Some practical coaching tips
Organisations today are faced with ever-increasing pressures and faster change than has ever been experienced, which means that we depend on our people to learn and change at a similar speed in order to continuously improve and remain competitive. Managers within the workplace clearly have a significant role to play in facilitating this by providing clarity, by managing the workplace environment to ensure that it is conducive to progress and development, but arguably above all to be an excellent coach to his or her team and the individuals within it.
Coaching is about setting people up for success, which means helping people to have clarity about what it is they are working towards, facilitating a process whereby people set themselves challenging goals that they feel both motivated and equipped to achieve and demonstrating total belief in the individual as well as full support in helping them in the achievement of their goals.
It is well recognised that coaching is one of the most important tools in managing others’ performance and helping people reach their potential.
What is coaching?
“Coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another”
Coaching is about performance…
Coaching in a business context is ultimately concerned with performance and any intervention that a manager as coach might make should be driven by the intention to improve performance. Improved performance may relate to the delivery of a specific task or project, the achievement of business goals or, more generically, greater effectiveness or efficiency.
Coaching is about learning…
Learning is another potential outcome from coaching. Taking the longer term view, the future performance of the organisation will depend on people’s ability to approach new tasks creatively and with an open mind.
Coaching is about facilitating…
Facilitating is about making things easy but in coaching terms it implies that the person being coached has the capacity to think something through for themselves, to have insights or to develop creative ideas. This means that the manager as coach has to give up on the assumption of having the right answer. The role of the coach is more to enable the coachee to explore, to gain a better understanding, to become more aware and as a result of that to make a better decision than they would have done without the coaching intervention.
‘Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them’ Tim Gallwey
THE MANY BENEFITS OF COACHING
Those people who have ever felt the benefits of having a line manager who is an excellent coach will know that the many positive outcomes of coaching include:
✓ Improved performance and productivity - Coaching brings out the best in individuals and teams, something that instructing does not even aspire to do. People become more engaged and motivated to perform at a higher level.
✓ Staff development - Developing people does not mean just sending them on a training course. The way you manage will either develop them or hold them back and coaching is one of the most effective development tools for managers to draw on.
✓ Improved learning - Coaching is learning on the fast track, without loss of time. Enjoyment and job satisfaction are also enhanced.
✓ Improved relationships - The very act of asking someone a question shows you value them and their answer. If you only tell, little rapport can be built.
✓ Improved quality of life for individuals - As a result of showing respect for individuals, relationships improve. As a result of this, combined with the success that comes from coaching, the atmosphere at work will inevitably change for the better.
✓ More time for the manager - Staff who are coached and who welcome responsibility do not have to be chased or watched, freeing the manager to perform those functions for which there was little time for before.
✓ More creative ideas - Coaching and a coaching environment encourage creative suggestions from all members of the team without the fear of ridicule. One creative idea often sparks off another.
✓ Better use of people, skills and resources - A manager often has no idea what hidden resources are available to them until they start coaching. Very soon s/he will uncover many previously undeclared talents in his/her team as well as solutions to practical problems, which can only be found by those who have to carry out a task regularly.
✓ Faster and more effective response - In an atmosphere in which people are valued, they are invariably willing to push the boat out when or even before being called upon to do so. When people are not valued they often only do what they are told, and as little as possible at that.
✓ Greater flexibility and adaptability to change - The coaching ethos is all about change, being responsive and being responsible. In future the demand for change will increase and only the flexible and resilient will flourish.
Someone once said of acting, ‘there are no rules, but you’ve got to know them’, and coaching is a bit like that. Coaching involves a relationship between two people and the conversation that takes place within that relationship can take a number of forms depending on the situation and the needs of the coachee.
As Sir John Whitmore says in his book, ‘Coaching for Performance’, “coaching is not merely a technique to be wheeled out and rigidly applied in certain prescribed circumstances. It is a way of managing, a way of treating people, a way of thinking, a way of being.”
There are, however, some basic skills associated with coaching that it is really important to get to grips with if you are going to be an effective coach. These are:
● Building rapport
● Raising awareness
● Giving feedback
If a coach has a good grasp of these fundamental skills coaching can begin. However it is practice, experience, learning and practising again that will build the expertise and skill of the manager as coach. Some brief background information on these skills is provided below.
Effective coaching is based on a solid relationship between the coach and coachee and one that is based on trust, honesty and openness. For a coaching relationship to work there needs to be rapport between the coach and coachee. Rapport is the quality of harmony, recognition and mutual acceptance that exists between people when they are at ease with one another. It is the basis for developing trust and allows communication to occur easily. It is meeting others in their model of the world.
Some people are naturally gifted in building rapport; they are interested in people, they find it easy to empathise and they are quickly able to strike up a genuine connection with others. However building rapport, which is fundamental to effective coaching, is still a skill that can be learnt. Achieving rapport is really all about establishing and maintaining good relationships, which means that people feel at ease and feel comfortable to talk openly in the coaching dialogue.
