Coaching may be a more common occurrence in the workplace, and more people have a general understanding of what coaching is, but most probably do not understand the inner workings of the coach-coachee relationship. Coaching is more than patting people on the back and giving them enthusiastic encouragement; rather, it is a management tool that can help employees realize their career aspirations.
For someone who is beginning a relationship as a coach for one of their employees, a colleague, or for someone outside the workplace, there is preparatory work that must be completed prior to the first coaching meeting. Some of that work involves learning more about the coaching process, but much of it involves an internal analysis of motives and skills.
Step One: Prepare Yourself for the Coaching Role
Knowing what coaching is–and is not–is part of the preparation for coaching. Coming to an understanding of what coaching is all about helps new coaches determine how to approach the role. Taking a one-size-fits-all approach is not effective due to the diverse interests and experiences of people in the workplace and because of the many circumstances where coaching can occur.
Coaching can be a formal or informal relationship which occurs between co-workers, managers and their direct reports, or it can be a formalized relationship between a professional coach and client. Despite the different conditions for coaching, the fundamental principle that it is a meaningful and accountable relationship created through routine one-on-one conversations is universal to all coaching relationships.
The author believes in allowing “much latitude for defining coaching,” but she also believes there are some definite things that coaching is not. Some common coaching myths are:
- Coaching is giving advice. Coaches actually ask a lot of questions and help people gain an understanding of their own ideas, so that they gain a new awareness of themselves.
- Coaches have value because they have experience in the coachee’s area of interest or expertise. In many instances the best coaching comes from someone who has an entirely different experience. The value of coaching lies in helping someone understand their own knowledge and experiences in order to use those effectively in current and future circumstances.
- Coaching is just like therapy. While deep issues are discussed and emotions may be a part of the conversation, coaches do not analyze the past to determine how their coachees came to be in their present circumstances. The goal is to look at where someone is and determine how they can get to where they want to be.
- The coach drives the coaching process. The coachee is actually the one who sets the agenda for meetings and works in concert with the coach to come up with assignments. When the coach calls the meetings, determines the agenda, and crafts the assignments, the coach is acting like a boss rather than a coach.
Knowing what coaching is not is one way to understand what makes a good coach. Because the relationship is a partnership, a good coach must listen actively; understand how to ask probing, open-ended questions; refrain from giving advice; understand how to partner to set goals and create meaningful assignments; and help establish accountability on both sides of the coaching relationship.
Another part of preparing to coach is understanding the desire to coach and the benefits of coaching to the coach. It is important to establish the motivations behind the desire to coach “so that when the going gets tough, when it is hard to understand how to fit coaching into an already busy schedule” there is a list of benefits that will serve as motivators. The many benefits that coaches can reap include career advancement, becoming a better communicator, promoting a more productive workplace, and improving leadership skills.
Step Two: Remove Personal Obstacles
Once the coaching role and benefits are understood, coaches need to address any personal obstacles to being a coach. This is a very important step and might be one that many are tempted to skip. According to the author, “This is one of the steps that will set apart an effective workplace coach from someone who simply does a good job creating relationships and motivating enhanced performance.”
One of the obstacles to any relationship, coaching included, is being too busy to notice what is going on. The act of noticing is the first step in overcoming the obstacles to coaching. Take some time to sit quietly and reflect about becoming a coach. Some of the thoughts that might occur are questions about one’s ability to coach and about possessing sufficient skills to be an effective coach.
These self-doubts can be addressed only by examining them to determine their origins. For example, cold feet about having the ability and expertise to coach might actually stem from the common coaching myth that a coach is an expert who drives the process. Remembering that a coach asks questions and is a partner in the process might help quell that self-doubt.
Another way to address obstacles to coaching is by entering into a coaching relationship as the coachee. Being on the other side of a coaching relationship adds credibility and shows true belief in the power of coaching.
Step Three: Create the Coaching Relationship(s)
Once potential coaches address their own self-doubts and obstacles, it is time to study and approach the coaching relationship. Workplace relationships are part of what promote happiness and productivity at work. A workplace coaching relationship is different from the average work relationship, because it is a unique type of relationship that requires special care and attention ranging from “choosing the right coaching partner to establishing interaction expectations.”
