The importance of preparing coachees for coaching

“You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility”

— Byron Dorgan

With the continued rise of leadership coaching within organisations, often 1-2-1 programmes are not set up as effectively as they could be for success.

Our aim with this blog post is to highlight some simple preparatory elements that can support impactful coaching programmes.

For the coaches amongst us, do any of the following sound familiar?

“I don’t know, my manager said that coaching would be a good thing for me to have but I am not really sure what she meant.”


“You are the expert coach; it would help me if you could tell me what I should focus on with you.”


“Coaching is part of this leadership development programme, but I am not really sure what I want to work on.”

These are all real examples taken from practicing coaches which illustrate what happens when coaching is offered without clarity around what the coachee need is.   

Is coaching the right intervention? 

Coaching is for a purpose and should be considered alongside other possible development options to see which might be the most effective. 

For example:

  • Is the need to build skills?  If there is a learning gap, potentially a training programme might be more suitable / cost effective.
  • Are there performance issues?  The robustness and clarity of the performance management conversation and the relationship between the coachee and their boss is critical in this.  Coaching can often be considered as a substitute for poor performance management.  Supporting the performance manager to undertake their role with more confidence could be a more sustainable investment.
  • Is coaching being offered to support a development programme? Helping to embed learning is a common use of coaching. For participants, the place of coaching and where it adds different value to other elements of the programme still needs to be clear to get the most benefit.
  • Is the coachee new to the organisation? A great onboarding programme can provide practical support; coaching can provide the space to process the transition.

The role of the coaching manager within an organisation is often to ensure the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ for coaching, and this can be done through a 1:1 conversation with the potential coachee or woven into the design of a programme.

How to help coachees be ‘coaching ready’

Ensuring coachees are prepared to enter into a coaching programme is an element that often is overlooked, resulting in confused and potentially unsatisfactory forays into coaching.

From our experience, it is helpful if the below areas are explored when there is a request for coaching or an offer for coaching that is taken up. Usually, these conversations are best held with the organisation’s coaching manager or team (or HR / L&D if that is where the responsibility for coaching sits)

  1. Clarifying the need. What are coachees’ specific areas of focus / development?
  2. What else might meet this need? Are training, mentoring or therapeutic interventions more suitable to meet this need?
  3. Understanding of coaching. What are coachees’ expectations / understanding of coaching as a way of supporting their development?
  4. Coaching experience to date. What is the coachee’s experience of coaching to date? What worked? What did not work? (Discuss the potential structure of a coaching programme and expectations with them).
  5. Ideal coach. What are the characteristics of the coach that they would ideally like to work with (if they have a view)? This information can then be used for selection and matching of the coach from an internal or external coaching pool.
  6. Confidentiality and Reporting. Discuss confidentiality and any reporting or evaluation requirements.
  7. Three-Way Contracting and Public Goal setting. Discuss the purpose and inclusion of the line manager or sponsor in the coaching process — e.g. in a 3-way contracting meeting and in review meetings.
  8. Commitment to Coaching. Discuss the coachee’s levels of commitment to coaching and the prioritisation of time for coaching vs their role accountabilities.
  9. Next steps. Discuss what’s next in the process. This could be a chemistry meeting or meeting their allocated coach; guide the coachee regarding to what to expect in terms of moving their coaching programme forward.

Of course, executive coaches can and do prepare the coachee during the chemistry/contracting meeting — yet when organisations take the time to really check that coaching is the right development intervention for the individual, they experience a higher level of self-efficacy, commitment, and engagement of the coachee.

In turn, organisations gain the most from their investment. With a more in-depth view of the needs of the coachee, the organisation can also match them more appropriately with a coach — rather than relying on multiple chemistry meetings for a coachee. 

In our experience, when organisations take the time to invest in preparation work with the coachee, it’s more likely that they will trust the coaching process, engage in the relationship and, most importantly, become committed to their own development.

Learn more: Coaching training for organisations |Coaching training for individuals | Online coaching courses

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