What is coaching?
The focus of coaching is on meeting very specific objectives within a set period of time. Coaching is mainly concerned with performance and the development of certain skills. It will usually take place on a one-to-one basis and has a very specific purpose. There will usually be a planned programme with a much shorter timeframe than in mentoring, so the learning goals are usually determined in advance.
John Whitmore (author of the seminal Coaching For Performance) describes coaching as, “unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their performance at work” and “helping them to learn rather than teaching them”.
Coaching has been successfully used in organisations to develop line managers and senior management teams but remains a challenge for various operational businesses where managers find they lack the skill sets, experience, confidence or capability to have true coaching relationships with their colleagues.
It's important to note that coaching tends to work best when it takes place independently of line managers – coaching needs open, honest relationships between the coach and their coachee. A coach works in their coachee’s best interests and will bring a new approach to either a specific skill or an entire career.
Coaching isn't about teaching, instruction or telling somebody what to do. The role of coaches is to ask their protégé the right questions to promote greater self-awareness and more informed decision-making.
The role of coaches is not to solve problems, but to question how the best solutions might be found. Whilst there are times when a line manager may be able to act as coach to their direct report, from experience this tends to be an exception.
The benefits of coaching
- Provide individuals and teams with opportunities for gaining new skills, and personal development
- Offer learning opportunities geared to individual needs
- Encourage a positive attitude to learning
- Provide flexibility in the learning process
- Allow coachees to select what and how they learn
- Effect change unless clear, measurable goals are set in advance
- Benefit the coachee unless there is support from senior managers
- Succeed unless both coach and coachee are fully committed to the coaching programme
In a survey reported by the Institute for Leadership and Management (ILM), 80% of organisations surveyed had used or were using coaching (ILM, 2011).
Coaching helps to provide people with the tools, knowledge and opportunities they will need to develop themselves and become more effective.
What does coaching involve?
Coaching is a series of structured conversations designed to enable a coachee to achieve their own goals. The coachee decides what they want to work on. The coach helps the coachee get there by questioning, challenging and supporting them. The coaching session is confidential. Coaching is about change; the coachee has to be willing to change.
Coaching can cover a range of topics, including:
- Stakeholder relationships
- Handling the personal fallout from project issues
- Stepping into the project or programme management role for the first time
- Contextualising existing project delivery skills to a new business unit
- Coping with pressure
- Feeling stuck and powerless
- Handling conflicting priorities
- Feeling isolated
- Better ways of working with very senior staff
Coaching helps restore a sense of perspective, although it helps if trust has been established well in advance so that the advice will actually be considered rather than being immediately dismissed as something that will cause the project to lose its momentum.
Ultimately the coaching relationship needs time, focus and commitment of both the coach and the coachee to work successfully.
How to coach
We'll focus on the mechanics of an effective coaching relationship in a future blog. Positive coaching outcomes rely upon relationships that involve mutual goals and tasks between coach and coachee. Trust is also both a foundation and an outcome of the coaching partnership.
If you are interested in evaluating how your operational business approaches coaching and what its benefits might be for your organisation, then please get in touch with us.