Coaching conversations necessitate planning, and the most effective way to do so is to use F.U.E.L., which stands for:
- Frame the conversation.
- Understand the current state.
- Explore the desired state.
- Lay out a success plan.
F.U.E.L. is an easy-to-follow outline that helps guide leaders through the practice of coaching. It is not a cage but simply an outline that is to be used with flexibility and direction. While it appears to be linear, it is actually more fluid when being practiced, and the steps can be used out of order. Leaders may not even end up using all of the steps in their coaching conversations, but it is certainly a good place to start for those who have little to no coaching experience.
Framing the conversation sets the target for the conversation. This step is imperative to the efficiency of the process because without clearly stating what the point of the conversation is, precious time can be wasted talking about the wrong things. Framing the conversation also reduces the anxiety for both parties regarding what may or may not be discussed during the coaching session. It is important to set the target both when the leader initiates the coaching session and when the employee initiates the coaching session. The leader may have more control when they are initiating the conversation, but it is still very easy to maintain control over the coaching session when the employee initiates it as long as they effectively pinpoint the issue at hand. They can do so by asking questions, such as “What would you like to accomplish in this conversation?” or “How might I help you with this issue?”
After the coach identifies the issue that will be discussed and determines the purpose of the conversation, it is important that they agree with the coachee on the layout for the conversation. This creates a verbal contract of sorts between the two, and moves the conversation away from a chat or complaint and towards a coaching-centered discussion. The coach can do this by creating agreements, such as “Here’s how I thought we could proceed…” and “How does that sound?” It is also vital that the coach resist from commiserating with the employee, even if the coach agrees with their complaint or dilemma. Studies have shown that doing so actually makes the employee more upset about their issue. Research has also suggested that when the employee is given the opportunity to choose the topic of conversation, the functionality and quality of the conversation increase substantially.
The next step in the process is to understand the current state. The true point of this state is not to expand the coach’s understanding of the situation, but to expand the employee’s view of their own situation. In order to do so effectively, the leader must withhold any judgments they might have, maintain an open and inquisitive mindset, take time to examine the issues at hand, and resist giving any advice. The last step is very difficult because most leaders want to step in right away and offer their solution to the problem, but in reality employees will be more committed to following through with a solution if they are the ones who came up with it.
It is very important at this stage for the coach to really listen to the employee. During coaching, the leader should only be speaking about 25 percent of the time. A useful tool for enforcing this is W.A.I.T., which stands for “Why Am I Talking?” The coach should utilize pauses to their advantage; withholding from speaking encourages the coachee to fill in the silence themselves, and when the coach does speak, they should be asking leading, open questions to provoke detailed and thoughtful answers from the employee. Through truly listening, the leader will be able to see beneath the surface issues and pinpoint the root problem at hand. The leader should then explore the possible outcomes of the employee’s current path, and in doing so will help the employee realize that they need to make a change. After the coach follows all of these steps, they may give their perspective regarding the situation, but only if it is a feedback conversation that they initiated, or when the coachee does not see an important aspect of their situation.
The third step in the process explores the employee’s desired state in order to pick a successful and appropriate plan of action. To do this, the leader must understand the employee’s vision for success, set goals and performance expectations, discuss alternative plans of action, and explore possible barriers. It is crucial that the coach avoid rushing into problem-solving mode during this phase; the coach should work slowly to determine the employee’s absolute ideal vision of success or resolution to their issue and explore alternate routes to reach that vision. However, if the employee’s vision of success does not meet the organization’s performance expectations, the leader must negotiate and discuss what the minimum measures of success must entail.
The leader should encourage the employee to come up with at least three different solutions to their issue. If the employee does this, they will end up with a more effective and well-suited solution in the long run. If the employee is having difficulty coming up with more than just one solution, the coach should become their brainstorming partner and engage them in creating alternative solutions, but the leader must take care not to usurp the brainstorming process. Only when the employee is unable to come up with any more suggestions should the leader pitch in any of their own ideas. Once they have come up with several options, the leader should inquire about the possible barriers that exist within each solution. In doing so, the employee will be able to gauge which option is the most successful and least problematic, and will be able to focus on their solution of choice.
The final step of the process is to lay out the success plan. To do this, the leader must help the employee develop and agree upon an action plan and timeline. This can be accomplished by enquiring about what specific actions will help the employee reach their goal and determining who will hold them accountable and how they plan on staying focused. Many leaders may worry that this sounds like micromanaging, but asking a large amount of questions will help the employee gain clarity regarding what needs to happen next. It is also important for the leader to offer future support for the process and enlists any other people who may be able to help the employee with their solution.
One of the most important parts of this step is to set specific milestones for follow-ups in order to maintain the employee’s accountability. It is key that the milestones are reasonable and timely to both the coach and the employee, doing so will ensure that the employee does not feel overwhelmed and the leader does not feel let down. It is vital that the coach keeps checking in on the coachee from time to time to ensure that they are making progress towards their new goal. It can be useful for the leader to come up with creative incentives for when the employee meets specific milestones. The reward does not need to be monetary, but can be something little and fun. If the leader notices that the employee is falling behind on their progress, they should not be afraid to turn up the heat; a solid combination of pressure and encouragement can be a great motivator. By utilizing the F.U.E.L. outline, leaders can create a profoundly positive effect on their coaching abilities. In doing so, they are creating a more efficient, confident, and effective workforce within their organization.