The perfect matchmaker

Looks at the important role of the matchmaker (or co-ordinator) in the coaching process and outlines the main criteria for a successful match
Sara Ireland, Zulfi Hussain and Ho Law

In the second part of our special report we take a look at the importance of the matchmaker in the coaching process could they be more relevant than the matching criteria itself?

While organisations are beginning to focus on matching as an instrument to improve outcomes of coaching and mentoring interventions, little attention has been paid to the role and impact of the matchmaker. Companies have tended to focus on the development of sound matching systems (including electronic database access) to deliver close matches in a range of organisational, technological and interpersonal contexts.

They have not tended to recognise the importance of the co-ordinator or broker. We believe successful matching is as much about the choice of the broker and the training of that person as it is about the criteria of pairing selection. Bearing in mind the lack of research into the role of the matchmaker/co-ordinator, we set out to examine criteria for success in matching , focusing in detail on matching within a telecoms organisation and the NHS. One finding was the importance of the matchmaker in helping the client choose someone different to themselves. There is a widespread assumption that homogeneous pairings will produce better results. Research points to the opposite [eg, Meyler Campbell (2006), which found that coaching outcomes are more positive if the coach and client have different temperaments, based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI; ‘Coaching at Work news’, July 2006)]. We also found that factors such as geographical proximity of coaches/mentors and clients, as well as level,played an important part in successful outcomes.

What our case studies told us:

matching in a telecommunications company and the NHS

Our research found that some features in matching were more important than others. These included grade at a sufficient level in the coach/mentor and location when the intervention was carried out face-to-face. There was no long-term impact of matching in either study but inexperienced participants, matched on criteria alone, were less likely to take up the coach/mentoring opportunity. The co-ordinator had to work with all partners to develop mutual understanding of each party’s culture, be it work, background or country of work, to derive comparative meaning in which the match could take place. The level or distance from the mentor was important to all clients but more so in the NHS. Too wide or narrow a gap produced a negative match unless there was pre-match facilitation.

With co-ordinator facilitation, clients were more receptive to choosing mentors who were very different to themselves and used the co-ordinator to clarify existing information and shared goals rather than seek more information. They went beyond their self-imposed boundaries. They considered other methods such as e-mentoring to overcome barriers to the match. When some coach/mentors tried to solicit clients, participants sought a third-party recommendation from a credible source, usually the co-ordinator.

Those who chose their own mentor, often on the basis of ‘status alone’, were more likely to be dissatisfied in their relationships six months on. For one in six black and minority ethnic (BME) mentoring clients in the NHS scheme, the choice of a mentor from an ethnic background was a key element in the success of the relationship.

Participants who had already received coach/mentoring training felt sufficiently empowered and confident to use the self search mechanism or their own network to source their own coach/mentors. They were proactive, self managing and required little facilitator involvement.

The matching process

For both organisations, coach/mentors and clients were asked to fill in an application form. These covered details such as age, ethnicity, position and pay, current and past experience, skills and experience as mentor/client, training, how much time they could give, where to meet, expectations and goals.

Participants identified the qualities and skills they could offer, their willingness to sign a coach/mentoring agreement and to attend supervison and the broad areas for discussion. Potential clients were also invited to specify requirements of their coach/mentor’s level, profession, ethnic background and geography. This information was used to undertake criteria-based matching. The results were reported back as two options to potential clients who at this point could request a re-match.

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Matching for success

The main matching conditions in both case studies were:

  1. Location or geography of both partners
  2. Appropriate distance in the pairing by level
  3. Commitment of mentor and client to each other and early interest and affirmation from the coach/mentor to the client
  4. Choice of ethnic background of mentor/coach for one out of six BME clients
  5. Cultural competence of mentor/coaches
  6. Active involvement in the pairing process and offering the choice of at least two possible matches
  7. The role of the broker or match maker was key to the above in less experienced participants.

A broker/co-ordinator was able to move people beyond their comfort zone to choose options more dissimilar to themselves in order to promote learning. The need for information to fill gaps about potential partners decreased as trust in the broker rose and shared values and mutual commitment became clear.

The role of electronic mentoring matching

There are some useful elements in e-mentoring systems:

  • They can be used flexibly
  • They encourage involvement in the process through self directed data search
  • They save time, allowing the broker to intervene only during the more crucial stages later on.

We suggest that electronic database-driven systems should be part of a whole-system web-based programme with mentor/coach/client responsibility to input their own data. As participants mature, matching programmes need to be capable of meeting their changing needs.

What the research says about matching

Interpersonal attraction research has suggested that similarity in attitudes, political and religious beliefs predict attraction.

Byrne and Nelson (1965)1 and Veitch and Griffitt (1976) 2 identified that positive emotional reactions increased liking, while Clore and Byne (1974) 3 stated that we like anyone that makes us feel good and dislike a person who makes us feel bad. Self-determination and choice underpin many studies about effective learning, with research showing that shared values/goals are more important than individual approaches in effective collaboration.

Cross-cultural studies have recognised the role of brokers in Eastern cultures in bringing together potential partners, often based on backgrounds and qualities that are similar or complementary. Much of the mentoring and coaching research has suggested that formalised mentoring programmes are rated as less beneficial than naturally occurring mentoring relationships 4 (Chao, Walz and Gardner, 1992). Monsour (1998) 5 suggested that mentors and clients should be based near each other and have similar interests and learning styles.

Meanwhile, a study of nurse leaders in 2003 by the Modernisation Agency 6 found that that there were mentoring concerns when the relationships were too close in the line and that nearly half of the mentoring clients knew their mentor beforehand. Kaplan et al (2001) 7 contended that mentoring relationships may be inhibited if employees perceive benefits to be low and Clutterbuck (2003) 8 highlighted the need for choice, with at least two options to ensure commitment on either side. Some online communication studies noted the tension between giving lots of information to facilitate decision making and the requirements for privacy. Herlocker (2000) 9 identified that the range of options and the selling of the benefits, was significant in take-up.

There is some universality about positive aspects of the matching process, eg, geographical proximity, shared goals and values over similarity, commitment to the other party and involvement. What employers need to examine is what creates these conditions and how they can be facilitated. 1. Byrne & Nelson ‘Attraction and linear function of positive D ‘A reinforcement model of attraction’ in
About the authors Sara Ireland, Zulfi Hussain and Ho Law are coach/ mentoring consultants. Zulfi is the chair of the EMCC UK and holds a range of directorships and business roles. Sara is a psychologist and has been working with fairtrade centres on a web-based matching system. All three have developed the Morph CSMI online tool, used to facilitate feedback and continuous development as well as to identify emotional intelligence and skills relevant to the broker

On purpose

Survey of executive coaches to find out if the meaning and purpose of work was of concern to their clients. Results suggest that coaching helps clients become more motivated and self confident