are different from each other.
  • Debrief thoroughly after the selection process.
  • Never impose a coach on a coachee.

The real benefits of coachee preparation

The HR function is stretched as much as everyone else, finding the time to prepare coachees is challenging even if the value is clear. However, there is a compelling argument for doing so. Some simple steps which produce big results include:

  • Develop a self-driven preparation tool for individuals before the coaching starts.
  • Run half-day preparation workshops for a large number of individuals.
  • Create coaching champions whose role is to brief and prepare people before coaching.

Within my own client base, thinking about preparation is paying dividends. One client commissioned preparation workshops for people about to experience 360 degree feedback and follow up coaching.

This client is an engineering business that has never experienced 360 degree feedback before and the results were significant in a number of ways:

  • The consistency of the message removed cynicism or suspicion which had been a big concern given there had been considerable re-structuring.
  • There was a greater openness and discussion about the process which aided learning.
  • The leadership support for the process was visible and gave it credibility.
  • The quality of feedback provided by raters far exceeded expectations and increased the value for the participants. This, in turn, gave greater focus for the coaching sessions.

Preparing people for coaching doesn’t have to be a costly or time-consuming exercise. It enables readiness for individuals and ties the coaching initiative into broader organisation objectives to aid credibility and buy-in.

Credit Source: Caroline Taylor

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Gerard O'donovan

Gerard O'donovan

CEO and Founder of Noble Manhattan,,,, Visit me-

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