Understanding the Power of Coaching

Posted in : HR Updates on 1 March 2017
Craig Thompson
Vibrant Talent Development
Issues covered:

This video is called "Understanding the Power of Coaching." What we'll be discussing is: 

  • What is coaching and how is it different from other learning interventions?
  • Who should coach?
  • Where?
  • And how frequently?
  • We'll look at directive and non-directive styles of coaching; who takes responsibility within the coaching relationship;
  • and finally we'll talk about coaching models and why they're useful.


What is coaching?

So what is coaching? And how is it different in the first place? I think the biggest obstacle for most learning and development interventions, training and coaching, is misinterpretations of what they actually are. Coaching and feedback, the terms are used synonymously, but coaching is not feedback. Coaching is a conversation between two people. It's not instruction. It's not telling people what to do or solving their problems for them. So it's a two-way conversation.

Coaching is used for improving performance and is a key learning and development tool.  What makes it different from training? It's specific and unique to the individual. So when we run a training program, we may have 12 people in a room, and we have a syllabus that we have to cover with those people.

Coaching should always follow on from training. The two should work hand in hand. So when we train people, they then get the opportunity to go back into their job and apply the learnings. But, usually, what happens is they develop coping mechanisms. They find ways to get things done, because they face challenges that we couldn't pre-empt or predict in the training environment. So they develop these coping mechanisms, and it's not always the best way to work.

When we don't coach and we don't monitor the performance of our staff and we don't have tight relationships with them, those bad habits that they pick up, they become embedded in how they handle certain situations. So they make mistakes at the start, and that's how they get used to working. So they always make those mistakes.

Coaching is something which kicks in after training, to sit down and look at the performance of an individual and discuss with them what's working really well, what might they do differently for a better result. It's where we get to bring that level of knowledge retention back up when people have forgotten certain things after training's been finished.

It should always be here and now. It should always be about someone's performance right now. And one of the big problems is we coach people about issues. When we get around to getting the time to hold a coaching session with them, it's maybe four weeks, five weeks, if we're lucky, down the line from when a mistake occurred. That person may, in the meantime, have fixed the problem for themselves. And then we bring them into a room to tell them off about the mistake that they made. It affects their morale, because they feel really good about the fact that they were able to get past the problem or a challenge, and now we bring them in to go back over it, to rake back over it again with them. Coaching should be about current performance, and it should be regular.

It's also something which is empowering and motivating. Coaching doesn't provide solutions for people. It doesn't tell them what to do. It allows them to create their own solutions and to implement their own solutions, because afterwards, if people have thought of a solution to a problem for themselves and they've implemented it and they've seen the change off the back of it, they're more likely to keep doing it, because they feel really good about themselves. What we should never do is if someone's performance improves off the back of coaching, it's not up to us to walk around patting ourselves on the back, telling everybody how we coached that person and their performance improved. Allow them their own glory.

Who should do the coaching?

So who should do the coaching? Where should they coach and how frequently? We often use subject matter experts both for training and coaching, because we think these people, they know the topic inside out. But that's when we get those scenarios where somebody talks at us. That's the kind of scenario where we're facing a problem, and we go and ask somebody because we know they know the answer. But when they give us the answer, it goes right over our head, and we don't understand it. Having the knowledge, being a subject matter expert is fantastic. But we need those subject matter experts to have coaching and facilitation skills at the same time. So whoever we use for the coaching, they need to have the knowledge, but they also need to be trained coaches.

Where should coaching take place?

We need to consider the environment where coaching happens. Oftentimes, we find it really difficult to get access to meeting rooms or training rooms, etc., because they're always in demand. And as a result, we end up coaching people at their desks beside everybody else. The problem with that is people will nod along, and they'll say, "Yeah, that's great. I'll do this. I'll do that." But, really, they're just trying to get to the end of the conversation as quickly as possible. They're insecure and they're uncomfortable discussing their concerns and their vulnerabilities in front of their co-workers, their colleagues. So we need to have a dedicated coaching environment, a private location where people feel like they can open up and have real conversations with us.

How often do we need to coach people?

How often do we need to coach people? As often as it needs to happen. Sometimes we'll have people who are experiencing a lot of problems and maybe we need to coach them every day or every week. Sometimes we'll have people who are really good, really competent, really experienced, and they might only need coached once a month, just to highlight the good work that they're doing. We need to be flexible and adaptable and coach people on a case-by-case scenario based on what they need and, again, coach the people who are performing as well as the people who are experiencing problems.

Directive and non-directive coaching

There's two different styles of coaching. We have directive and non-directive coaching. Directive coaching, as the name suggests, is telling and providing instruction, proving solutions for people. Non-directive coaching is more about partnering with people, having conversations about what they might do differently, uncovering options, different ways of working, asking questions, listening to them, empathising with them, and empowering them to create change themselves.