Whether or not the coaching relationship is formal or informal, it is one that is chosen by both parties as a designed partnership where explicit decisions are made about how and when the interactions will occur. It is a relationship where the “pulse is checked continuously” and where the roles of both parties are pre-defined. One person is seeking to reach a goal, and the other is helping with the quest to reach the goal.
For those who are not professional coaches and are looking to establish a coaching relationship with a colleague, the next step is finding the coachee. Some guiding questions that can help determine who to coach include:
- Wait for potential coachees or recruit/approach someone? Some coaches might wait for someone to approach them with issues or questions, while others might seek out employees or colleagues who can benefit.
- Coach employees or colleagues? Some coaches prefer to work with a direct report or someone within their department, while others prefer those who are further removed from day-to-day contact.
- Coach high-potential employees or those who have performance issues? Some coaches choose to work with employees who show potential for increased responsibility, while others prefer to work with those not performing up to expectations.
Regardless of what criteria a coach uses, the coachee must have the desire and commitment to enter into a coaching relationship.
Once two parties have decided to work together, it is time to begin building the relationship. It is important to set clear boundaries and expectations and to begin to establish trust in the relationship. It might help to begin the relationship with each person talking about their definition of and ideas about coaching. The author also suggests that this is the time to talk about how to handle issues that might arise in the coaching partnership. This will help create a channel of communication if there are difficulties further down the road. And, the beginning is also the time to establish some criteria for knowing when it is time to stop working together.
Step Four: Find Out About the Coachee
Just as coaches must know themselves and understand their motivations for coaching, it is critical to the coaching process that the coach understands the person being coached. This information serves a couple of purposes for the coach. First of all, it allows the coach to understand the coachee’s behavior, and secondly, it helps to establish the trust and rapport between the two parties.
Some coaches accomplish this task by using a personality typing instrument or profile. These tools help to define typical behavior patterns and stumbling blocks. Knowing these personality patterns helps a coach anticipate where hang-ups might occur.
Other tools can help to identify people’s learning styles, and this is knowledge that can enhance the coaching relationship as well. It can be a help to know if the coachee learns better through quiet self-reflection or through group relationships, and whether visual, verbal or other stimuli best ensure that information is absorbed and understood.
The coach might also seek information from others by asking the coachee to identify a variety of people from work, and perhaps outside of it, whom the coach can talk with. Insight from others can give the coach a broader perspective than might be gained from just the coaching sessions alone.
This learning process is one that will go on throughout the relationship. During meetings, coaches observe a lot that helps them to better understand the person they are coaching. The author believes that a “powerful way to learn about the coachee’s style and impact is to observe the coachee at work.” It helps to further understand behavior by seeing how time is used, interruptions are handled, and what interpersonal skills are displayed.
If observation is used, the coach should schedule time to discuss the observation and provide feedback. Use the sandwich technique to debrief by giving a piece of constructive feedback sandwiched between two positive items or strengths.
Other things that are helpful for the coach to know about the coachee are values, and skills and achievements. Some of this information will come out in any personality instruments that are used, in conversations with others, and in observation. Another way might be to engage in a fun question and answer session that can also serve as an ice-breaker. Coaches can pose such questions as:
- If you could hear a speech from a leading figure in any field, who would it be?
- What would a movie about your life be called? What songs would be on the soundtrack?
- What would a stained glass window in your house depict?
- What one object should you throw away but never will?
This discovery process is important for establishing the coaching relationship, and it helps both parties make a deeper connection.
Once the preparatory work for coaching is complete, the ground rules for the partnership have been established, and the coach has gathered information about the coachee, it is time for the work to begin. In order to ensure a productive partnership, both parties will need to agree on their coaching goals and build their partnership around solid work during and between coaching sessions.
Step Five: Agree on What Should Be Accomplished
Both the coach and the coachee need to agree on the focus and goals for the coaching relationship. There are many topics and skills that coaching can focus on, such as career path, money management, or leadership, just to name a few. Once the focus is established, it is time to set the goals. In a coaching relationship, goals serve as reference points to be checked periodically. Progress towards goals helps provide proof that the coaching relationship is working.
Many will use SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. The author uses what she calls the 3-T goalsbecause she feels that a personal tie-in is missing in SMART goals. 3-T goals are Tangible, Time-bound, and Tied to something that matters personally or professionally.
