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Coaching for managers

Every time you talk to one of your team there is an opportunity to coach them. It needs no special preparation and the effect can be positive.
A woman smiles whilst talking to a colleague over a laptop
© CIPD

As a manager, coaching may be the main tool you will use to develop the skills of the employees in your team. Every time you talk to one of your team there is an opportunity to coach them. It needs no special preparation and the effect can be positive out of all proportion to the effort it takes.

What is coaching?

Coaching is simply ‘helping people develop and perform’. It is best explained by being contrasted with ‘job instruction’.

Job Instruction Coaching
Tell Ask
Do it this way How could it be done?
Teacher knows best Learner can explore
There is a right way Try some new ways
Focus on method (how it’s done) Focus on objective (what’s achieved)

Coaching is the preferred way of learning for some people and has many advantages. For example,

  • Improved performance and productivity. Coaching brings out the best in individuals and in teams. This is because it focuses on the specific development needs of the individual/team, which has a positive impact on performance.
  • People development. Coaching builds confidence in you and others.
  • Improved relationships. The very act of asking someone a question values them and their answer. If I only ‘tell’, there is no exchange.
  • More time for the leader/manager. People who are coached, who welcome responsibility, do not have to be micro-managed and are less dependent.
  • More creative ideas. Coaching and a coaching environment encourage creative suggestions from all members of a team.
  • Greater flexibility and adaptability to change. Coaching is all about change, being responsive and responsible. Now and in the future, the demand for flexibility will increase, not decrease.
  • More motivated people. Coaching helps people to discover their self-motivation.
Source: Adapted from WHITMORE, J. (2002) Coaching for performance.

Where can coaching be used?

Coaching can be used at all levels of an organisation for a wide number of tasks. Let’s break it down into how coaching can be used at an organisational level, and how you can use it in your role as a manager.

From an organisational perspective:

  • Improving business success indicators through individual improved performance
  • Underpinning a strategy for developing the organisation
  • Reinforcing a strategy for the well-being of staff
  • Change-management programmes
  • Encouraging staff retention
  • Succession planning for key roles
  • Making the most of organisational talent.

From your perspective as a manager:

  • Performance-management development tool (especially applied in performance reviews)
  • Setting goals to achieve personal-development plans
  • Maintaining and developing individual and team performance on a day-to-day basis
  • Managing unacceptable performance from a developmental not remedial approach
  • Motivating people in challenging circumstances
  • Encouraging creativity
  • Delegating tasks

Getting started as a coach

To hold a successful coaching session, whether it be two minutes or two hours, you need:

  1. a simple process or framework for the discussion
  2. to use appropriate behaviours.

A simple process

The following four-phase approach to coaching will work, whatever the context.

Phase I Destination Ask the learner to explore and explain what he/she is trying to achieve – what is his/her goal?
Phase II Starting point Where are you now?
Phase III Alternative routes What options are there moving forward?
Phase IV Commitments What actions will be taken?

The role of the coach is to help the learner come to his or her own conclusions within each of these four phases.

Behaviours

The four behaviours crucial to effective coaching are:

  • questioning (to open up and probe)
  • listening (to show empathy)
  • summarising (to check understanding)
  • controlling (to ensure process is followed).

diagram representing the four behaviours in coaching

When these four behaviours are used appropriately and effectively, they will enable you successfully to apply the four phase approach described above.

*Use the following sets of questions to help you in each of the four phases of the coaching process. *

Phase I – Destination (exploring your goal)

What exactly is your goal? What will success look like? Who is excellent, what do they do? Imagine you are excellent, what do you do?

Phase II – Starting-Point (where are you now?)

How are you doing now? What feedback have you had recently? What prevents you from being excellent? What is the most important thing to change?

Phase III – Alternative Routes (what could you do?)

What could you do as a next step? What else could you do? What have other people done that has worked? How have you learned to do similar things in the past?

Phase IV – Commitments (what will you do?)

On a scale of 1 to 10, how committed are you to achieving this goal? How will you know if it’s a success? What will you now do? How will you review your progress?

Coaching hints and tips:

The following tips will help you to focus your coaching conversations with your team and get the most from them.

  • Probe at length your team member’s views of their ‘Destination’.
  • Encourage the person to visualise success.
  • Try to avoid making suggestions and giving advice too early.
  • Keep the team member focused on his/her own behaviour rather than the behaviour of others.
  • Give the person plenty of time to think and respond.
  • As a guide, 90 per cent them talking, 10 per cent you talking.
  • Challenge your employee to be ambitious in his/her goals.
  • Ask them to explore the consequences of his/her suggested course of action.
  • Listen for clues as to problems or ideas.
  • Keep control of the process (keep on track).
  • Summarise frequently.
© CIPD
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