Coaching

by Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird

Common questions

  1. What has coaching got to do with modern business?
  2. What is coaching?
  3. How is coaching different from training, counselling and so on?
  4. In what specific situations do I coach and when do I not coach?
  5. How do I become a coach?
  6. What evidence do you have that coaching works?

 

1. What has coaching got to do with modern business?

There are some real changes and challenges facing UK business right now, including the following:

  • More virtual and remote teams
  • Businesses with less hierarchical responsibility
  • Fewer people having to achieve more
  • Non-stop focus on results
  • The difficulty of retaining good people.

Coaching can help in all these areas and many more.

In many business environments nowadays, it is not enough just to manage effectively. There is a growing expectation that managers must gain competence in the art and science of coaching to truly make a difference in the development of their people.

Organisations that have embraced coaching and stuck with it have noticed remarkable results. Coaching, done well, can be a powerful tool in implementing change, increasing motivation across teams and addressing individual performance issues, thereby harnessing the potential for improving results. Many organisations that have been hardwired for consistency and control have seen themselves transformed into learning, change and creativity cultures.

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2. What is coaching?

Coaching is:

  • The art of guiding a person towards the development of their own skills and behaviour
  • Unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance (Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore)
  • Like having your own personal navigator for the journey of your life: someone who will help you find your way and stay on course (Co-active Coaching, Laura Whitworth).

Coaching, at its best, can work towards positive and sustainable behaviour change in any environment.

The emphasis on coaching in business in the 21st century is on the following issues.

  • Producing action
  • Improving relationships
  • Delivering results
  • Improving performance
  • Empowering individuals to make decisions for themselves
  • Increasing retention
  • Reducing stress
  • Solving problems

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3. How is coaching different from training, counselling and so on?

  • A trainer offers instruction to build skills and capabilities.
  • A mentor sponsors an individual and offers advice based on professional expertise.
  • A manager ensures goals are achieved in the time allotted and with the resources provided.
  • A therapist attempts remediation of a health or psychological problem, usually following a diagnosis.
  • A coach helps someone to learn, rather than teaches them, and helps actualise a person’s potential.

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4. In what specific situations do I coach and when do I not coach?

You can coach someone effectively in many different ways, from informal short telephone conversations through to face-to-face meetings. There are also a number of specific applications in business where coaching can bring about real results.

Coaching can be used in a variety of contexts and can be anything from a few short minutes of informal talk over a coffee through to a planned and contracted coaching relationship that involves a number of sessions.

  • Brief coaching

  • You might be asked a question while at the photocopier or while getting a coffee. You might have a brief conversation with someone about a work-related issue. These can be opportunities for brief coaching.

  • Single coaching conversations

  • A lot of coaching may only require one session – a single coaching conversation. Your objective here is to leave the other person more empowered, whether that is around approaching a task, making a decision or developing a skill.

  • Coaching over several sessions

  • A lot of topics require more than one coaching session – they are often more complex and/or detailed. Often, when you are looking to help an individual change behaviours or adopt new behaviours or skills, you need to overcome habit and this can take time.

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5. How do I become a coach?

There are, as always, many routes to what you want. Here are four options to start or improve yourself as a coach.

  • Coaching resources

There are plenty of books which can give you much more information about the nature of coaching and the skills required. In addition there are CDS and DVDs that you can buy to hone those coaching skills.

  • Practice

Then, of course, there is no substitute for practice. Practise coaching as much as you can and take a step back every time to ask yourself some modelling questions.

  • How did I do?
  • What worked?
  • What impact did my intervention have on the coachee?
  • What could I have done better?
  • What have I learned from the session?
  • Coaching supervisor

Get yourself a coaching supervisor, an expert in coaching who can give you some objective feedback on how you are doing.

  • Courses:

There is now a plethora of courses available. These range from one-day introductions to full programmes leading to professional qualifications. It is quite possible that coaching will be licensed in the US soon. In the UK, there are coaching academies and businesses offering a diverse range of coaching courses. You can learn coaching in one hit over a week or weekend, online, or as part of a modular programme.

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6. What evidence do you have that coaching works?

Within the bounds of a coaching relationship, it is not always possible to measure the impact of coaching. One-to-one collaborative learning methods like coaching do not always sit comfortably within any of the step-by-step training evaluation models currently on offer. Many organisations do not understand how to measure value or return on investment, and therefore do not formally evaluate coaching.

Still, in our view, it is important to evaluate coaching when possible. Here are two case studies that support the notion that coaching can improve business results.

One study examined the effects of executive coaching in a public sector municipal agency. Thirty-one managers underwent a conventional managerial training programme, followed by eight weeks of one-on-one executive coaching. Training – which included goal setting, collaborative problem-solving practice, feedback, supervisory involvement, evaluation of end results, and a public presentation – increased productivity by 22.4 per cent. Training and coaching increased productivity by 88 per cent, a significantly greater gain compared to training alone.

(‘Executive Coaching as Tool’, G Olivero, KD Bane, RE Kopleman; Public Personnel Management, Winter 1997)

A Fortune 500 firm recently engaged a coaching company to determine the business benefits and return on investment for an executive coaching programme. The bottom line? Coaching produced a 529 per cent return on investment and significant intangible benefits to the business, including the benefits from employee retention. The study provided powerful new insights into how to maximise business impact through executive coaching.

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