Setting 3-T goals requires coming up with concrete, measurable or tangible, tasks. For example, arriving at work 20 minutes earlier or speaking up three times in a meeting. Some goals are harder to measure or make tangible, such as becoming more trusting. Tying a sliding scale to goals like this can make them measurable. For instance, when the goal is set, coachees determine their current trust level on a scale of 1-10. As coaching progresses, they periodically re-rate themselves on the same scale to determine if they have become more trusting.
The time-bound piece of the goal setting helps to provide motivation as well as a set period for action. An example of a time-bound goal is stating that in two-months the coachee will have a system for following up on calls and letters in place. Adding the phrase “in order to spend more time at home,” makes this a goal one that is also tied to something important.
Setting goals is just the first part of the process. It is also important to set up an action plan or a road map for meeting the goals. Some may set up charts or continuums to show progress, while others might opt for a self-evaluation prior to each coaching session, which can serve as an agenda for the upcoming meeting.
Step Six: Using the Power of Possibility
Often times the goals that are set might be modest, or they might appear to be stretch goals but in reality are not. One of the ways that coaches can really benefit their coachees is by helping them “dream and plan bigger than they think they can.” This helps reinforce the idea that it is possible to reach established goals, or possibly even move beyond those goals. Coaches can use the skill of championing to help reinforce this power of possibility.
Championing may require coaches to push their coachees to go beyond their comfort zone. After all, as the author points out, “People do not need another protector; they need someone who will inspire them and expand their possibilities.” A coach does this by examining the goals and dreams that are presented by the coachee and exploring ways to make them bigger, as well as looking for places where the coachee might be holding back.
One caveat to championing is not to take it too far and turn it into an agenda, or to use it to imply that it is wrong to do anything other than go for the biggest dream. After all, the dreams belong to the coachees, and, if they choose to follow a different path, that has to be okay. “Championing” the dream is simply letting them know it is okay to go for it.
Acknowledging is another skill that coaches can use to help reinforce the power of possibility. Acknowledging is like holding a mirror in front of a person and helping that person see the best traits in him or herself. Acknowledging goes beyond recognizing accomplishments and successes and involves revealing a person’s core whether that “be a good person, a powerful person, a thoughtful person, or a smart person.” When people see themselves in a positive light they are apt to accomplish more.
One technique for helping coachees see their possibilities is through the use of thoughtful questions. One reason for this is that questions tend to get past people’s defenses and prompt them to devise answers that work for them. Open-ended, curious, bold, and often naïve questions are the most powerful. These are the questions that get at the heart of the matter. Examples include “why” questions, “why don’t you…” questions, or questions about details that provoke thought and internal analysis.
Listening subsequently becomes a very important skill for coaches. Coaches can improve their listening by improving their skills of active listening. Active listening involves:
- restating the answer briefly
- mirroring the essence or most important points of the answer
- hearing and understanding both the content and emotion in the answer When coachees know that they have been heard, they will be open to sorting out their feelings and working on solutions.
Step Seven: Partner to Enhance Growth Between Sessions
The exploration and conversation that go on in a coaching session is important, but so is the work that goes on between coaching sessions. Coaching homework is important because coachees have a chance to work on skills and goals on their own, to make their own discoveries about themselves, and to find solutions independently. The homework also serves to keep the coaching sessions in the forefront rather than allowing them to fade into the background between coaching sessions.
Coaching homework assignments differ greatly from those given in school, as both parties partner to create the assignment, and in fact, the coachee should take the lead in determining assignments. The coach can and should suggest assignments that would be helpful, but it must be okay for those assignments to be turned down or modified.
Assignments might be work-related projects, answering some thought-provoking questions, trying out a new mantra, or anything else that will help with meeting the goals that have been set. Coaching assignments may not always be active. They might involve thinking through an issue or mentally preparing for a tough meeting. The bottom line is that the assignments must be compelling and meaningful.
Coaching relationships require total honesty on the part of both parties, and the topics explored can be ones that are uncomfortable to one or both parties. Sometimes this can lead to tension and cause problems in the relationship between coach and coachee. Keeping the momentum going and the relationship working can call upon some special skills.
