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Chapter 6: The Coaching Discourse

Imagine that you had an issue and you would like to talk it through with someone. How would you like that experience to be? Think about the environment, the person, the outcome.

We are all different and our descriptions of the environment and the person may be very different, depending on our preferences. The outcome however may be very similar. Ultimately if we have an issue most of us would want to resolve it. Coaches working with learner colleagues are often asked to help the learners resolve an issue. The issue may be lack of knowledge, frustration at inactivity, or the need to be able to influence a person or a situation.

Building A Coaching Relationship

The first step is identifying your coaching skills and competencies. To be able to create a memorable learning experience you need to identify your own skill set and levels of competence. Think about your own style and the way you build relationships. Thinking about creating the right environment for the learner is an important part of the role of a coach. Take every opportunity to create environments that encourage learning. The more natural you are the better the foundation on which to build the relationship. Always be sensitive to learners' needs and, although the environment may be more informal, never compromise on your professionalism or integrity. All the best learning takes place when a climate of trust between the learner and the coach is created. You need to be reassuring about confidentiality, highly responsive and seek to encourage the learner to take personal ownership, to be open in responses and to have a commitment to make it work.

How well do you listen? Do you really suspend your prejudices and listen to others with your whole mind? Often people are thinking about what they are going to say next or making assumptions about the individual or, worse still, thinking about something completely different. Have you developed the skill of effective questioning? Have you developed the ability to ask open questions, to create a natural conversational style when you are able to ask significant questions followed by a process of careful probing? The most skilled coaches have enhanced skills of questioning, listening and observing, and consequently people relax and are willing to talk to them.

One way of developing the skills of questioning and listening is to practice it as often as possible. All the skills involved in coaching are based on natural behaviours, showing genuine interest and having normal conversations with people.

Planning The Journey

One of the first stages in working with a learner is to help the learner to identify what he or she really wants to achieve. There can be a number of contexts for this; it is important to help the learner work through the key stages. For some learners this may prove to be difficult if they have never had the opportunity to sit and review their hopes and dreams. Within a working environment, objective and goal setting tends to be work related, i.e. what are you going to do to develop competence in the areas that this organization needs?

It will also be important to help the learner test reality. In today's working environment, more than ever before individuals have to cope with and handle change. This was discussed in more detail in Chapter 3. It is essential that you help your learner to really explore the options and not to make assumptions based on what has happened before. This may include helping the learner to make lateral moves rather than assume progress means promotion.

You may also work with individuals who are very happy doing what they have always done; they do not want to change. You may coach people who are suffering from a lack of confidence or self-esteem because of the feedback they have received from others in the past. Helping them to change their perspective may prove to be more of a challenge, because they may see the daily actions of others reinforcing this view.

Other learners may want to develop new competencies or skills, and you may be either directly coaching them or helping them to find the right kind of support.

Importantly these coaching conversations should not just be seen in isolation. We have a responsibility to the individual learners that we coach, in the same way as a trainer has a responsibility to people coming on a training course to help them prepare for re-entry back into the organization, to help them recognize where their team or organization is on their own change journey and to help them develop ways of ensuring their own personal growth as well as supporting organizational change.

If you are acting as more of a personal coach to an individual you can enable your learner to think about what he or she might want to achieve in both work and life goals. An important first step in this is helping the learner to establish answers to the following:

Although on the surface these are comparatively simple questions, underneath each question there is a subset of questions to enable you and the learner to identify the learner's current situation and future aspirations:

One of the realities in objective and goal setting is that it is all too easy to set goals and to break these goals down into SMART objectives and yet still not to achieve anything beyond this first stage in the activity. The reason for this is that many people find it hard to kick-start themselves out of their current situation, so a very real question might be 'What is stopping you?'

There are a number of possible reasons:

This is reflected by the well-known saying, 'If you do what you always did you'll get what you always got.'

Often individuals get caught in patterns of working and behaving that are reinforced by the people and situations around them. Encouraging them to take the important first step is an essential part of the role of being a coach. As in any comparable form of sports or ambition, coaching is about encouraging the individual to move forward by focusing on self-belief and taking the first tentative steps forward. Sometimes it may be the actions of others that are causing the delay; this is a harder issue to deal with, particularly if it is part of an organizational culture. If you are looking to develop talent to support change, having individuals feeling frustrated by bureaucracy or the actions of their managers can result in lack of motivation, inactivity or, in the worst case, talented individuals leaving the organization.

Setting Stretch Goals

One way of helping individuals is to use visualization to encourage them to set personal goals. Encourage them to imagine that they have achieved their goals and to describe what it feels like. Ask them to really explore how it feels and what is different about this new vision from where they are currently. Encourage them to write about this new place and make notes about how it could be. Then ask them to think about the key steps needed to get them from where they are now to where they want to be.

