Two great tools for formal coaching conversations

Coaching conversations work better when they’re based around a proven structure. We look at a couple of tools which make them far more effective.

by Philippa Thomas 0 Team performance
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There are a bewildering number of best-practice frameworks out there which you could use in your performance-coaching conversations with your people. But which ones should you use? The two tools we describe below are practical, easy to work with and managers tell us that they deliver results. Even better, you don’t need to go on a training course to start using them!

The coaching ladder

When you’re providing formal performance coaching as a manager, it’s important for the person to know exactly how it is going to be conducted, over what period and in what sequence. The coaching ladder is a process comprised of 6 sequential steps, with each step building on the one before.

  • Step one – identify the need: is coaching the right learning vehicle for the person?
  • Step two ­– engage the coachee: agree the outcomes for the coaching and explain the process. Listen to any concerns and provide re-assurance and encouragement.
  • Step three – plan: how will the coaching be delivered? Over what period? What might get in the way? What’s your plan B? Do you need any support?
  • Step four – implement: deliver the session(s).
  • Step five – evaluate: how well did the coaching session work? What went well, what could be improved, did any further opportunities emerge? Did any threats emerge?
  • Step six – follow up: did the individual complete the action plan you agreed? If not, why not? What further support could you have given as a manager?

As an approach, the coaching ladder has several benefits for both the coach and the coachee:

  1. You confirm that coaching is the right learning vehicle in the first place, before investing time in it. For example, on some occasions, a formal training course may be a better option if the person is really inexperienced in a certain task.
  2. When the coachee knows what to expect from your sessions he/she becomes less fearful, more confident in the process and more engaged. More so if you allow him/her some control over the structure that the sessions will take.
  3. You obtain evidence on the effectiveness of your coaching and its benefit to the person/business, allowing you to reflect on your own personal development.
  4. As it’s a ladder, you can move forward and back, making adjustments as you go, to meet the specific needs of the person.

GROW model

The GROW model is probably the most widely used in performance coaching today and provides a helpful framework for the implement stage in the coaching ladder, as it gives us a structure to enable a coaching session to achieve the best possible results.

It has its origins in a groundbreaking book on tennis coaching by Timothy Gallwey called ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’. He saw the job of the coach was to work ‘behind the scenes’ with the person to investigate and analyse the psychology of their performance issues, then facilitate the identification of an effective strategy to deal with them The GROW model as we know it today was developed by Sir John Whitmore and others. There are several versions – all correct – in use.

It helps if we think of the model as a journey that the person (the coachee) is going to take.

  • Goal – is where the person wants/needs to be. What change do they want to see and why? Does their goal align with the team and organisation goals?
  • Reality – helps them describe their current situation in some detail. Where are they now and how far are they from their goal?
  • Options – you then help them generate ideas for new approaches to reaching their goal. At this stage you may offer your own suggestions, whilst always letting the person take the lead.
  • Will – you help the person decide on and commit to a plan of action. It’s good practice at this point to also set a date for a progress review (see the follow-up stage in the coaching ladder above).

In practice, the GROW model is rarely linear and can start at any point. Trying too hard to keep on track will stifle the conversation and limit the person’s thinking. So, it’s fine to follow the coachee’s lead initially by asking a few broad questions to start off the conversation. Then you can go back to their goals.

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