To be an effective leader, there are certain steps that you can use if coaching others at work.
These 7 coaching steps are shown in the model below and it will give you a good structure to use to become an effective coach and, as a result, a more effective manager. So let’s walk through the model below.
The first thing to note, when looking at the 7 steps to the coaching model I have created above, is that the steps go in a spiral.
The coaching steps can be traced along a spiral because the progress, as we will see, is not necessarily linear.
The process can develop over and over in layers as I will explain. But let’s look at one step at a time first below.
The first step is to help the coachee identify what outcome they want to see.
This is not a specific goal yet, rather it is about vision.
The coachee needs to set a vision first so that they don’t feel limited in their ideas.
They can be creative by imagining what they would achieve in an ideal situation.
This is why I have chosen the icon of a mountain to represent this stage.
You need to encourage the coachee to aim high, at the highest peak they can think of.
Later, as they examine reality, they will have to scale back. However, if they aim low to start with, they will not be able to go any lower.
This step is about aspiration and challenge. A challenging outcome is more inspiring.
For example, what ideal job would they like to have, which ideal volume of sales would the team want to achieve, what would the perfect product look like, etc.
Another way to make the outcome inspiring for the coachee is to be positively framed. You want to focus on the positives.
For example, which outcome is more inspiring ‘We want to make a product that doesn’t break after the first use’ or ‘We want to make an indestructible product’?
The first outcome is self-limiting, and it implies that the coachee doesn’t trust their ability to make a product that lasts.
Last but not least, the coachee has to have ownership of the outcome.
As a manager, it may be very tempting for you to impose an outcome for the employees.
For instance, if you think that the outcome is not ambitious enough, you may be tempted to override it and impose your own aspiration instead.
However, this attitude will backfire because the employees will feel forced to accept your chosen outcome and they will work towards it halfheartedly. As a result, their motivation and their performance will be lower.
If you would like to encourage the coachee to be more ambitious, with coaching you can help them understand what is holding them back.
Then, you can help them figure out how to overcome the obstacles that stop them from wanting to achieve more.
This way, the employees will feel encouraged towards aiming higher, rather than feeling forced to.
This is where you help the coachee assess the current situation.
Here, the coachee can focus on:
- what resources they have, and which are needed
- any strengths the coachee has and any weaknesses they need to overcome
- where they are now in relation to where they want to be
- what is happening right now or what has happened so far.
At this stage, both the coach and the coachee need to be as objective as possible.
To do this, first of all, you need the coachee to provide as much detail as possible.
Encourage them to give you as much detail as they can, including, for instance, what they saw, heard, felt, etc.
Also, encourage the coachee to describe rather than judge. You want them to use descriptive terms rather than evaluative terms.
So, they should not say whether something is good or bad, for example, but just what happened, what things are available, what they saw, etc.
They should not judge if something was good or bad, a failure or a success, right or wrong. They should just describe the facts as much as possible.
Both you and the coachee also need a detached attitude.
To stay detached, avoid using language and questions that are emotionally loaded.
For example, if you ask questions that start with ‘why’ you may make the coachee feel on the defensive. Whereas, if you ask something like ‘what was your thought process?’ you will get a more objective answer.
This is the step when the coachee needs to generate as many options or choices as possible to find solutions.
It is important to list as many alternatives as possible.
An obstacle to the ideas generation process is for the coachee to let themselves be held back by negative assumptions.
For example, thoughts such as the ones below hold people back and stop them from seeing solutions that might otherwise be feasible:
- ‘this can’t be done’
- ‘it’s never been tried before’
- ‘it’s going to be too expensive’
- ‘they will never agree’
- ‘we don’t have time’, etc.
Every course of action will present obstacles, but the key is to find ways to overcome those obstacles later, rather than let them be in the way.
At this point, ask the coachees to imagine what would be possible. Ask them to imagine what they would do if there were no obstacles.
For example, ask, ‘what if money was unlimited?’, ‘what if we had time?’, etc. You can also ask them what a person they admire, or a superhero would do. For example, ‘what would super X do in this situation?
