Coach Gravity Report
A framework for business coach selection
Director, Founder and Business Coach
Foreword by Denis Sartain, executive coach and co-author
'Coaching Essentials', Under Pressure', and 'The Neuroscience of Leadership'
3 December 2020
Estimated reading time: 20 minutes
About the report
In discussions within the market, we at Coachfluence identified that business coachees in South Africa (recently-graduated employees, experienced employees, managers, and executives) often did not recognise key points at which to engage a coach, or had no clear process to identify or select a coach.
It often came down to word-of-mouth recommendations.
We concluded that some guidelines on the subject of coach selection and engagement would be helpful to all potential coachees.
This report is aimed at anyone who wishes to improve their performance and grow, using coaching as a basis. It is also intended to aid HR executives and practitioners, and coaches too.
It addresses the following key questions.
We have developed the Coachee Toolkit to help you, and offer it freely as a part of this report.
Foreword by Denis Sartain, Executive coach and author
I was delighted to be asked to write the foreword to the Coachfluence Coach Gravity Report by Neshica Bheem, who I have known for several years. I first met her as her tutor; she was studying for the Henley certificate in coaching at Henley Business School, Africa in Johannesburg. I was impressed by her knowledge and business acumen, and by her considered and thoughtful approach.
There are many examples in history when certain types of people or particular professions seem to become extremely relevant and appropriate. I believe that this is such a time.
In the space of less than a year, the world has had to rethink many of its models that had worked adequately for decades. Then 2020 came along, and with it, COVID-19.
The manner in which we make sense of the world has been challenged in many different ways, from how we socialise to how we interact at work. The changes have been so fundamental and profound that to deal with them, we must change and adapt our way of thinking.
Never before has coaching been more relevant or more valuable.
The last comparable worldwide event was the so-called Spanish Flu of 1918–20, which (at the time of writing this) infected and killed far more people.
And, much like COVID-19, the world had no defences against it.
We have had a long period of being able to travel around the globe on a whim, fly to other countries for face-to-face meetings, and spend many hours travelling to and from a one-hour meeting. We are accustomed to interacting with one another at such close physical proximity that we can identify the brand of scent another person is wearing.
Why is it important to mention such obvious changes to what we consider to be normal? Because the term “normal” implies that we know what is going on and can predict it reasonably easily. It implies that we can comfortably think in a certain way.
This is precisely why coaching has become even more relevant and useful than it was even one year ago.
Albert Einstein once observed that it is the theory through which we observe a situation that decides what we can observe. A good coach will notice your tendency to look at things with familiarity, and will wonder if that is the most useful approach, or whether there might be other options.
It is these powers of observation and the ability of a coach to notice your patterns of behaviour.
Selecting the right coach is perhaps the most important part of the process of moving forward that an individual or an organisation can make, and it’s not an easy choice. As we know from research, when people make decisions about who to vote for in elections, they start off by listening to all the rationale but end up making emotional choices at the ballot box. We also know that people in companies try to make objective choices of coaches, based on their qualifications.
The person who is to be coached listens to what the company says about coaches but then makes a subjective choice, based on whether or not they like the coach.
This is why it’s important that your coach has a high degree of professionalism, personality, and ethics – all of which I have observed in Neshica over these years.
Here in the UK, coaching is considered to be an essential part of executive development and there is no shortage of coaches to choose from. It is a mainstream support function, and it is now widely accepted that coaches can offer people the space to think and reflect, in a safe environment created by the coach and provided by the organisation.
The benefits of this reflective space and partnership enable the company in turn to benefit from intellectually revived and refreshed individuals – something we all need in these challenging times.
Neshica, and Coachfluence, with their consultancy background, coaching qualifications, and personal qualities, brings a unique set of skills to coaching in South Africa – and anywhere else in the world, for that matter.
Much has been written on the use of business coaches to help teams and individuals to improve their performance. Yet in South Africa, would-be coachees have little to help them connect with coaches.
In fact, Google Analytics shows that in South Africa, there are over ten times¹ fewer searches made for coaches online, compared to other countries. While corporate human resource functions often introduce coaches to coachees, and while it is possible that the demand for coaching in South Africa is lower, the reality is that individual coachees still have no framework for identifying and engaging a coach. With so many furloughs and job losses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic effects, the selective engagement of coaches may be more relevant than ever before. A procedure for doing so would be helpful.