It is often said that rapport is the state that precedes influence and therefore being able to develop rapport will help you in lead a coaching conversation towards a successful outcome.
By applying the principles of good listening and showing genuine interest your reputation will be enhanced as a manager who easily builds relationships and communicates effectively.
It is through our interpersonal skills and authentic communication that we build and develop our relationships, and our behaviours that we display when we communicate with others are usually based on our beliefs and values. A skilled coach will have clarity about their own values and beliefs and know that they are well aligned with the fundamental principles of coaching. This authenticity will also help build rapport with the coachee and support you to coach effectively.
We take it for granted that we listen, because we hear, but when we look more deeply at what listening really means, and what can be achieved when we truly listen, it is easy to see where we fall short of this skill on a day-to-day basis. The purpose of listening is to take in information, not just the words, but also the meaning behind the words and the feeling behind the words, as well as listening to what else is going on that is non-verbal such as energy levels or indeed what is left unsaid.
Nancy Kline, in her book, ‘Time To Think’, makes the statement that “The quality of someone’s thinking is directly related to the attention you give to them.”
It is useful to look at listening occurring at three levels:
Level 1 The first level of listening is where most of us sit most of the time. This is where the focus is on our own thoughts and ourselves and is not at all appropriate when coaching others. Most typically we can see this happening when the listener is busy thinking about the next question they are going to ask instead of listening to what is being said, or worse still thinking about the answer to the next question they are going to ask.
A good piece of advice for managers who are learning the skills of coaching in the workplace is this: ‘Listen to what is being said, ignore what is going on in your own head. Then use what has just been said to ask your next question.’ When people make this change the results are dramatic and this shift takes people to the second level of listening.
Level 2 The second level of listening is where managers as coaches need to be to as a starting point. It involves total focus directed on the coachee, such that the focus is totally on the coachee’s agenda, asking questions to help raise the coachee’s awareness and move them towards their goals.
You are also listening for what is not said, what is being held back or the silences. You are listening to see what pushes the right (or wrong) buttons for your coachee, where you are helping to raise their awareness or getting them energised (or not!). When a coach does this the inner conversations disappear and an intuitive sense of where to go next takes its place. At this level it is important to reflect back, not just to demonstrate that you have been listening but most of all to check understanding – both of the coach and the coachee.
Allowing the coachee to listen to what they have said played back to them can have a very powerful effect. Another way of looking at this level of listening is to consider that you are listening through your coachee’s perception of their world, not your own. You put your own thoughts on hold and join your coachee in their thoughts, in order that you truly understand.
Level 3 The third level of listening, called ‘Intuitive Listening’, means listening at 360 degrees, as if the coach and the coachee are accessing information through all the senses. Doing this allows greater access to intuition, which is merely another source of information but surprisingly often very accurate. The skill is to be open and receptive to what is happening in the conversation and to intuitively do what feels right with the information picked up.
If you are totally focused on your coachee and passionate about raising your coachee’s awareness and moving them towards their goals then your natural instinct to coach will steer you to the appropriate questions to ask. That said there are some basic principles in asking good or ‘powerful’ questions.
First of all, as a coach you need to be aware of the type of questions which are not skilful. These are typically closed questions which require a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer and are not going to move your coachee very far forward at all or Leading questions, which suggest to the coachee that there is a ‘right’ answer, one that you have already thought of. Good questioning technique means using ‘open’ questions that begin with ‘who, what, where, when, which, when, and how’.
To ask good questions you need to ‘get interested’. This means being curious and asking questions not because the coaching process you like to use suggests you ask those particular questions in that particular order but because you are really interested in discovering more about your coachee and uncovering ways of helping them move towards their goals.
In the corporate coaching environment it is not those that ask the cleverest questions that are most effective. It is those that ask questions with genuine interest and curiosity that truly get their coachees thinking deeply and trust is developed in the relationship.
Combine curiosity with good questions then you have ‘powerful questions’ and the makings of being an excellent coach. Coaching is about asking rather than telling and it is the skilled use of questions that will have an enormous impact on the coach’s success in helping their coachee move forward towards their goals. Asking a powerful question can lead the coachee along paths that they have never discovered before (or perhaps were too afraid to venture along). Powerful questions open up new perspectives and panoramas for the coachee and any lingering fog can lift. The questions allow the individual to become more introspective and allow them to access greater creativity and insight.
The objective of using powerful questions is to make the impact as powerful as possible – not because it is a clever question that makes the coachee have to think long and hard about the ‘correct’ answer but because it is a question that stops the coachee in their tracks and makes them respond from the heart – an emotionally intelligent response. Quite often these questions can stun an individual into silence while they access the response – the skilled coach just listens and waits for the response.
