Many HR professionals view coaching as essentially the same thing as training. In reality, however, there are some very clear differences between the two. As a rule, coaching is best suited to managers and executives who have advanced beyond the need for general group trainings.
These people benefit greatly from personalised attention from a skilled coach – someone who can identify their strengths and weaknesses, and help them close their personal skill gaps. The following coaching tips will help you get better results when working with senior staff.
1. Define the coaching relationshipEvery coaching scenario is different. It is crucial that you define the coaching relationship from the outset. Is the coach expected to provide comprehensive feedback? Is their role to listen and act as a “mirror”, allowing executives to identify their own skills needs and facilitate self-learning? Or is the coach there in a more casual capacity, providing tips and suggestions as a friend might?
When the coaching relationship is defined at the outset, expectations are clearly set for both parties and things can progress smoothly.
2. Understand the gapsPerformance coaching assumes that there is some weakness that needs to be improved on. So, what does that weakness look like? What are the gaps that are causing the individual to fail in certain environments, or on certain tasks?
Without getting to the bottom of this fundamental question, it's very difficult to coach someone to become better.
Often, the best way to home in on the core issues is to do a skills gap analysis, via a competency-based interview process. This involves having a full and frank discussion about past successes and failures in a non-threatening environment. It can help to do this outside the office – a casual, social setting like a café can help executives relax and open up more.
3. Coach KSATs, not just skillsAn effective coach understands that performance is based on Knowledge, Skill, Attitudes and Traits. If you only train employees' skills, then you are missing the other crucial factors that fuel performance.
KnowledgeHelping executives with Knowledge acquisition may be as simple as providing resources or pointing them in the right direction of the needed information.
AttitudesTraining Attitudes is a little more involved. Attitudes are the product of past experience, and are manifest in the executive's self-talk and “lenses” through which they perceive situations. It may be that their attitudes are already optimal for their role... but don’t count on it.
Coaches can shift attitudes with time and effort – once a dysfunctional attitude has been identified, it can help to challenge assumptions or provide other, more empowering interpretations that the executive could take on instead. This work is slow going, but it's worth it.
TraitsTraits are defined as deeply engrained aspects of personality. You can’t train someone to have different Traits, but you can train someone to understand themselves better, and how their Traits affect their performance. Helping managers gain these self-insights greatly improves their understanding of people in general - enabling them to be a more influential and effective manager.
4. Listen for the tell-tale signsSelf-talk is the window to understanding mental baggage. If someone you are coaching is struggling, the root cause may lie past experience, which is creating mental barriers to performance. As you go through the coaching process, listen for negative comments and resistance. These can point you towards mental thought patterns that need to be reshaped.
5. Keep coaching relevant where possibleCoaching can get into abstract territory when you are trying to create new habits or fine-tune skills. The human brain learns most optimally in high-relevance situations. Repeated psychological experiments have found that recall of information is best when the retrieval process is done in the same physical environment that the learning took place in.
When coaching new behaviour, do it in the same place that person will be performing the task in a real situation.
When they pick up the phone in a role play during you’re coaching session, they will be picking up the same phone that they will be using the next day. Make sure you have their undivided attention during coaching though - If this is not possible, then choose another venue.
6. Facilitate, don’t imposeCoaches must be careful not to overstep their roles: they should refrain from trying control the manager or the situation. Coaching works best when it facilitates - that is, when it enables the manager to find solutions to their problems.
Good coaches find ways for their clients to work things out, rather than telling them what they should know. A great coach draws potential out of people. Remember, most managers already have strong opinions on how things should be done – forcing a new approach on them can lead to a clash of cognitive frames, and this can end in frustration or conflict. Instead, guide them to find better ways of doing things on their own.
7. Respect their timeEvery moment you are spending coaching, the person you’re coaching is away from their role in the business. Coaches need to be sure not to let sessions overrun, and respect the fact that managers have other important things that they need to attend to.
Be realistic though. If the 60-minute session is not sufficient to cover the material you want to cover, then speak to them ahead of the meeting and negotiate extra time for the session. It's better to reschedule for a longer session than to try and cram it all in and fail.
8. Address one problem at a timeIt can be tempting to tackle huge issues in one go. Generally though, silver-bullet solutions to thorny issues just don't stick in the long-term. When the manager has a big issue such as time management or leadership, coaches should tackle it in bite-size chunks.
By looking at different behaviours and situations in turn, you can identify the specific cognitions and habits that add up to the macro issue. These individual elements can be addressed one at a time, and you can incrementally move the manager towards higher performance.
9. Sharpen your listening skillsA good coach is by necessity a good listener. Coaches that are good listeners tend to synchronise with the person they are coaching, and a shared cognitive frame develops. A skilled coach is able to help the learner to use this “third mind” as a resource in coaching sessions.
Part of what makes coaching so interesting is that it's different with every learner. However, the underlying principles of coaching always apply.
The coach is there to help the individual draw the answers out of themselves, by providing an environment for self-discovery. Great coaches direct their learners to powerful resources, guide them, but never impose their will upon them.
Do you have any other coaching tips that you would add to this list? Let us know!