We created this Coach Gravity Report as a practical framework for aspiring coachees to find and select coaches. We called it “Coach Gravity” because we wanted to underline the relationship between coach and coachee, which creates a connection and defines the characteristics that draw them together to unlock human potential.
There are three themes that we highlight:
• showing coachees how to determine whether they need a coach;
• exploring the process of selecting a coach;
• taking a look at the preferences and criteria for coach selection (based on research undertaken in
We pull all of this together in a toolkit, to help the coachee to find and select a coach. Whilst the research focused on the executive and management levels in an organisation, we believe it to be wholly applicable to graduate and experienced employees as well.
Further, while the report is written for coachees, coaches and coaching institutions alike can benefit from it, by learning what coachees are looking for in their coaches, and thus how best to position themselves in the market.
The Coach Gravity Report is the first such report to be published in South Africa, and certainly from a global perspective. We hope that it marks the start of a journey to examine coachee preferences and behaviours in the selection of coaches.
1 Using SEO keyword searches on “business coaching” for USA vs South Africa
Theme 1: Recognising whether you need a coach
In order to recognise that one needs a coach, one must first understand what business coaching entails. The International Coach Federation (ICF) describes it as a
“partnership between the Coach and the Coachee in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the coachee to maximize personal and professional potential”.
Unlike consulting or mentoring, where you are ‘told’ the solution, a coach works with a coachee to uncover the strategies and solutions that will work for that unique individual. There is an old adage that you cannot change people, and this is one of the reasons for the success of coaching interventions.
Coaching creates self-awareness, addresses limiting beliefs, and enables the coachee to take the responsibility to work through options and decide upon their best course of action for their unique issue. In this way, coaching facilitates the process for the coachee to make changes that they can own and stick to.
Here are seven specific circumstances in which you should seriously consider engaging a coach.
1. Career Transitions
Any successful career transition (such as moving to a new company, a promotion, or a change of role) requires a re-evaluation of one’s strategy. Career transitions are a chance to reinvent yourself, to change behaviours that were not serving you, and to create opportunities for growth. Working with a qualified and experienced coach can help you build your career strategy and your personal toolkit for the new role.
Depending on the individual coachee, this type of coaching can help to explore strengths and weaknesses, help to clarify career goals in relation to the role, and assist in developing a personal brand, a value proposition, and the leadership abilities to achieve results.
2. Career inertia and feeling stuck
Coachees generally describe this as feeling stuck and not knowing what they want to do. This is usually a result of settling into a comfort zone. Oftentimes coachees know they should make a change, but are uncertain of their options or how to become unstuck.
A comfort zone may sound like a good place to be; it is not! They lead to boredom, complacency, a reduced drive to build skills, and an inability to innovate. This results in mediocre performance and a stagnant career.
If you sense you may be getting into a comfort zone and are experiencing career inertia, it is definitely time to engage a coach to help you rekindle your enthusiasm in your career and your life.
3. Desire to make an impact
Coachees who have previously used the services of a coach know that coaches can help them to improve their game at any stage in their career. Coaches serve as thinking partners, to help leaders delve deeper into their challenges and arrive at strategies that can achieve results.
The coaching process lends itself to deep reflection. It is very useful for managers and leaders who want to motivate their teams, to make an impact, or to improve specific aspects of their leadership or management style.
4. Burnout, and developing resilience
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by extreme and prolonged stress. It is described as being overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant the demands of work or home life. Coachees suffering from burnout have usually run themselves ragged in destructive patterns of behaviour and thought.
Coaching can help in getting to the root cause of the burnout by identifying stressors, transforming destructive frames of mind and patterns of behaviour, assisting in creating a healthy work–life balance, and devising strategies to manage stressors in future.
Of course, no one wants to reach the stage of complete burnout. Recognising its symptoms and engaging a coach can help greatly in minimising its adverse effects on your health, career, and relationships.
5. Finding Purpose
Doing something well, in life or in the workplace, isn’t always sufficient. We can all do things well, but are they the things we care about?
There comes a stage in every person’s life when they question their purpose. In recent times this has become even more marked, as organisations and leaders are determined to be “purpose-led” – and sensibly so, because purpose-led organisations attract the right type of customers, and in doing so achieve their objectives.
This is true for individuals as well – knowing your unique ‘why’, or in other words your purpose, leads you to better decisions on the ‘what’, the ‘when’, and the ‘how’.