Step Eight: Realign When Things Go Bad
There are times when a coaching relationship is not running as smoothly as it could. It is incumbent upon the coach to recognize the situation and to analyze it. Here are a few signs:
- It is getting difficult. Each session is a struggle that is dreaded.
- The agenda keeps changing. The coachee is not focusing and new issues surface each week.
- The sessions are sounding like broken records. The same issues are being discussed with no resolution.
- The discussion is superficial. The conversation only skims the surface and the coachee is uninvolved.
- Resistance and defensiveness are a part of the sessions. Although formerly engaged and willing participant, the coachee becomes defensive and challenging.
The skill of listening, particularly the “skill of listening to what is not being said,” is important in these situations. The author believes that the coach must look at the conversation “from the fly-on-the-wall vantage point. From that distance the coach can see how the third party in the room is doing–that is, the relationship.”
Relationship realignment starts with the coach. Go back to that self-examination done in preparation for coaching and make sure that any of the obstacles identified there are not to blame. Next, examine the relationship with the coachee. Are there any angry or negative feelings? If so, analyze them. Is there professional or personal jealousy? Is it an issue of respect?
If there are issues that cannot be overcome, then it might be time to sever the relationship and suggest a new coach. If there is not a reason to sever the relationship, then it is time to talk with the coachee. Go back to the discussion from Step Three about handling the relationship if it should turn difficult.
It is important to keep this meeting positive and to make sure the coachee understands that this relationship is important. Explain that this is not unusual in a relationship of this type, and that exploring the underlying issues might produce some positive results. This will help steer the focus away from blame and turn it towards making a more positive relationship.
Some common reasons which may account for this rough spot include:
- the coachee may have forgotten that the coach is not supposed to provide all the guidance and answers
- the coachee has a glass-half-empty attitude and needs to be reminded more frequently of successes
- the coachee does not want to deal with emotional content
- the coachee lacks confidence, or is overconfident
Some ways to approach solving the identified issues are to ask the coachee what kind of support would be helpful; review milestones that have been reached; and provide resources for any issues that are identified.
Step Nine: Maintain Positive Changes
When the majority or all of the major milestones have been met, it does not necessarily mean that it is time to end the coaching relationship. The ground must be set so that the changes can be maintained. Think about Weight Watchers: when someone reaches their goal weight, they move from regular membership to lifetime membership, which is designed to help reinforce the habits and keep the weight off. It is similar in coaching.
Both coach and coachee will know they have reached this step when there is not much to discuss from week-to-week and when the goals shift from meeting new challenges to remaining in a positive productive place. People moving into maintenance realize what they have accomplished and that those accomplishments took a lot of work. However, they also may be afraid that they cannot maintain or move ahead on their own.
Exploring this fear is part of the process. Try to determine if the fear is imagined or real. If it is imagined, explore techniques such as positive self talk or a mantra to help the coachee move beyond the fear. If the fear is based on real factors, like negative colleagues or bosses, then set up action plans that can be implemented as necessary.
Another technique for helping a coachee stick with positive new habits is celebration. Celebrations in coaching can be festive, but they might also be sober reflections on what has been accomplished. These occasions will affirm the work that has been put in to the process and provide motivation for continuing.
It might be helpful to create a stretch assignment. For example, if learning how to trust in order not to micromanage was a goal that has been achieved, one could ask that those same techniques be put to use in other areas.
Scheduling periodic follow up sessions, either in person or via phone, in which the coachee checks in is another way to ensure that the change is maintained. At this point the sessions will probably be shorter and further apart, and it might be helpful to identify a colleague or friend to provide support between sessions.
Step Ten: Complete the Coaching Cycle
Coaching is a relationship that is designed to end. Its intent is to create independence and to encourage individuals to find their own fulfillment.
The four parts to ending a coaching relationship are:
- Noticing a sign in the coaching relationship, or recognizing that something is changing
- Learning, or incorporating the successes and failures during the relationship
- Celebrating, or acknowledging how each has contributed to the relationship and to the outcomes
- Intention setting, or being clear and purposeful about what comes next
Options should be discussed at the end of a coaching relationship. Will the sessions be stopped completely and immediately or will there be a transition period with meetings occurring less frequently? Is there a possibility for a recontracting of the relationship in the future with new goals and objectives? This closure conversation can help cement the learning that has taken place.