Selecting a Coach: What Industrial and Organizational
Psychologists Bring to the Table
Executives use coaches for themselves or for subordinates
for a variety of reasons. These reasons, however, often boil down to one
thing: the belief that an individual will be more effective if he or she
changes. The need for change can be urgent as in coaching a candidate who
has put a promising career in jeopardy. Or, the need can be subtle
as in dealing with a talented individual facing a new challenge requiring new
and untested skills.
Many individuals market their services as executive or
management coaches. How can you find those who are most likely to promote
lasting change in the needed direction? Understanding individual
behavior, the organizational setting in which the person works, and the demands
that they place on individuals as managers and leaders requires in-depth
knowledge and professional expertise. Knowledge becomes expertise only
through practical relevant experience gained in the work place as well as the
classroom. Whom should you call for the knowledge and expertise required
for the development of a potential star, the recharge of a prodigy who has
reached a plateau, or the rescue of a derailing executive?
Effective coaching requires expertise in a wide array of
fields including assessment, measurement and evaluation, change management,
adult learning and development, leadership development, performance management,
organizational behavior, and team dynamics. Because psychologists educated
in Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I-O) have a doctoral degree and a
thorough education in these fields, they are particularly qualified to provide
effective coaching assistance. Equally important, I-O psychologists have
in-depth relevant experience in organizational settings. I-O
psychologists typically have served internships in organizational settings.
Most I-O psychologists subsequently assume managerial and/or consulting roles in
organizations. Some work as internal consultants and are employed by an
organization; others establish independent consulting practices and serve as
external consultants to organizations. I-O psychologists, who choose
careers in teaching and research, almost always consult with organizations in
some fashion, staying involved in current issues and keeping research and theory
relevant to contemporary concerns.
Effective coaches can be found through many sources.
For example, this web site offers a Consultant Locator Service that
contains a list of I-O psychologists who offer coaching services. Often
word of mouth is an effective way to identify capable consultants.
Regardless of how potential coaches are found, the user must evaluate their
skills and expertise. Here are some questions to help evaluate potential
is your training and experience in the following areas?
Comment: Many people call themselves coaches, and
their education may range from a one-day continuing education course to a
doctoral degree from a major research university. (See the SIOP website
for information on doctoral and masters level programs in I-O psychology.)
Many organizations certify coaches although the meaning of many of these
certification efforts is not clear. We believe the most effective coaches
are well educated in the areas of I-O psychology listed above and encourage an
organization to ask detailed questions about education and experience.
Assessing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of
individuals is of special value in delivering coaching services. Many
coaches rely heavily on assessment instruments as the foundation of their
approach to coaching. Unfortunately, some very popular and easily
accessible instruments have little or no data to demonstrate their value or
their usefulness. Ask questions to determine if the coach can separate the
faddish and trendy tools from the truly useful. Additionally, find out
what assessment instruments the coach may use since many are only available to
doctoral-level psychologists or professionals working under their supervision.
much and what kind of experience do you have in organizations?
much and what kind of experience do you have in this industry and with
individuals in this role (e.g., line management, staff functions,
this coach work well in your culture?
Comment: The answers to these questions will help
you learn if a coach understands your organizational behavior in general and the
particular challenges individuals face in your industry and can work well in
your organization and with the individuals targeted for coaching.
many people have you coached?
did you identify the problem(s) of the individual?
do you assess the individual?
tools do you use? What experience have you had using them?
kind of action planning process do you use?
kinds of developmental activities do you employ?
do you evaluate progress? How? When?
Comment: Determining what the individual needs to
work on is a fundamental part of the coaching process. Ask questions to
determine how thoughtful, objective, and strategic the coach is in identifying
the most important issues for both the individual and the organization.
Coaches normally gather information from a variety of sources rather than simply
accept one persons diagnosis of the situation. I-O psychology is a
databased professionI-O psychologists make decisions
based on information rather than their own beliefs, values, or perceptions.
Ask what kinds of tools the coach will use to gather information. Watch
out for gimmicks and one- size-fits-all solutions.
Make sure the coach is using tools that are valid, i.e., have evidence of their
usefulness for their intended purpose, and appropriate for the individual and
do you evaluate the effectiveness of your coaching?
often do you evaluate the effectiveness of your coaching?
Comment: Coaching should result in long-term,
sustainable changenot quick fixes or superficial
changes. Ask questions to determine how the coach evaluates whether the
goals of coaching have been accomplished.
does the coach handle ethics of confidentiality?
sees data collected in the coaching process?
information is shared with others (e.g., CEO, Board, other manager, HR)?
ethics code guides your work?
does the coach handle ethical problems?
are your limitations in terms of the people and organizations with whom you
kinds of people would you NOT work with?
Comment: Several ethical questions frequently
arise in coaching relationships. First, coaching often involves sharing
sensitive personal information. The person being coached needs to
understand who else will have access to such information and the coach must
share how such information will be protected. Second, coaching often
involves two clients the person being coached and the organization
requesting the coaching who sometimes have conflicting needs. Ask
questions to determine how the coach will go about resolving possible
differences in the persons needs and the organizations. Third, few
if any coaches can handle all situations and all people. Find out what
coaches perceive as their limitations.
One short hand method for assessing the ethical
conscientiousness of the coach is to simply ask what ethics code guides his or
her work. Psychologists who are a member of the Society for Industrial and
Organizational Psychology (SIOP) must adhere to the American Psychological
Associations Ethical Code.
are the business terms of this relationship?
much does coaching cost?
long wills the coaching last?
happens if the person being coached or the organization is unhappy with
the process or the results?
are your references?
Coaching is also a business relationship. Before
engaging a coach, be sure to define the terms and conditions under which the
coach will work. Finally, ask for references from other clients so that
you can evaluate the effectiveness of the coach.
Selecting an individual coach (or a coaching firm) is an
important and sometimes time-consuming process. Make sure that you take
the time to find an individual (or firm) who has the skills and approach that
works for your organization and your needs.