Understanding your purpose helps you decide what actions to take, when to take them, and how to execute. It connects to your passions and facilitates clarity of action. Coaches are skilled at creating the conditions for deep reflection and self-awareness – the conditions necessary to facilitate your discovery of purpose. Experienced and qualified coaches work with you to probe beliefs from a space of generative attention, bringing forth your deeply-held passions to assist you in articulating your purpose.
One should never underestimate the power of purpose. It fuels us to forge ahead, to create opportunities and to break boundaries. As we go through life, our purpose evolves. Coaching can assist not only in defining purpose but also in realigning you to your purpose as you progress through life and its challenges.
Coaching is needed now more than ever, with the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Normal life has been disrupted and we must all come to terms with where we find ourselves. The illustration below depicts the anxieties that employees now face.
7. Corporate life is lonely
The world of work can be lonely. It is not unusual to believe that you cannot speak to anyone at work, or that people in your personal life wouldn’t understand. Coaches are skilled at listening, and at listening without judgement or the need to advise.
One of the biggest advantages of having a coach is that you have someone who can serve as a sounding board, and who is able to reflect you back to yourself. In the safe space that coaching creates you are able to be your authentic self. You are free to express yourself, and to work through problems and discover insights that would be difficult when alone.
Theme 2 – Process for coach selection
The coach–coachee relationship is the foundation that enables any meaningful, lasting coaching and change to take place. Taking time to understand coach selection preferences is therefore essential in order to set the optimum conditions for rapport building, trust, and overall goal attainment.
Our preferences for any product or service are determined by many factors, such as culture, religious beliefs, upbringing, and the media. Some may be conscious and others unconscious. It is important that we know our preferences, since working with them achieves better results.
To use an analogy: you prefer a 4×4 vehicle, but the car rental office can only offer you a sedan. It will get you to your destination but it may take longer, the drive may be less comfortable, and depending on where you are going, you may have to walk the last hundred metres. Knowing your preferences in a coach will aid your goal attainment and behavioural change.
Here is a typical coach selection process.
1. Identify need: the first step
The coachee or coachee’s organisation recognises the need for coaching, and the objectives of the intervention are set.
2. Research the coaches available, and what they offer
When coaching is initiated by an organisation, there is usually already a list of approved coaches. If you are an individual doing your own research, then Google, LinkedIn, and word-of-mouth recommendations become your starting point.
3. Consider options, once the initial research is done
If you are an individual investing in your own growth, this is the point at which you must know and consider your own preferences, and use that to prepare a shortlist of suitable coaches. Within organizations, at this stage the approved providers will usually propose coaches to HR. Organisations then use their own company criteria to prepare a shortlist. Those criteria may not consider the specific intervention or the individual coachee’s preferences.
4. Determine fit (from the shortlist)
For an individual engaging a coach, this will involve what are generally termed “chemistry sessions”. This is usually a short session with a coach, to meet and to determine whether you would like to work together, and whether the coachee is prepared to make himself or herself vulnerable in order to achieve the desired objectives.
We recommend that the coachee has at least two chemistry sessions with two coaches, so as to make a comparison and an informed decision. When the coaching intervention is sponsored by the organization, the coachee makes the final selection from the shortlist prepared by HR. Depending on the organization, there may or may not be chemistry sessions.
5. Final Selection is really down to your instincts after the research and shortlisting and chemistry sessions.
Go with your instincts, because actually there is no such thing as a purely rational decision. The brain uses a combination of logic and emotion when making decisions of any kind. But keep this in mind: in a coaching relationship you must feel completely comfortable; it goes beyond what you may find on a coach’s LinkedIn page.
Theme 3 – Coach selection criteria
If you look online, the options are endless. So it helps to understand what you are looking for, and why. We are faced with options every day, and in making our selections we are forced to make trade-offs, depending on what we consider more important and less important.
Consider this example. You need a pair of running shoes. Ideally you want the softest, lightest, cheapest shoes. You visit the store and you are faced with these options.
Shoe A: soft, medium weight, $30.
Shoe B: hard, medium weight, $10.
Shoe C: soft, low weight, $60.
Those are just three permutations of the options you may face. In deciding, you must determine which factor is the most important to you, and which the least important. We make trade-offs and pick the best option, based on our preferences and the relative strengths of those preferences.
Understanding the factors affecting coach selection
Coaching relationships have to be forged quickly so that the work can start, and it helps if coachees know and understand what they are looking for in such a relationship. Several factors affect coach selection and choice. They can be placed into three categories.
