Setting coachees up for success – Part 1 – Preparation

Evidence seems to indicate that coaching is an increasingly-used adult development intervention globally and in South Africa. And very often, this intervention is initiated by the person who will be coached (the “client”) rather than by the employer or anyone else. But how well prepared is the client to find the best coach for him or herself and how much does the client know about the coaching process?

Coaching is used in South Africa by a large majority of formal sector organisations and by the public sector. The American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) South African Training Industry Report of 2008 surveyed 335 training professionals, of whom 70% said that they used coaching/mentoring in their organisations[1]. Evidence from the coach directory of the website of Coaches and Mentors of South Africa (COMENSA) indicates that a great deal of coaching takes place apart from employer-sponsored coaching – for example, maternity coaching, life coaching, spiritual coaching and wellness coaching.  There are quite a number of coaches graduating each year from coach training institutions in South Africa and this number is increasing. So the number of coaches in practice is growing every year and it would be reasonable to assume that they are finding work in a growing market.

How do coach and client find each other?

The COMENSA Coaching Survey of 2010[2] shows that 78% of the coachees found their own coach, and sought coaching most often for personal development. The International Coach Federation (ICF) conducted a survey of over 2 000 coaching clients in 64 countries around the world in 2008[3] and found a similar trend – in this survey only 29% of clients had interviewed more than one prospective coach when seeking a coach for themselves, and 58% contracted with the first coach they spoke to.

Lack of coachee preparation

But there is much evidence to suggest that, even though coaching is often initiated by the clients, and even though they find their own coach, they are not often aware of what they are really looking for and what to expect from the coaching. Almost half the organisations responding to the COMENSA survey reported that employees were unsure what coaching is. Caroline Taylor (2009)[4] from the UK reported that 80% of clients felt under-prepared for their coaching experience and if they had had better preparation, they would have had a better coaching experience. Belinda Davies, President of COMENSA from 2009 to 2011, states that “gaining the full benefits of coaching is completely up to the client”[5] and she also agrees that too often, it takes time for the client to “get into” the coaching process and start to take the ownership of the process that is required. The time taken in this “getting up to speed” can be expensive time if the first two or maybe even three coaching sessions are spent on this.

It can be very frustrating for a coach to work with a client who has unrealistic expectations about coaching. Coach respondents in the COMENSA survey expressed a wish that there was better public understanding about coaching, what it can offer, what it cannot offer and what value it brings to the client. One of the conclusions of the ICF survey was that clients choose coaching, rather than therapy or counselling because they believe it gives them an “action plan” rather than simply being sessions during which they explore issues. 85% of the client respondents in the COMENSA survey reported that the goals they had set for their coaching had been reached more than satisfactorily, so this would seem to support the ICF findings that coaching is action-oriented. Clients in the COMENSA survey reported benefits such as improved self-awareness and self-confidence as the major outcomes of coaching, but over half reported more visible results such as improved communication and goal-setting skills.

Coachee readiness

Unfortunately, it is sometimes the case that a client is not ready for coaching. As mentioned, being coached requires a lot of hard work on the part of the client – it is not simply a matter of having cosy chats for an hour twice a month. Coaches often require that “homework” be done between sessions – maybe trying out a new behaviour, or reflecting in a structured way on insights arrived at in the last session. If this sort of time commitment is too much, then probably the client is not ready for the coaching, as the self-development goal is not taking precedence over other urgent issues in the client’s life.

Coach selection

Coaches in the COMENSA survey said it would help if the public understood better what to look for in a coach, rather than, as happens frequently, choosing someone because a friend or colleague recommends him or her. 38% of the ICF clients regarded personal, “word of mouth” referrals as the most influential factor in choosing a coach. Referrals are appreciated, but each coaching relationship is unique, and the chemistry between coach and client is of great importance. The issue of “comfort zone” is often centre-stage in the coach selection process. When entering a process during which one expects personal development, it is more common for a person to choose someone with whom he or she feels comfortable, than to choose someone who might constitute a stretch learning experience. People are therefore limiting the outcomes of their coaching right at the outset.

Even in an employer-sponsored coaching programme, the choice of coach is often left up to the client, sometimes in a process called “guided choice” where a panel of pre-screened coaches might be offered for choice. The ICF survey showed that 72% of clients were solely responsible for their own choice of coach and a further 7% chose jointly with their employer. Therefore, the more carefully a client has considered important factors in such a choice, the more productive that choice is likely to be. But, as mentioned, the “chemistry” is so important for the success of the coaching that a coach selection process should always include a “chemistry session” at which both coach and client can see to what extent they think they will achieve a productive fit.

How to prepare coachees for their coaching journey

Organisations, coaching providers and sponsors of coaching need to build in coachee preparation as the first stage of their coaching programme even before they select coaches and do the matching. This preparation should put coachees in a position where they fully understand what is coaching is about and what it entails, and should provide guidelines for each stage of the journey, as depicted below. This will ensure that coachees take accountability for their learning and participate actively in the coaching. This, in turn, will optimise the returns from the coaching investment both for themselves and for the employer or another sponsor of the coaching.

The second article on this topic will deal with the development of self-coaching capacity in clients.

[This article was originally published in Human Capital Review, 2011]

[1] Meyer & Bushney, 6th annual report, presented at the ASTD South Africa 2009 Conference, April 2009

[2] Available on

[3] Available from

[4] Taylor, C. How to prepare coaching clients. Coaching at Work, June 2009

[5] Foreword to A Guide for Coachees, 2011, Knowres Publishing

Penny Abbott and Kathy Bennett are the authors of “A guide for Coachees: How to optimise your personal coaching journey”, published in March 2011 by Knowledge Resources and available from their online bookstore –

Contact the authors through 082 566 8074 or


Author/s: Penny Abbott and Kathy Bennett  |  ISBN: 9781869221751  |  Publish Date: 11 Mar

Penny Abbott is a founding Partner and Director of MDQ Associates (previously known as Clutterbuck Associates South Africa), a leading consultancy in the support of organisations’ coaching and mentoring programmes. She has a PhD from the University of Johannesburg in Human Resource Management, and M. Phil from the University of Johannesburg in Human Resource Development.

Kathy Bennett is an independent Organisation Development consultant leadership coach. She has a PhD in Coaching from USB-ED, an MA (Professional Coaching) from Middlesex University, an MBL (UNISA), an MA (Professional Coaching) from Middlesex University and  is a faculty member of the business school of the University of Stellenbosch (USB-ED), involved in their Certificate and Masters (M Phil) coaching programmes.