by P. Anne Scoular, Harvard Business Review

There are two basic rules for hiring a coach. First, make sure that the executive is ready and willing to be coached. Second, allow the executive to choose whom he or she wants to work with, regardless of who in the organization initiated the engagement. The survey data support this emphatically: Willingness and good chemistry were by far the most frequently cited ingredients of a successful coaching relationship. Beyond that, respondents had strong and sometimes divergent opinions about what matters most in hiring a coach.

The surveyed coaches agreed for the most part that companies need to look for someone who had experience coaching in a similar situation, but hadn’t necessarily worked in that setting. Organizations should also take into account whether the coach has a clear methodology. According to the survey data, different coaches value different methodologies. Some coaches begin with 360-degree feedback, for example, while others rely more on psychological feedback and in-depth interviews. From an organization’s perspective, methodology is a good way to winnow the pile. If a prospective coach can’t tell you exactly what methodology he uses—what he does and what outcomes you can expect—show him the door. Top business coaches are as clear about what they don’t do as about what they can deliver. For example, a good coach will be able to tell you up front whether or not she is willing to serve as a sounding board on strategic matters.

If a coach can’t tell you what methodology he uses—what he does and what outcomes you can expect—show him the door.

Significantly, coaches were evenly split on the importance of certification. Although a number of respondents said that the field is filled with charlatans, many of them lack confidence that certification on its own is reliable. Part of the problem is the number of different certificates: In the UK alone about 50 organizations issue certificates; buyers are understandably confused about which ones are credible. Currently, there is a move away from self-certification by training businesses and toward accreditation—whereby reliable international bodies subject providers to a rigorous audit and accredit only those that meet tough standards.

What should be the focus of that accreditation? One of the most unexpected findings of this survey is that coaches (even some of the psychologists in the survey) do not place high value on a background as a psychologist; they ranked it second from the bottom on a list of possible credentials. That’s surprising; some of the organizations I’ve worked with will hire only psychologists as coaches. It may be that most of the survey respondents see little connection between formal training as a psychologist and business insight—which, in my experience as a trainer of coaches, is the most important factor in successful coaching.

Although experience and clear methodologies are important, the best credential is a satisfied customer. A full 50% of the coaches in the survey indicated that businesses select them on the basis of personal references. So before you sign on the dotted line with a coach, make sure you talk to a few people she has coached before.

Read the full article here.