1. Surface-level diversity factors: visible factors such as age, accent, body size, race, or gender.
2. Deep-level diversity factors: not easily observed. For example, attitudes, values, and beliefs.
3. Market credibility: what can be gauged from a résumé (e.g., qualifications and
experience). Credibility is the quality of being trusted and believed. Within professional services, credibility can be influenced by qualifications, experience, skills, and reputation, amongst others.
Surface-level factors affect rapport creation in the initial stages of the relationship. Before even meeting a coach, these surface-level preferences affect coachees’ comfort levels and perceptions. In accordance with our human nature, we scan each other to make meaning within moments of meeting for the first time: gender, age, accent, race, choice of clothes.
Essentially, we look for characteristics that are shared and that are different. This happens unconsciously in everyday life. It must be considered seriously when one is thinking about selecting a coach.
The Attraction Paradigm (proposed by Donn Erwin Byrne) can potentially explain this finding: that individuals similar in race, sex, or age engender positive perceptions. The more similar the other person is perceived to be, the more he or she is liked.
In the reverse of this, perceived dissimilarity has the potential to create discomfort. It may result in physical or psychological withdrawals, which is certainly not a suitable foundation for a successful coaching relationship.
You may say, “But surely those deep-level factors of personality, values, and beliefs are more important?” And yes, over time, deep-level diversity factors do become more important. But they are uncovered only as a relationship progresses, and are much more difficult to ascertain when selecting a coach.
Credibility is another essential factor in coach selection. It can easily be ascertained from a résumé. One reasons why some coaching relationships fail is because the coach isn’t a coach! While many people describe themselves as coaches, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have the skills, experience, or credentials to actually coach and bring about behavioural change.
Coachees must inform themselves and do their research, since the coach’s credibility will affect the extent to which trust is fostered and results achieved. Coaches nowadays can present various types of qualifications: university degrees in coaching, accreditations from professional coaching institutions, and certificates from coaching schools.
The shortlisting of coaches takes place before any chemistry session, so you make your decision based on what you can see on a coach’s profile or résumé. Thus, shortlisting is based on your surface-level diversity and credibility preferences, since the deep-level factors cannot yet be assessed. This is a critical stage because these choices affect trust creation, rapport, and relationship-building, which is the cornerstone for any successful coaching engagement.
Research shows that in the South African market, credibility factors outrank surface-level diversity factors.
The research question we addressed was to determine the ranked importance of the surface-level coach selection criteria (race and gender) and market credibility factors (qualifications and experience) used by managers and executives in South Africa.
The study looked at how coachees make decisions when presented with multiple coach attributes concurrently. If presented with individual criteria and asked what they prefer, they would most likely want the best alternative. For example, they might select the coach with a degree, an accreditation, management experience, coaching experience, experience in psychology, and the lowest rates.
However, it is rare to get everything in one package, or in this case, one coach. Trade-offs must be made between what is preferred and what is preferred more. Also, the way in which individuals evaluate attributes is likely to differ, as they are unique human beings with differing values.
For the overall sample from our study, the importance of:
qualifications was 50.69%;
experience was 23.26%;
gender was 16.98%, and;
race was 9.07%.
This study further verified the research findings, as the credibility factors of qualifications and experience are the two most important coach selection criteria amongst the managers and executives surveyed.
The study indicated a strong preference for coaches with a university coaching degree. A coaching certificate from a coaching body was also preferred. However, all factors being equal, it was not as highly desired as a degree.
This corresponds with the opinion of HR professionals. A PwC study⁸ found that 76% of coaches indicated that their corporate clients require the coaches they employ to have accreditation (PwC, 2012). The study also found a strong preference for coaches with business management experience. Experience in coaching was preferred second and experience in psychology the least preferred.
The study found that gender and race were considered to be less important factors in coach selection than qualifications and experience. It found a weak same-race preference when coaches with the same qualifications and experience were considered.
What does this all mean for coachees seeking the services of a coach?
Decide for yourself what indications of credibility you require, and then carry out your shortlisting of coaches based on credibility.
Once you have an even playing field, ask yourself what else would make you comfortable enough to display your authentic self.
Do you suppose that someone of the same race or culture would relate to you better? Or might you prefer someone of a different race or culture, to offer a different perspective?