This goal setting should be undertaken in a context of the short, medium and longer term. Again help individuals to succeed by encouraging them to set small targets that are achievable as well as more aspirational and long-term goals. Use techniques such as SMART to help them identify the specifics. You may also need to have some examples to help them build their own set. By asking open questions you can help individuals begin to identify areas that they wish to work on.

Remember, if they are unused to setting goals, seeing different alternatives will take time. Asking an open question such as 'What would you like to do in the future?' of an adult can be as threatening as asking a young person, 'What do you want to do when you leave school?' They simply may not know. It can be more helpful to start with some specifics.

As well as working through goal-setting SMART objectives and helping individual learners shift their paradigms you will also have the opportunity to work with individuals who really want to take responsibility for their own learning. As they grow in confidence you can encourage them to build on SMART by setting goals that are more stretching, but in trying to help individuals develop you need to help them achieve some success. As highlighted in Chapter 3, one other factor is to do with individual motivation. Usually what makes a significant difference in the achievement of goals is that the individual really wants to do it.

From Dream To Reality

One of the most challenging and yet most valuable roles of a coach is to help learners take control of their own destiny. One of the sad realities is that many people underachieve, often as a result of the feedback that they receive from others. Parents, teachers, friends, partners are often responsible for giving (often unsolicited) advice or feedback that so undermines confidence that individuals give up on a plan or course of action because of doubts fuelled by someone else. What this often does is to reinforce the concerns that individuals may already have.

For a coach the challenge is to help individual learners rise above their own negativity and to resist advice from other people until they have taken the time to really explore how they could move from dream to reality.

One of the first stages in working with learners is to help them to identify what they really want to achieve. There can be a number of contexts for this and it is important to help learners work through the key stages. For some learners this may be difficult if they never have had the opportunity to sit and review their hopes and aspirations. Within a working environment objective and goal setting tends to be work related, i.e. individuals are often asked to match or develop competencies in areas of organizational need. If you are acting as a personal coach to individual learners you should help them to think about what they want to achieve in both work and life goals.

This is another area where some challenges to assumptions can be made; promotion is not necessarily the way to reward people. For many years there was a belief that career progression meant moving up an organization, taking on more and more responsibility. In recent years both individuals and organizations are beginning to realize that there are alternatives to progressing up an organization. As organizations have grown leaner, downsized, restructured through mergers and acquisitions, traditional career paths have changed. The development of functional specialists, the creation of new business units, the growth of internal consultants and the impact of e-commerce have changed the face of organizational development. Helping learners to identify what level of responsibility they aspire to and looking at alternatives can be a very useful role of a personal coach. Helping them to identify how they can reduce their level of responsibility or develop new levels of specialist skill can be part of this.

Responding To Change

Opportunities to work as a coach with individuals may mean responding to the impact of downsizing, a merger or acquisition, a new role or responsibility or transfer to a new location, or a new boss. It may also be the desire to achieve a new qualification or to set up on their own in business. These work-related changes can also mean that individuals think more seriously about their lifestyle options and choices. This is particularly true in the case of being made redundant, where people really reassess their options and often make major changes in the way that they live their lives. In helping individuals handle change it is important that you help them to understand the process of change and the key stages.

Initiating Change

One of the most important factors in initiating change is helping learners explore their reasons for wanting to change. Equally essential is that learners need to own and want the change. As a coach you can act as a sounding board to help individuals explore their options and wait while they make up their minds that they actually want that change. As discussed in Chapter 3, everyone is different and so as a coach you need to be able to help all your different learners progress at the pace and speed that suits them. As part of this process it is important that you understand the process of change.

As coach one of your rules is to help individual learners really think through the consequences of their actions and to help them set up a clear process for identifying and achieving their objectives. Encouraging them to review carefully at each stage of their progress against their original objectives and helping them to refine them if necessary is one way to ensure that when they achieve their goals they still want them.

One of the very real issues for today's organizations is the transfer of knowledge. In creating a dialogue for change, conversations can be a very powerful tool in shaping the pace and form of change. Think of the great orators of our time and the influence that they may have had on others. Then think of most business leaders that we know. What is their influence on others? When was the last time that you had a meaningful conversation with someone, a conversation that encouraged you, stimulated you, motivated you to go and do something, a conversation where you really listened to someone and asked questions because you were genuinely interested in the replies?

Encouraging dialogue between those who have the knowledge and those who do not is the first step, but enhancing the power and impact of those conversations is perhaps a more critical next step.