In addition, the coachee must feel comfortable expressing their opinion without fear of being judged negatively.
So, explain that everything goes, and that no idea is too silly.
Create a climate of openness and trust for the individual or within the team you are coaching.
Once the coachee has come up with a wide range of options, they can map these options by laying them out side by side. Avoid creating a list, as a list implies a hierarchy, while you want all options to be equal to start with.
Next, the coachee needs to list the pros and cons of each option, before finally choosing the most viable options.
What if you, as the coaching manager, have ideas that you would like to share with the coachee?
First of all, wait until the coachees have exhausted their list of options.
Then, as we discussed earlier, you can give your input, but ask for permission.
For example, instead of saying ‘This is what I would do’, ask, ‘I have an idea. Would you like to hear it?’ Coachees are unlikely to say no, but they may ask you to wait until they finish a train of thoughts first.
By asking for permission, you will cooperate with your employees, rather than imposing your will on them.
This is the step when abstract ideas start taking a more realistic shape.
The coachees will need to create an action plan.
However, it is useful to first set a series of goals.
This will motivate the coachee as they will start seeing how their aspirations and ideas can become reality.
Once they have chosen an option, they need to change it into a goal. This goal, to be effective, needs to be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound).
The coachee can start with one overarching goal and then if this is too much, break it down into smaller goals.
At this point, the coachees are encouraged to make an action plan by breaking down their goals into smaller steps, which they can act on.
As part of this, they can create a to-do list of tasks that they will complete.
Also, they will set timeframes for when to complete each step. The completion of each step can be seen as a series of achievements.
The coach should encourage the coachees to celebrate each of these achievements.
It may seem like a small thing to do but celebrating achievements should not be overlooked.
Celebrating achievements (or milestones), even if small, is a great motivation tool.
This is when the coachee starts to take action.
At this point, you, as the manager, need to ensure a few things.
Firstly, you need to make the coachee accountable by asking questions such as, ‘what exactly are you going to do’, ‘when will you do it?’, ‘when are you starting’, ‘who needs to be informed of your plans?’, ‘how will I know when this is done?’
Secondly, you need to offer your support. Don’t abandon your employee but ask them to let you know what support you can offer.
Thirdly, make sure to set a plan for future feedback. You don’t want to micromanage the employee, but you need to arrange meetings to follow up on what they are doing and offer support as needed.
Lastly, you, as the manager, need to show enthusiasm at all times and encourage the coachee at every point along the way.
This stage can happen during the feedback sessions with you. The coachee can also write a log to keep track of any reflections and observations they make along the way.
As employees take action, they will see how things go. Everything may go according to plan or even better, or there may be failures or unexpected obstacles along the way.
During the review stage, the coachee will monitor the situation, reflect on it and revise as needed. As their coach, you will facilitate this process.
Did you notice the arrows in the diagram, from point 7 ‘Review’ to the other six steps?
The review step can affect all the other steps. Based on their observations, the employee may decide to go back to one or more of the previous stages and change approach.
For instance, they may decide that the current situation has changed, and they need to reassess it or that they failed to consider some elements.
They may decide to reevaluate an option that they had previously discarded; they may tweak their ideal outcome and so on.
This model is flexible, and it is possible to go back and forth between steps. Ultimately, progress will be made.
Workplace Coaching Example
To see how this approach may work in practice, let’s imagine that you are coaching the sales team of a company that sells coffee.
So, for example, let’s say that the outcome, the aspiration, of the team is to become the biggest seller of organic coffee in Europe.
After discussing where they are at the moment (the situation), they assess that their organic coffee only sells well in Italy and Spain at the moment.
One of their chosen options, to improve their position in the whole of Europe, is to tackle the German market.
How do they go about doing this? They decide that one way is to create a version of their site that targets specifically German customers.
So, a SMART goal for this might be:
To have a 50-page site in German about our range of organic coffees by the end of this tax year.
The goal is SMART as it is specific (the site has to be in German about a range of specific products), measurable (50 pages), achievable (they reckon that creating such a site is within the realm of their possibilities), relevant (conquering the German market is important for them) and time-bound (they want to have the site done within the end of the current tax year).