So what are these powerful questions? They are often the shortest questions you may ask, such as ‘What outcome are you wanting?’, ‘What do you really want?’, and ‘What are you afraid of?’ One could write lists of powerful questions but it is not the words that make a question really powerful (apart from the fact that they are open questions). It is the judgment on the part of the coach that makes a question powerful – judgment as where to go next and when and in what way. When asking powerful questions the coach is not making decisions based on logic, but rather allowing their own intuition and feeling to guide the coaching conversation in order to enhance the coaching experience for the coachee.
The two most important outcomes from coaching are raised awareness and sense of responsibility on the part of the coachee. The coachee is ultimately in control of how aware they are and to what degree they feel the responsibility to act, however it is the skill of the coach that will also determine the level to which the coachee can be taken. By listening and asking powerful questions your coachee will come to understand themselves better and get greater clarity about what is happening in their working life, their behaviour etc. and with this understanding comes greater clarity about where to go next and what to do. Raising awareness is fairly intangible but you will know you have got there when you sense that the ‘fog has lifted’ for your coachee and they immediately feel more powerful and insightful.
The skill of giving feedback has an important role to play in managing performance through coaching, so long as the coachee is given the choice as to whether they want to be given the feedback and how they want it to be given. The best way to ensure that the coachee is given this choice is to ask for permission to give feedback.
There are a few occasions worth noting where a coach may feel the need to give feedback. Firstly, the coach may notice things of which the coachee remains unaware and feel it appropriate to share these observations. In this case the coach may ask, for example, ‘Would you like me to share with you what I am sensing?’ When such feedback is given it is important for coaches to ensure that the self-esteem of the person being coached remains intact and that there is a sole reason for giving the feedback: to raise the coachee’s awareness. Therefore a good test as to whether the feedback was appropriate or not is to ask: ‘Did it raise awareness in the coachee?’ If it did then your judgment in making the intervention was probably a good one.
Many people who are new to coaching in the workplace confuse giving feedback with giving advice. It is often an instinctive reaction to want to leap in with a solution, especially for line managers who for all their careers have been expected to have all the answers and act as the expert advisor. However, this is an instinct that all coaches must learn to control. A skilled coach needs to be able to differentiate between feeling the need to give a piece of advice and wanting to articulate something they have observed in the coachee’s behaviour and its subsequent effect in order to facilitate their development and raise their awareness.
A skilled coach always works from the guiding principle that the coachee has the answer. The skill comes in helping the individual define the true problem and generate some solutions of his or her own. Even if the coachee asks for advice it is always a good idea to check out their own thinking first of all – we all know that people tend to be motivated by pursuing their own creative ideas rather than those of others. If the coachee is unable to generate any ideas then one approach is to offer the individual a selection of options to resolve the matter and allow them to choose which one they prefer.
Similarly, when your coachee is brainstorming ideas it may feel appropriate to offer a suggestion and this must be done in a way that does not make the suggestion look the like the ‘right’ answer. The best thing to do is to offer your suggestions, being careful not to influence your coachee too much.
We have talked about giving feedback to the coachee but it is also equally important for the manager as coach to be able to invite and receive feedback on the impact they are having. This is not as an ego-stroking exercise but as a measure of how effective they are being as a coach and as a means of learning how they can improve as a coach. The skilled coach will also remain sensitive to things said or not said by the coachee. This is also feedback to be noted because the coachee may be wary of coming straight out and saying exactly what they mean.
Our task as a coach is to help people become what they want to be in work, to help them overcome limiting issues and beliefs to achieve the qualities that will lead to success in their job and career. To this end, self-management is important because if you are not leading a fulfilled and balanced life at work (and ideally out of work, too), then you will not be able to coach at your best. That is not to say that you must have achieved everything you want to and learnt everything you can because there is no limit to this and every good manager as coach will have a line manager who is also coaching them.
As a basis the values and beliefs of the coach are extremely important. At the very least your values as a coach need to be in line with the fundamental values associated with coaching, such as honesty, trust and belief in the potential of people. Any coachee will be quick to pick up if the coach’s values are not aligned with what they profess them to be. The manager needs to make sure that whatever they are doing they are ‘walking the talk’ – it is no use having a set of values and beliefs written down on a piece of paper if they are not put in to practice at all times.
For a coach, the achievement of your own goals reinforces your belief in the value that coaching can bring to others. It also fires you up with the enthusiasm and passion you need to help bring your coachee alive in order that they feel the energy they need to achieve their own goals. Good coaches strive towards their own goals without fear and with passion and can then, in turn, help their coaches to do the same. A good coach also needs to be a role model for self-development and seek opportunities for continual professional development.
Coaching for Performance – John Whitmore
Effective Coaching – Myles Downey
Co-Active Coaching – Whitworth, Kimsey-house, Sandahl
Time To Think – Nancy Kline