One example of this was GE's approach to executive development held at the leadership development center in Croton-on-Hudson. The course was highly participative. The course members were divided into teams and given action learning assignments. At the end of the course they presented their findings to Jack Welch and the other officers. Jack's participation in 'the pit', which was the name given to the well of one of the lecture theatres, was a unique experience. He typically arrived at the end of the course. His appearance was unscripted, without notes. He expected challenges and he wanted active debate. What Jack was offering was accessibility; he often devoted over four hours to the session. When the session was finished he would stay in the bar talking with the participants from the course. Robert Slater, author of Jack Welch and the GE Way, distills Jack's advice as follows: 'act like a leader, not manager, use the brains of every worker, keep it simple, embrace change and fight bureaucracy'.

In Chapter 1 there was reference to the work of Daniel Goleman and Louis Patler, who both emphasize the importance of encouraging individual development in a safe environment and developing respect for the views of individuals.

If more organizations encouraged accessibility then the transfer of knowledge would be more natural. Unfortunately knowledge can still be seen as power and very few organizations create the opportunity for people from different levels within the business to share ideas and concepts. Ask many employees about how they would feel if they were offered a one-to-one interview with their CEO or the board and they would probably feel quite nervous, and yet think about the more entrepreneurial business leaders: how many employees are nervous about meeting Richard Branson, or Julian Richer, or Jamie Oliver? These leaders are demonstrating a new accessibility of approach and a willingness to share knowledge and information.

Think about your organization. What opportunities have been created to share knowledge? How many really meaningful conversations take place? One of the real challenges is how to encourage informal and natural learning to take place. Traditionally, particularly in manufacturing or service industries, much learning took place on the job. An experienced worker would take a trainee and train primarily using the transfer of knowledge. The advantage was that the experienced worker was on hand to monitor the effectiveness of the learning; the disadvantage was that the new trainee could also learn all the bad habits of the experienced worker. To develop more consistency in the training, training courses were developed, over time competencies were identified and the training became more formalized.

However in today's working environment a whole range of approaches are used including training programmes, on-job experience, online learning and coaching.

If you want people to transform performance then it's important to help them both individually and organizationally to recognize what is possible in terms of personal achievement.

Sample Coaching Conversation

In Chapter 1 the concept of individual and organization alignment was discussed. Here is a sample of a model of personal development that can be used by an individual to identify key areas of development or to form part of a coaching conversation.

Hopes, Dreams and Aspirations

By asking open questions you can help the individual begin to identify areas that he or she wishes to work on.


Vision, Values and Beliefs

As well as encouraging the learner to explore hopes, dreams and aspirations, it is always important to help him or her to establish which of the overall aspirations most closely matches his or her personal vision, values and beliefs. Beneath the goals will be the steps that the learner has to take to achieve those goals and beneath the steps are the skills, knowledge and competencies required to achieve the goals.


Health and Personal Energy, Resilience, Drive

Increasingly, maintaining good health is vital in people's working environment. The pace and style of work are changing; individuals need to maintain a healthy lifestyle.


Achieving Life/Work Balance

What is important in managing these ambitions is to work to achieve a balance. Many organizations are now realizing the importance of helping their employees to achieve a balance between their work and their life outside work. Encouraging your learner to take a holistic view of his or her life is an important step in identifying how the learner can achieve this balance. This may also involve the learner in discussions with partner and family about all of his or her long-term goals. Some of these questions will relate to areas outside work and may not be appropriate to discuss in a working environment, but the learner may want to consider them, particularly if planning for retirement.


Building Relationships

Organizations are beginning to recognize that managing interpersonal relationships is a core competence in their workforce. It is as relevant in the service that they provide to their customers as it is to team and line management development.


Achieving Satisfaction at Work, Skills, Knowledge, Competencies, Development Needs

For many people this is still an important issue. Their personal coaching focus may start in this area with their desire to improve or to develop new competencies.


Action Planning

Working through some of the questions above is only the first step on a development path. To achieve real change an action plan has to be developed with key actions and dates to be achieved. This plan should be revisited at the start of every coaching session. If the coaching is related to skill or knowledge transfer, the learning should be reviewed at the start of each session. True competence is only ever achieved through putting the skills and knowledge into practice, not just once but consistently over a period of time.

The coaching process can be a very valuable start to a lifelong process of consideration, reflection and action:

Success begins the moment we understand that life is about growing, it is about acquiring the knowledge and skills to live more fully and effectively. Life is meant to be a never-ending education and when this is fully appreciated we are no longer survivors, but adventurers. Life becomes a journey of discovery, an exploration into our potential. Any joy and exuberance we experience in living are the fruits of our willingness to risk, our openness to change, and our ability to create what we want for our lives.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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