One of the hats that ADR practitioners are likely to be wearing these days is that of coach, and indeed many workplaces around the continent are adopting coaching as a skill set they want their managers or HR staff to have. Even as a mediator, my skill set as an effective mediator includes the ability to coach clients, not on substance, but on thinking about how to better frame their communications with one another and on how to manage the relationships involved.
This article focuses on the growing demographic of coaching in the workplace context. When my firm surveyed our public and private sector clients in managerial roles about what they wanted in terms of coaching skills for their organizations, a consistent set of circumstances, which we have come to call Paths, emerged. There were four distinct reasons why our clients wanted coaching skills, which arose again and again:
- Performance Improvement- bringing underperforming staff to the desired level
- Career/Talent Development- taking good performers higher, helping them grow
- Dealing with a Challenger- coaching staff on dealing with a difficult person
- Dealing with a Conflict Situation- helping staff better prepare for and engage in conflicts and negotiations they are or will be facing
Properly used, coaching in the workplace can reduce conflicts and stress (for the coachee client, their managers, and others), can help retain good staff, improve their productivity, maintain and develop better working relationships, and enhance respect within a team.
In the context of the Progress Model of Coaching that we have developed over the last few years to meet the needs of our own clients and students, we define “coaching” very flexibly as:
the process of assisting someone to progress towards a desired goal.
Our coaching model is a flexible one whose seven components (the 7P’s) can be adapted to almost any situation, workplace or otherwise. The approach needs to suit the client, their purpose, and their context, while providing clear guidance on appropriate steps to follow or consider.
The components of the model, which are described in more detail below, include:
Being present. Having a presence. Being aware of and adapting to the client.
There are multiple components to the concept of Presence. Firstly, good coaches are present in the moment, paying attention to the client, focused and thinking. Secondly, we must establish a presence for ourselves as a coach/mentor. People listen best to people they respect and trust, that they see as true credible leaders or experts. Thirdly, to be truly effective as coaches/mentors we need to be aware of and appropriately adapting to our clients.
Clarify your mandate as a coach/mentor. Introduce the process appropriately to the situation. Identify and clarify the purpose of the sessions.
There are two primary aspects to Purpose. First is understanding one’s purpose as a coach, and establishing a clear appropriate mandate with the client. Before just diving into a coaching session with a client, we need to introduce and clarify with them the process that we will use and our role therein. Second, we need to identify and clarify the goals on which the client needs to work, their purpose in the situation they face. Identifying the purpose of the coaching session is essential, as everything we do should flow from that purpose.
Hearing their perspective. Exploring their perspective and that of other involved parties. Making them feel heard and understood.
To impact clients, we need to understand them, and they need to understand themselves and their situation. Having them describe their perspective on the issues at play allows us to hold the mirror up to their views. We can also clarify their views of the other parties in the situation. Getting the client to reflect on the perspectives of other people involved can shift the client’s views.
Have an effective path for achieving the purpose. Use the tools appropriate for the client and the coaching purpose.
The Path is the coach’s route, the roadmap, the approach, the steps taken to fulfill the coaching Purpose. There are many different Paths for moving someone through a coaching session (we’ve identified four primary ones above). Once we have identified and clarified the Purpose of the coaching, we then assist the client to move through a Pathappropriate for them, choosing the steps, skills, approaches, and tools suited to the individual and their issues.
Create a concrete doable action plan. Ensure that the client understands and buys into the plan.
Talking about an issue is not enough. For real growth or change to occur, a client should leave a coaching session with a clear doable action plan that is appropriate for the situation. Ideally, good coaches ensure that the client understands their plan, and what it realistically involves. Getting buy in from the client is essential to success here.
Let the client implement their plan. Where appropriate assist and encourage.
Clients should see themselves as the primary actors in the drama, even to the extent of feeling a moral or practical desire to implement their plan to the best of their ability. As coaches, there may be ways that we can help encourage implementation, providing ongoing moral support or even helpful resources to the client.
Ultimately, it is their plan. Let them own it. Let them do it.
Follow up. Assess progress. Adjust the plan as needed
Truly effective coaching requires substantive change or impact in the client, physically or mentally. Simply hoping that the session discussions will sink in is not enough. Where appropriate, schedule and conduct follow up on the progress being made by the client to assess how the action plan is working and determine what, if any, adjustments are needed. Meaningful progress from the client’s starting point is the goal.
Flexibility of the Model
Any model for managing a wide range of situations requires the flexibility to adapt to the situation and the client. Ultimately, coaching is a valuable facilitative service that can help clients grow in meaningful ways through their own efforts. As ADR practitioners, we can build coaching techniques into our practices, either as a stand alone coaching service or as part of how we approach mediation and other work we do with individuals facing problems.