It's a question I get asked all of the time by my clients. I can see why they ask as I read many publications that talk about coaching and they all offer differing opinions. So say coaching definitely works where as others say don't waste your time and money. So, does it really work? Will it make a difference to the way you work and the way your team members work, behave and operate.
I've been coaching people now for a number of years and we also run a course on coaching skills. This article isn't simply me having my two pennyworth, but more looking at both sides of the argument and me using some of my experiences to demonstrate that if Coaching is used correctly it can be extremely effective.
My first introduction to Coaching was hearing a story about John Whitmore Coaching the famous tennis play Bjorn Bjork. It made me wonder how effective the approach John used to help Bjorn win tennis matches really worked. The story clearly says that John had little or no understanding of Tennis, so how could he teach someone to play the game? This really got me, I really didn't get it.
Maybe was me maybe being a little naïve toward what Coaching actually was. Maybe it was tarnished by my vision of a Football Coach stood on the sidelines barking orders at their squad, telling the team how they will be expected to play, what positions they will play in, how they should approach the opposition and who will play and when. If this is what a coach is, how could John Whitmore help someone to play Tennis if he had little or no understanding of the sport himself.
It took me a while to understand how the story I heard described coaching, eventually I had a light bulb moment and it finally clicked.
I guess I'm one of those people who really doesn't like being told what to do. I don't like people telling me how to run my life, my business, what I should or should not do. I listen to the advice that I'm given, but I decide what I should take on board and use.
I used to have a boss who was a real control freak. Everything had to be done their way. They were not open to feedback, it was always 'This is the way we are doing it, I'm in charge and you will do as you're told'. A very autocratic manager, and although I didn't like their approach, I just got on with it otherwise I wouldn't be getting my salary at the end of the week. When I look back on this, I remember that I was very demotivated. It very much used to go in one ear and out of the other. I seem to remember carrying out the instructions I was given, but going back to the way I used to do it - much to the fury of my manager, who would tell me how to do it again.
Needless to say, I wasn't there for too long. I guess I was expecting my next boss to be the same as my old; however, I was in for a bit of a surprise. Although I wasn't aware at the time why they were different and why I performed a lot better, looking back I really see now what they were doing and why I responded.
See, in the story about Tennis, John asked Bjorn many questions to understand where he was now and where he wanted to be. Bjorn had a clear idea of what he wanted to achieve but didn't know how to get there. This was the real surprise for me as actually Bjorn did know how to get there, he just didn't know that he knew. It was simply John's job to help Bjorn to see that he did know how to get there and not to tell him what he needed to do.
As I began to learn about Coaching myself, I realised that this is what coaching was all about; a total contradiction to what my original opinion of coaching actually was. I know understood that Coaching was about helping someone to realise their own potential through helping them first to understand their areas for development.
See, Coaching is not about telling someone what they need to do to improve but helping them to understand for themselves, using the knowledge that they have, what they can change in order to get better. This is exactly what John did with Bjorn, and what my new manager done with me.
So, back to the original question, does coaching work?
Based on my experiences it certainly done; however, if coaching isn't carried out effectively that it can have the adverse effect. Here are some things to remember when coaching:
1. It's important that the person you are coaching has some knowledge around the subject you intend to coach them on. Coaching is all about questions, its the person telling you about what they know and what they can do differently. If they don't have the knowledge then they may feel a little silly and can have the adverse effect.
2. Use a structure to help you coach effectively. There are a number of them out there, but pick a simple one such as GROW.
3. In terms of the conversation, you should only do 20% of the talking. Your 20% needs to be questions, questions, questions.
4. Always ensure that you set goals or objectives at the beginning of the session. This ensures you both know exactly what you are aiming for.
5. Always ensure your session ends in actions; however, always ensure where possible that the actions that are agreed are for the coachee to carry out and not you. This ensures that the ownership stays with the person you are coaching.
In the points above I mentioned that goals should always be set. Well, my next point may appear to contradict this. A good coach should be able to coach someone without them knowing that you are coaching them.
So you ask then, how do you set a goal?
Easy, by using the structure I mentioned earlier - GROW. GROW stands for Goals, Reality, Options and Will. I have other articles available on my website that looks deeper into this method; however a quick overview:
Goal - What it is you want to achieve of where you want to be?
Reality - Where are you now or what does the current situation look like?
Options - What will you do to get from reality to your goal?
Will - How committed are you to changing
By simply having a conversation using this structure, it should be easy to establish the goal or objective.
In conclusion, coaching does work if used correctly. Please don't think that you will ever become an effective coach. I've been coaching for around 10 years and think I still have a lot to learn. In fact, coaching is one of those skills that you are constantly learning. Every coaching session will throw up new questions and new experiences - you'll always be learning.
Coaching does take more time than an autocratic approach; however, the longer term results when coaching is used are much more visible.