Trust me, you don't want to hire a coach!

Before, I said you shouldn't hire a consultant (did I?) - and now I say that you don't want to hire a coach, either (will I?) - and there's a good reason for this as well.


Exhibit 1: A typical "Agile Coach" job offer


Just your every day job ad for "Looking for an Agile Coach"

I googled for "Agile Coach" and this was one of the first hits that came up. I omitted a few things and reduced sentence length to make it slightly more legible. Besides that, this kind of ad is typical and representative of the job market.
Note for employers: If you're looking for an agile coach and copy+paste the image, you will get anything except a capable agile coach.
Note for job seekers: If you don't see why the statements in the ad are problematic, you may well apply - just don't call yourself "agile coach".
Okay, let's get to the core of the matter.


This is not a coach

A typical "agile coach" job offer posted by non-agile organizations typically requires skills like:
  • Project Management
  • Requirement Management
  • Process Management
  • Performance Management
  • Meeting Management
  • Problem Management
In this case, I'd daresay: "Why not call it Agile Manager if it's all about management?"


Some of the big misunderstandings are:

Agile Management

Agile teams are mostly self-organized. Agile managers keep out of the team's "Who", "What" and "When", so the classic "Who does what until when" management question is answered by the agile team members themselves! Likewise, "How" and "With What" are determined by the team as well.

Regarding Project, Process or Requirements Management activities  - as far as they are still necessary, they are located as within the team - teams take care of their work. In Scrum terminology, they "have all the necessary skills to produce a Done Increment of work". And that includes managing their own work.

Hiring an agile team member with project management expertise is one thing, hiring an agile coach to manage the team is a completely different matter - you don't need an agile coach to manage your agile team!


Coaching or Management?

When strong interaction with management is required to cause a mindset shift and to set the right levers for change, hiring a coach with a decent understanding of - and prior experience in - management may indeed be necessary. Expecting an agile coach to apply these management techniques towards a team, implies that:

1. The Coach will have to apply non-agile behaviour.
2. The Coach will have to leave the coaching hat at the entrance.
3. The Coach will have to accept status quo rather than drive change.

If you're looking for such a person, that's legitimate. Just remove the label "Agile" and "Coach" from the job offer - an agile coach would be ineffective as agile coach if they did as expected.


Subject Matter Expertise

In recent months, I have observed a strong negative correlation between depth of subject matter expertise and effectiveness of coaching. Why? Because when push comes to shove, the subject matter expert will dive in, actively contribute to problem resolution - and completely lose sight of the big picture, becoming incapable of reflecting and discovering the systemic issues which lead to the need for a coach involving in subject matters.

As a specific example, I have seen a number of organizations who have assigned their most knowledgable expert as coach. The consequence was that this type of coach is busy every single day communicating subject matters (effectively disempowering the Product Owner) and finding solutions on a product level (effectively crippling team learning and self-organization). At the same time, they had no time left to coach others, which made their role a misnomer.

I seriously question the intent behind looking for a coach with a high depth of subject matter expertise - if a high level of expertise is required to sort out matters, hire an expert instead!


Certification Mania

There are many types of certifications. In this context, I want to talk specifically about three categories:

1. Degree Mill certificates

Given the money required to obtain them, a plush doll might hold the title. What exactly do you expect to get when you look for a coach who has one of these?

2. Unrelated certificates

There are a ton of certificates which prove absolutely nothing about either "Agile" or "Coaching". What do you expect to get when you hire a pilot with a cooking certification?

3. Overcertification

I personally get the jiggles when I see a company explicitly looking for a CST or SPCT to coach a single team, especially when offering a junior developer's paycheck. If this is you, I would seriously ask you to do a reality check.


While certain certificates fall into none of these categories (let's call them, "relevant certification"), the value of a certificate is not in having the certification - it is in the learning journey which led one to obtain the certificate. Some people underwent an even deeper learning journey without obtaining a certificate, and it is nothing more than a remnant of fixed mindset culture to ask people to show certificates which add absolutely no value to their coaching qualification.

In short, almost all certification requirements prove that you don't even know what an agile coach is!



Do you really want a coach?

Many companies think they are looking for an agile coach, but they aren't looking for an agile coach, because they don't know what an agile coach is or does - and they don't even want that!
Neither will agile coaching be welcome there, nor will the organization get an advantage from agile coaching.

Spend a little bit of time to get educated on coaching before creating a job posting to fill such a key role in an agile transition.

Here are some great book tips to get you started on coaching:
  • Marshall Goldsmith: "What got you here won't get you there"
  • Watts & Morgan: "The Coach's Handbook"
  • Kimsey-House (x2), Sandahl & Whitworth: "Co-Active Coaching"

If you can't be bothered at least skim these books, don't hire a coach, it just won't fit!


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