Coaching has attracted much attention in recent years as a method of developing senior leaders and executives. It is also a popular tool for developing employee potential and work performance. Coaching is now seen as a key ingredient in improving employee engagement in organisations.
1. Gain support and recognition from the organisation and recognise barriers to coaching
Firstly, gain the support from senior management to ensure recognition for all coaching activity as being an important part of the working day. Acknowledgment of additional time and resources is essential if the coaching activity is to be a success. If the coach feels that the organisation does not give priority to activities when compared to other tasks, they may postpone, cut short or fail to put their best efforts and concentration into the sessions. Coaching stands a far better chance of success if there is motivation from the coach and there is focus on the task at hand, and feels that their performance is being monitored, and supported, by senior managers.
Be aware of barriers to effective coaching: the most common is a lack of acceptance of the role of coach both by the person undertaking the coaching and by the person being coached. Consider also any relevant gender or cultural factors and take these into account when deciding where and when the sessions should take place and management styles.
2. Plan your approach before starting the session
Hold a preliminary meeting with the learner to establish ground rules:
• identify the learning needs which the coaching sessions will aim to address, and agree priorities
• set learning objectives
• agree and define success criteria, or task objectives, between the coach and the learner, specifying the standard against the judgement of success
• review the options and make a detailed plan
• decide on the practicalities – the number and length of sessions carried out, location and preferred times of day
• ensure the person wants, or at least understands the need, for coaching e.g. for performance reasons.
It is important to make coaching specific in terms of skills or aspects of work. Open-ended and nonspecific coaching can result in the sessions veering off course and limiting the creativity and potential of the learner.
3. Establish the most appropriate approach to learning
We all learn in different ways. For coaching to be effective, it is essential to understand what will best meet the needs of the learner. Explore and test a mixture of methods, including watching, listening, thinking, reading, observing, reflecting or trying things out, to find the approach which gives the best results for your learners, or the blend of approaches which seems most suitable. To help to identify an individual’s learning style, the model Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles could be a useful aid here. In addition, Kolb’s Learning Cycle can provide insights into how to learn more effectively.
4. Identify potential opportunities for coaching
In coaching it can be useful for the learner to try out practical skills in an actual work setting and reflect on how successful they have been. Consider whether a suitable opportunity for coaching can be identified, and, taking into consideration the priorities that have been set, arrange a suitable time for the first session.
5. Carry out the coaching session using your chosen coaching model
The most appropriate method of coaching is to invite learners to explain or demonstrate what they actually do. In the case of a practical task, ask them what happened and why and get them to consider whether there was an alternative approach they might have tried and whether this might have been more successful. It is therefore helpful to provide a clear structure for coaching sessions.
There are a number of coaching models which can be used. The OSCAR Model is an enhancement of the widely used GROW model:
Outcome – help the team member to clarify their outcomes
Situation – gain clarity around where the team member is right now
Choices and consequences – generating alternative choices and raising awareness of the consequences
Actions – clarify the next steps and taking responsibility
Review – ongoing process of review and evaluation This introduces a ‘choices and consequences’ component and a review section which is particularly relevant to managers. The structure includes relevant questions, explores risk and encourages ownership and also responsibility.
6. Review progress
Help the learner to reflect on what has gone well and where there is room for further development. Any feedback given by the coach should be honest but sensitive, critical but constructive, and must always focus on improvements for the future.
7. Plan interim developments
Plan development activities for the learner to undertake between coaching sessions. Coaching should not be a spoon-feeding process; it is essential for the learner to be sufficiently motivated to develop the skills they have learned. Encourage the learner to identify opportunities to practise new skills. Agree improvement targets for practice sessions before the close of the coaching session.
8. Monitor performance and progress
At the close of each session, discuss and review:
• the learner’s success against the criteria and standards for performance agreed at the start
• how well the learner handles the overall learning process. Plan the next steps. This may involve more coaching on the current task, if either the task or the learning objectives have not been met in full or moving on to a further area for development. Devise a checklist as a means of objectively assessing long-term performance and also improvement. Consider:
• including key milestones/dates
• recording each coaching session and also monthly/quarterly review dates
• gaining feedback from both the learner and their line manager making recommendations for next steps in the development cycle. This provides a means of tracking performance for future reference, and also helps to ensure the clarity and transparency of the whole process.