Narrow down your shortlist once you have addressed your individual race preference. Then consider gender. Is it easier for you to be vulnerable with someone of the same gender, or harder?
Reduce your shortlist further.
From the names that remain, select one or two coaches with whom you can have a chemistry session.
Coaching is fundamentally based on the relationship between coach and coachee. That relationship is the actual instrument used to deliver the value.
Just as a skilled builder uses his hands to deliver a service, a coach uses the relationship built to deliver the coaching service. The most amazing tools in the wrong hands won’t get you the desired results; this is true in building as well as in coaching.
The literature on coaching supports this, and stresses that the coaching relationship is crucial to the attainment of successful outcomes. As the foundation, the relationship and the factors that influence relationship initiation and building must be considered seriously when selecting a coach.
2 (Harrison, D. A., Price, K. H., & Bell, M. P. (1998). Beyond relational demography: Time and the effects of surface- and deep-level diversity on work group cohesion. Academy of Management Journal, 41(1), 96–107.)
3 International Coaching Federation: www.coachfederation.org
4 International Association of Coaching: www.certifiedcoach.org
5 European Mentoring and Coaching Council: www.emccglobal.org
6 Association for Professional Executive Coaching & Supervision: www.apecs.org
7 Coaches and Mentors of South Africa: www.comensa.org.za
8 PWC 2012 Global Coaching Study
ABOUT COACHING QUALIFICATIONS
University degrees in coaching
Various universities have developed postgraduate degrees in coaching. They generally involve in-depth coursework, a practical component, assignments, examinations, and research components for master’s and PhD levels. Engaging with a coach with a degree provides the assurance that the qualification is recognised and can be trusted.
Accreditations from professional coaching institutions
Coaching is not yet a regulated industry and there is no single body regulating the practices. There are, however, several bodies that are recognised and hold their members accountable to a code of ethics, and training and coaching standards.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF)³ is the most widely accepted, with the largest number of members. It offers its members the opportunity to apply for coaching accreditations. This means that appropriately qualified coaches, with a prescribed minimum number of hours of experience, can apply for ICF accreditation, which also involves the assessment of recordings of coaching sessions.
Other recognised bodies include the International Association of Coaching (IAC)⁴, European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC)⁵, APECS (Association for Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision)⁶ and COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa)⁷. Each of these bodies also offer their members coaching accreditation and follow a similar process.
Coaching accreditations provide an additional level of reassurance that the coach’s qualifications and experience have been verified against a set of rigorous standards.
Certificates from coaching schools
Many companies and online institutions offer coaching courses and certificates that are approved by one of the recognized coaching bodies. These can be easily verified by checking first with the institutions and the recognised coaching bodies listing these institutions.
Part 3: Coach selection criteria
Part 4: Chemistry sessions
What important questions will you ask in the chemistry session, based on deep-level diversity criteria (values, beliefs, behaviours)?
How did the chemistry sessions go?
My choice of coach is __________________________________________
We have built a Coachee Toolkit to assist with coach selection, taking the ideas from this Report and using them to help you think through your choice.
Part 1: Do I need a coach right now?
If you answer “Yes” to any of the statements below, then you should consider engaging a coach.
• I have high career aspirations and have to plan my way to greater success.
• I think I am not in the right career.
• I want to explore other career interests, but do not know where to start.
• I want to progress to the next level in my career.
• I want to explore and more clearly define what career I wish to pursue, and make it happen.
• The company I work for is going through major changes.
• I have recently been retrenched.
• I struggle to manage my time and meet deadlines.
• I want to learn how I can better motivate and manage my team.
• I want to empower my staff members to become high performers. I want to bring about, build on,
improve, and sustain their high-performance behaviours.
• I have to bring about a culture within my team (or group, or business, or organisation) of high
performance and high-performance behaviours.
• I have to develop new skills, as my role in the organisation has become redundant (or has been
• I am unhappy in my current position and need a change.
• I seem to have reached a ceiling in my career.
• I am feeling “stuck” at my company (or in my career).
• I am overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet the constant demands at work and at
Part 2: My coach selection process
What are the three or four main objectives you want to achieve with a coach?
Will you find a coach from within your company, or by yourself, from the internet?
List the organisations you have researched. List the coaches you have identified from your research.
Based on the coach selection criteria (see Part 3 of this toolkit), what is the fit of my coach options? Here, list the coaches suitable for chemistry sessions.
Director, Founder and Business Coach