Establish-options-actions: a great tool for informal coaching

Coaching works better when you move beyond showing people ‘how to do things’ towards helping them work out for themselves how best to do them.

by Philippa Thomas 0 Leadership Team performance
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Coaching can be many different things. In the workplace, it’s essentially a supportive conversation between a manager and his/her team member – focussed firmly on developing performance, helping the person build skills to overcome challenges and achieve objectives.

Instead of simply telling the person what action they should take to solve a problem, a manager/coach acts as a facilitator, enabling the person to improve both their awareness and understanding of the issue, then guiding them to discover an effective solution for themselves. So, a coaching conversation isn’t about saying to someone “do it like this”, rather it’s “let me help you work out how you are going to do it”. In addition, it’s not about fixing weaknesses as such, but helping someone develop and improve.

When done well, a coaching conversation can be the best investment of time you can make as a manager. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • A manager doesn’t have to do all the thinking for the team, so he/she can free up time to work on more important stuff.
  • Good coaching conversations build trust in a relationship, they help managers to understand the strengths as well as the weaknesses in the team – don’t ignore your talent!
  • They also help managers to steer the person’s development so it aligns with the wider strategy. Being able to see exactly how they are contributing to the bigger picture can be a highly motivational experience for the person.
  • When it comes to applying what they’ve learned on a training course, people often give up at the first hint of trouble. Proactively coaching a team member through the implementation of a learning action plan, following a training course, can really reap returns on investment.

Most managers understand the importance of coaching their people (it’s possibly the most powerful tool for building motivation and engagement), but let’s be honest, when the pressure is on to meet business deadlines, those performance coaching conversations are usually the first tasks to get dropped.

This is a shame, as, when the heat is on, anything that has an immediate, positive impact on people’s morale, self-confidence and performance should be a non-negotiable priority. However, coaching takes time and when a deadline’s looming, that’s one thing you won’t have. Or will you?

In our experience, a majority of workplace coaching is conducted ‘at desk’ and ‘just in time’, rather than in a formal 1:1 meeting. To be effective, it can involve just one or two ten-minute structured conversations on a specific topic – the emphasis being on ‘structured’.

There is a great little three-step tool that you can use when time is short, to get the best out of quick-hit coaching sessions:

  • Establish: confirm the issue the person is facing and probe for a deeper level of understanding. Discuss their initial ideas and what they need to achieve.
  • Options: discuss and evaluate the various options for what might be done and look at the advantages and disadvantages of each. Next consider the priorities and re-define the solutions with them, as necessary.
  • Actions: through guided questioning and discussion, help the person select the best option, identify their actions and put a plan together. Don’t forget to help them work out a couple of contingencies for when they hit hurdles.

Those managers we work with tell us that this structure is easy to adopt, highly scalable and can be successfully employed whatever the situation. It is particularly effective for those times when the pressure is on, time is short, and the need to keep your people motivated through coaching is greater than ever.

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