Both of those styles of coaching do have their uses. In a more formal, organised coaching relationship, non-directive is the one that we try to lean towards, because we want people to be part of the learning. We want them to find their own solutions so that they continue to use them. Directive coaching, that a more hands-on, instructive form of coaching, though, we will still use that from time to time. Particularly live coaching in a reactionary environment where we need quick change, sometimes directive coaching is useful. But for the most part, we will try and lean towards non-directive.

So who takes responsibility in a coaching relationship?

So who takes responsibility in a coaching relationship? The responsibility for improvement, for performance always lies with the coachee. It's important to set that relationship at the start. The coach is there to help and support the coachee. But actually taking responsibility for performance, that's the coachee's.

Now, off the back of any coaching session that we have, the coach and the coachee may both come away with actions. There will be responsibility there for the coach to actually follow up on their actions as well. We might uncover a number of potential solutions to a problem, and the coach might decide that they can arrange some refresher training or might arrange some buddying, some shadowing of another colleague. It's really important that the coach follows through on their actions, because if the coachee has actions, why would they follow through on theirs if the coach doesn't live up to their word?

James Borg wrote a book called "Persuasion: The Art of Influencing People".  And the ability to influence people is, obviously, quite powerful in a coaching relationship. He has a formula for persuasion, which is empathy + sincerity = persuasion. I would tend to adapt that further. Empathy and sincerity are really powerful in influencing persuasion. But action and follow-through is equally important, because we can sit in front of somebody, and we can be really empathetic and really sincere about wanting to help them, and we can tell them that we're going to do that. We can look really enthusiastic in the coaching session. But if we say we're going to do things and we don't do them, then when the coachee comes back the second time, the third time, the fourth time, and every time we haven't done what we said we're going to do, then they're far less likely to be influenced and persuaded by us in the future. So it's empathy + sincerity + action.

Coaching models

So there are some coaching models that we can use. Coaching models can be really useful, because they serve as a template. It ensures that we can implement consistent coaching throughout our businesses but can also evidence progress so that we can look in four months' time at high performances now, what problems we were experiencing a few months previously and how we've progressed. That's quite motivational for the coachee.

Some of the more common coaching models that are used: OSKAR would be one, and GROW would be another. So those are ones that you might want to look up. We also have one that we use ourselves within Vibrant, and that's called CHAMP.

The basic principles of all of those coaching models, though, and any other one that you choose to use remain the same. The first thing is to establish the current performance. Second one then is to highlight areas of focus, so based on performance, and that's a conversation, the discussion around performance between a coach and the coachee, the coach to look at stats and feedback from other people and, potentially, customers, the coachee to also raise any issues of concern they might have about their own performance.

When highlighting the areas of focus then, it comes from those stats in that discussion at the first stage. It's not about taking every problem that the coachee is experiencing and writing them down as something we're going to work on before the next coaching session. Maybe they've got six, seven things that they need to improve on. If we tell them that there are six, seven things that they need to get better at before the next coaching session, they're likely to feel daunted, and that's when people, they start to panic. Their performance dips even further. They get stressed. They go off sick. Potentially, they even start to look for other jobs.

So highlight the areas of focus, but restrict it to maybe two to three areas to focus on before the next session. Prioritise those areas. Pick two or three. Focus on those before the next session, and then we can work on the next ones.

So highlight the areas of focus. Analyse the options that are available to us then. So at this stage, we create a bank of potential solutions. We're not going to use all those solutions right now, but it gives the coachee confidence to know that if they try one thing and it doesn't work, we have a number of different solutions that we can fall back on and try next.

What we're going to do next then is map out our route to get from A to B. So where are we right now? Where do we want to be? Which of those options that we created our bank full of, which of those options are we going to use right now before the next coaching session? And the final thing is to actually plan a review and a follow-up. If we're able to say to the coachee right now, "We're going to sit down again the 23rd of next month at this time," then the coachee knows they need to follow through on their actions. But also you know yourself then if you have actions following the coaching session, you need to make sure that those happen, because you are going to be sitting down again in a month's time.

So those are basic principles of any coaching model really. It's the current performance. It's highlighting the areas of focus, assessing options available, deciding which of those options you're going to use right now, and then planning your review and your follow-up.

So that's it for this video. Thanks for watching. Just a recap, we talked about what coaching is and how it differs from other L&D interventions, who should coach, where, and how frequently. We looked at coaching styles and models and why they're useful.

This article is correct at 01/03/2017

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Craig Thompson
Vibrant Talent Development

The main content of this article was provided by Craig Thompson. Contact telephone number is +44 (0)7982 7282 10 or email craig@vibranttalent.co.uk

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