There are so many different interpretations of coaching – some think of it in relation to sports, others think it is another management fad and some think it is just another form of training. Different interpretations create confusion and this can and has led to a degree of misperception. Also, some organisations will have their own view of what coaching means to them and this can just add to the confusion.
Coaching has been around for years but it was probably called something else 10 or 15 years ago. Historically it may have been seen as a remedial activity for those that were underperforming. Nowadays it is seen as a way of developing others to get the most out of them and to help them reach their potential.
What is Coaching?
Some definitions of coaching
- A process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve (Parsloe, 1999)
- Unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance (Whitmore, 1996)
- Primarily a short term intervention aimed at performance improvement or developing a particular competence (Clutterbuck, 2003)
- The art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another (Downey, 2003)
- The products of effective coaching are long-term excellent performance, the ability to self-correct and the ability to keep looking for and finding ways to perform better. (Roskin)
- to enable someone to identify and achieve their objectives, and to do so through self belief, whilst maintaining responsibility for their actions and results. (Norman)
Whatever you think about coaching, it has become a growing development activity. In a survey undertaken by the Institute of Personnel and Development in 2004, 99% of respondents felt that coaching delivers tangible results for the individual and organisation.
Why is Coaching Such a Growth Industry?
Perhaps it is a sign of our times – when organisations and individuals need to be able to change and adapt ever more quickly, the need for development that is focused, individualised and targeted and the financial cost to the business of ineffective managers and staff. In addition, people are more motivated and learn best when they can see that development is relevant to their job role and coaching is focussed on improving job performance.
Coaching is basically another tool in the management toolbox, but as with all other management skills such as recruitment, performance management, budgeting etc, it needs to be practised. The general characteristics of coaching are:
- It is an action centred approach where the individual decides what they want to focus upon or change. They are accountable for any actions taken (or not!)
- It is very much focussed on the future and provides an opportunity to hold objective and challenging conversations
- It offers a mechanism for personal reflection and constructive feedback
- It requires the commitment of the individual (and their line manager) in order to ensure changes stick.
Why Do It?
The success of managers depends on the performance of their staff and there are many situations in the workplace where coaching can be used:
- To improve performance in the day to day job role
- To raise an individuals awareness of themselves and their capabilities
- To empower individuals take on more responsibilities
- To deal with an under performance issue
- For career planning/personal development purposes
- To support traditional training interventions and help maintain good performance
- To reduce the cost of sending staff on external training (from both a cost and time perspective)
- To motivate the staff member
- To facilitate and support an organisational change
- To improve staff retention by providing tailored and focused development
- A more productive and efficient department/team
- Development of your own management skills
- Greater awareness of your team’s strengths and weaknesses
- A reputation as a good ‘people manager’
- Less time on time consuming fire fighting and more time to develop yourself
Now, some staff members may not want to be coached, they may feel that you are interfering and are expecting more work from them. They may feel demotivated by it, which if done incorrectly or for the wrong reasons, could be a possibility. However, coaching is a skill and if done correctly should do the opposite. Very few staff want to do a bad job, so any help provided to help them perform better, can only be positive. In some organisations performance is linked to pay, so why would staff not want to be coached as part of their own self development?
Coaching requires a different type of management approach and those with a naturally autocratic style may not find it easy, thinking that it is easier just to tell staff what to do rather than all this coaching stuff! However, if done properly, coaching is good for business.
There are various approaches and models managers can use to structure their coaching process. Eric Parsloe, in his book ‘The Manager as Coach’ views coaching as a process with various stages that all need to be completed:
Analyse what needs to change. This is where the learner develops an awareness of the need to improve performance. A job description could be used; a performance review or a career development plan could provide the starting point to the process.
Taking responsibility. The learner needs recognise the need to take responsibility and ownership of the need to change in order to move forward and consider what actions they could/want to take. The key point is that they decide the actions – it is well known that your own ideas are the best and an individual is more likely to act upon their own ideas rather than those imposed by others.
Implementation. Use of effective skills such as listening and questioning help the learner to implement the changes. What are they going to do, when will they do it, what obstacles will there be, how will they overcome them?
Evaluation. It is important to evaluate if the coaching has done what it was meant to – were the objectives met, has performance improved, is there clarity around their next career move?
One of the most commonly known coaching techniques was developed by John Whitmore and is known as the GROW model. The acronym stands for Goal, Reality, Options, Will. The model represents different stages and the learner is taken through each one. The whole coaching process is meant to be fluid but the GROW model provides the framework to raise the learners awareness by asking relevant and appropriate questions.
We have developed our own approach which is very simple, straightforward and effective. It is about working and supporting individuals move from one point to another (now and to the future, point A to point B).
What is the situation now? What is happening right now to say that things need to change? What will happen if things do not change? What support is needed?
What will the future look like? What will be different? How will the learner feel? What will the impact be on the learner’s job role/team? What control do they have in getting to point B?
Actions and Obstacles:
What actions could be taken now to move forward to point B? What are the benefits of these actions? What are the obstacles likely to be? How would they be handled? What will stop the learner from taking action?
An example of coaching using this model
A staff member has been asked to present to a group of senior managers to update them on a particular project. They have done a few presentations but not many and are feeling nervous and apprehensive and they mention this to their manager.
The manager sets up a meeting to discuss this issue with the staff member and he/she uses the above simple model to facilitate the discussion. The use of open questions helps the staff member consider the issue themselves and to come up with their own action plan of how they will move from one A to B.
The situation now (point A) – the need to present an update to senior managers.
•How does the staff member feel now about doing the presentation?
•Why are they feeling nervous?
•How have previous presentations gone?
•What went well and why?
The future situation (point B) – to have delivered a clear and informative presentation that updates the senior team of the projects progress.
•How does the staff member want the audience to feel after the presentation?
•How do they want to feel about it?
•How will this impact on their job role and how they are perceived by the senior managers if it is done well?
Actions – what is the gap in between A and B?
•What needs to happen to ensure that point B is reached?
•What support is required?
•What are the obstacles to presenting well?
From the above discussion the manager will be able to offer any support and guidance where necessary but it is important that they listen to the staff member to understand how they feel about the situation and the support they want. The manager should ignore the temptation to take over and talk about how he/she approached a similar situation – keep in mind that the staff member will be a reflection of their line manager.