Let’s say that this goal is limited enough that they don’t need to break it down any further into smaller goals. If they had a bigger goal, they may have to break it down.
For example, let’s imagine they had said, ‘we want to launch a 1 million Euros online marketing campaign to target German customers within the next two years’.
This is a SMART goal, but it needs to be broken down into, for example, a goal for creating a website, one to target social media, one for e-mail marketing, etc.
Let’s return to the goal of ‘creating a 50-page site in German about our range of organic coffees by the end of this tax year’.
They now need to plan the steps they need to take to achieve this goal. For example, finding and hiring a web designer (if they do not have one already in-house); figuring out exactly what content they want for the site, etc.
Each of these tasks will have its own time frame, to make sure that the whole goal is achieved by the set deadline (in this case, the end of this tax year).
Now they are ready to take action, so they assign a list of tasks to each team member. They show their accountability by letting you know exactly what they will do, by when, and planning follow-up meetings with you.
At the same time, you will ask them what support they need (and make sure they get it) and will show enthusiasm for the project.
Finally, after they have been working on the project for a while, they realize that they need to improve something. For example, a competitor has just launched a website in German to sell organic coffee.
So, now the team needs to analyze the competitor’s website and figure out how to make their own website better and more interesting than their competitor’s. This will mean changing some of the work they were doing for the website.
After these tweaks, the team reconvenes and evaluate again, until their site becomes the best site available for organic coffee in German. Eventually, their site pushes up the company’s sales of organic coffee in Germany to the levels they wanted to achieve.
Informal Coaching and the 7 Steps
You might be wondering if this same 7 steps process is feasible for informal coaching.
As opposed to formal coaching (which takes place during allocated meetings and is followed up formally), informal coaching takes place as part of everyday work activities. For example, you can coach your employees informally when they ask you for advice on a task.
The answer is that you can use this process for informal coaching. In this case, though, you will need to speed up and shorten the process by asking fewer questions.
The difference is that, in a longer formal conversation, you can dig down deeper into the issues.
In an informal situation, chances are that a few coaching questions will be enough to help the employee find a solution and take action.
Also, the steps can be adapted to suit an informal conversation.
For example, when an employee asks you for advice on how to best organize a spreadsheet, you will not be encouraging them to have an ambitious vision of what a spreadsheet should be like.
You just need to ask them what they would like to keep track of, what functions they would like to include, which data they need to include, etc.
In this case, there may not be a need to dwell for long on the situation, except maybe for things such as, if they have all the data they need and where they can get it.
As for options, you can ask them a couple of questions and they may come up with ideas for adding charts or creating a database, rather than a spreadsheet if there is a lot of data. However, there should not be a huge number of options.
You may not need to cover goals as it is clear that, in this case, the goal is to set up a spreadsheet by the end of the working day. Similarly, steps and actions may be simple.
So, for an informal conversation, you can adapt the steps on a case-by-case basis.
If you think that the situation is such that it cannot be resolved with a quick conversation, you can always schedule a meeting later to discuss.
For example, the spreadsheet may be vital for the team’s organizational strategy, so you will need to set up a meeting to get the team’s input.
In terms of the review phase with regards to informal coaching, asking a question such as ‘How did it go?’ (the day after or later on the same day) should be enough.
Of course, you can ask a few more probing questions after this, based on the employee’s answer, but the conversation should be kept short (or you can arrange a meeting later if there are big problems).
The key is that getting used to this process takes practice. The more you do it, the more natural it will be for you. Also, you can always adapt the process to suit individual situations.
The process is not rigid and, as we discussed, you can move back and forward between steps.
- Millennial Leadership: Stop Complaining, Start Coaching – TEDx talk by Danita Bye: https://youtu.be/5WwL5q7mMRA
- Leader as Coach: Strategies for Coaching and Developing Others. Atlantic Books. Peterson, D. B. and Hicks, M. D. (1996).
- Training Materials for teaching Coaching for Managers & Leaders
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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