If you are a millennial, the language of “swiping” is simple. Swipe right to show interest — and swipe left to move on. Take a look at Tinder, the online dating app: Tinder users view an online profile of a potential match, swiping right on the screen if they like the profile they see. A match occurs when two users swipe right on each other’s profiles. Launched in 2012, Tinder has made more than 8 billion matches.
The concept of swiping, when extended to the coaching domain, serves as a metaphor for making the optimal match between clients and coaches. The client-coach match is considered critical to the overall success of the coaching relationship, but the optimal matching factors and process have, so far, seemed elusive. As the director of coaching programs at The University of Virginia Darden School of Business, I regularly match clients with coaches using a proven matchmaking formula and key inputs from both constituents.
For coaching program managers who are unsure about making the right coaching match, the first step is to collect key data in coach and client profiles.
Coach profiles provide a short introduction to a coach, and are comprised of two items. The first item in the coach profile is the coach’s professional resume. The second item is a three-to-five-minute video in which the coach describes his or her background and coaching philosophy. The best videos also capture the coach giving an example of a representative coaching engagement.
Sam, one of Darden’s contract coaches, has spent the last eight years as an executive coach, coaching new and emerging leaders in technology. Prior to coaching, Sam managed people and projects for a top-five domestic technology firm and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. He holds multiple certifications in leadership assessment instruments and is recognized as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) with the International Coach Federation (ICF). Sam’s coaching philosophy is grounded in leadership and organizational change theories.
Client profiles are also comprised of two items. The first item in the client profile is the client’s professional resume. The second is a written document in which the client answers four questions:
What is the challenge or opportunity that I am bringing to coaching?
What is my experience with coaching?
What are my expectations for the coaching relationship?
What characteristics do I seek in a coach?
Next, clients are invited to view coach profiles from a roster of pre-approved coach partners. Upon viewing the coach profiles, clients name three coaches, in no particular order, with whom they would like to work.
Ella, one of Darden’s clients, is an emerging leader, preparing to take on a stretch leadership assignment in her technology organization. Ella is tasked with initiating and managing a cross-functional project to define, develop, test, and implement a cutting-edge technical solution. She viewed Sam’s coach profile and expressed interest in working with him.
The Matchmaking Formula
With the coach and client profiles in hand, I employed the matchmaking formula. I believe that the optimal match is a function of three “C’s” — commonality, compatibility and credibility — between a client and coach. In my experience, the best client-coach matches meet at least two of these three factors, as identified in The Leadership Coaching Sourcebook: A Guide to the Executive Coaching Literature, published by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2011.
Commonality, the first matchmaking “C,” refers to professional and life experiences that are shared by a coach and client. Shared professional experiences may include working in the same industry, function or employer, while shared life experiences may involve living in the same region or attending the same university, among others. Sam and Ella had spent most of their careers in the technology industry and, at different times, worked for the same employer.
Compatibility, the second matchmaking “C,” serves as an indicator of client-coach fit or ability to work together productively. Personalities and working styles of the coach and client should not be identical, but should be harmonious. Sam’s sensitivity to those around him paired well with Ella’s tendency to drive results. Working together, Sam would be able to help Ella detect if and when her relentless results-orientation meant running over co-workers that stood in her way.
Credibility, the third matchmaking “C,” is often the product of the coach’s knowledge and experience. It is through credibility that a client begins to place trust in a coach. Sam’s deep experience with managing technical people and projects would serve as the backbone of his credibility. During the coaching engagement, coaching conversations could move away from inquiry and toward advocacy, with Sam drawing upon his past experience to advise Ella on steps that she could take in the present. Credibility counts, particularly as it relates to a coach’s ability to support the client in overcoming a challenge or taking full advantage of an opportunity.
When faced with a decision on whether or not to “swipe right” on a potential coaching match, coaching program managers are encouraged to use the proven three “C” matchmaking formula of client-coach commonality, compatibility and credibility, along with key inputs contained in coach and client profiles.