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Coaching – formalise your programme or just be brilliant at it?

Next in the series of guest blogs on “Positive Practices in Coaching & Mentoring” is Perry Timms. If you don’t know him already, Perry is Head of OD & Talent for The Big Lottery Fund, blogs here and should be followed on Twitter here. Watch out for his tweets and blogs on #PunkHR!

It’s a delightful & informed post that resonated deeply with me when I first read it. I hope you enjoy you it! 

Coaching – formalise your programme or just be brilliant at it?

I love coaching. Not much doubt about the slant of this blog then eh? However, just because you love something, doesn’t mean it’s all heartbeat pounding, feel-good factor inducing that makes it all worthwhile.

Coaching is something I’m in year 8 with. So I’ve gotten over the 7-year itch.

When I look back though, I’ve always had a leaning to 1:1, conversational-based, positive outcome-focused “support”. I just didn’t know it was the building blocks of coaching. I’ve been trained, coached and upped my own levels of ability in this area inspired by people in lofty positions and people around me who amaze me. I now feel better about my coaching ability, and my love affair with it proves its strength.

So what am I intellectually, professionally and spiritually taxed by around coaching? I could say return on investment, I could say use of models and theory, I could say charlatan practitioners. And some of these do tax me.

What also taxes me is people’s insistence on formalising programmes. And by formalising I mean this:

    • set duration of time for sessions;
    • appear on the calendar on the same day each month;
    • a really tight agenda; and
    • a slightly trance-like state of rolling through the GROW model in every session.

So here’s my theory on how you can avoid the need to overly formalise your coaching programmes.

Step 1. Create an understanding in your client of when they NEED coaching.

Have them contact you as a coach, when they know they need it most. Not quite “in emergency press button” but more “something’s coming up; would be good to get my thoughts straight on how to tackle it…”

It’s my assertion that coaching isn’t at its best when issues are stored up throughout the month and then offloaded and sorted out in that session. That seems dis-enabling to the client to me. Stuff happens and people being coached probably need solutions at the time it’s happening. Fine that a lot of coaching conversations are about reflections on learning through that period, so this is where the monthly check-ins do work.

Step 2. Be available as that coach – someone who can flex and be situationally available for the “just in time” solutions.

It’s tough whether you’re in-house employed or running your own enterprise to be available precisely when you are needed, but I’ve found some of the most impactful coaching support has been provided when I’m able to flex, set some impromptu time aside and coach when the need is most acutely being felt.

Step 3. Agree how you do the “just in time” stuff.

It seems obvious but the channel is important, but some people prefer a telephone coaching session; for some instant messaging or email would do it; for others it’d need to be a Skype/FaceTime chat. Only pearls of wisdom are to make sure there’s the space and time to do this. Coaching when distracted not good; on a train journey with signal outage – frustrating. Can be done but only in emergency situations. Skype though, fantastic for this.

Step 4. Be sincerely social with each other not just coach and client.

Having catch-ups and chats that don’t always have to be coaching conversations is just a darned nice thing to do and builds a human rapport to show how as a coach and client you trust each other. It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends or enjoy every aspect of social engagements but how can you help your client the best if you have no affinity or regard for them as a human being?

Step 5. Check your results.

This is probably all the evaluation you need. A quick follow up call – “so how did it go?” “what’s next for you?”. No forms needed.

Step 6. Agree how this is chargeable once you’ve had 3 successes.

Because I’m in a paid role, most of my emergency, informal coaching is part of my package. If you’re a freelance coach, you could find yourself with all your call-time minutes and spare time taken up by coaching people in this fashion. So being commercially astute is needed. Agree with your client that you will try 3 freebies in this way and use them as bolt-ons for the overall “contract” you have with them. I’m sure they’ll agree this is more powerful and beneficial than storing up for once-a-month sessions

Step 7. Write your own reflective blog/piece.

Once you have had some successes as a coach in emergency situations, you should take note of the impacts, approaches and stories. They will help your learning as a coach and commit them to retrievable situations to use in helping others with stories like “so this exec called me at 9:30pm about their press conference the next day…” These stories could be proliferated across the web and might help us as a coaching fraternity get over the “so what’s the value in coaching?” questions the bean-counters ask of us.

Performance and potential are enhanced when people know they just need that extra something and where, when and how to get it. By themselves or inspired by others. Informal coaching gives you that.

So there’s my thoughts. Don’t overly formalise coaching as it becomes something too inflexible and frustrating about the wait. Don’t loosen it so much it vaporises though.

I can honestly say I’m at my best as a coach when my most informed clients know how they use their “in emergency” button. Press on people..!


3 thoughts on “Coaching – formalise your programme or just be brilliant at it?

  1. Love this Perry and it's something I can relate to coming from a background where everything needs to be documented, audit-able and 'formal'. The amount of GROW coaching forms I have seen completed and then locked away in a draw or in personal folder never to be seen again (or until the next review) always frustrated me.It's a cultural thing for many organisations and is the same issue in my opinion as the "I'm only learning when I'm in training" mentality. We need to break away from the "I'm only being coached in a coaching session" mentality and encourage more open conversation with our peers and management teams. I've seen talented and enthusiastic people beaten by insisting they using forms and models that actually end up being restrictive. Yes models are useful, yes structure can be good but coaching should be a continuous process and shouldn't have to fit in to a template or a prescribed time and day. Anyone can be a coach and I wonder how many people are discouraged from helping others because it's not been documented or scheduled.Our goal should be encouraging a culture where people have open conversations and learn everyday in all that they do including coaching and being coached. Giving people the confidence that this is OK and encourage them to have these conversations is one thing but again we need role models in our organisations who can do this and in turn demonstrate a culture of continuous coaching.Thanks for sharing


    Posted by Mike Collins | July 30, 2012, 9:13 AM
  2. One of my most successful coaching sessions was sitting next to an Area Manager in their car as they made a call to one of their managers. By helping the Area Manager slow the pace, really listen and think about the questions they used I was coaching the Area Manager, who  was then using questions to respond to the manager and coach them! No formal pieces of paper at all, but when the call had ended, the coaching continued with the Area Manager, reviewing what worked, what didn't work, and what would you do differently next time, embedding the learning and agreeing a review date for the future. Tjis was a practical, out of the classroom situation that then brought the Area Manager on board regarding the value of less formal coaching.


    Posted by Dkdrummond | July 30, 2012, 9:50 AM


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