The Complexities of Coaching

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Kerri and I are usually called in when an employee situation is precarious. It’s some variation of “things aren’t going well,” “they need some help,” or “they’ve got a lot of potential, but…” No matter which opening is used, the setup is pretty much the same; it’s been determined that someone needs direct or intensive coaching, and the organization doesn’t have the time or inclination to do it themselves, or believes an outside perspective might be useful, so they contact us.

From there, we do a scoping meeting, usually with the leadership that has requested the coaching (this is where we learn the issues and what, if anything has been tried). Then, on to a no cost “first look” meeting (where we check to see if we are the right fit for the client and them, for us). Next, we usually get started with an assessment like Clifton Strengths or the EQi (this gives us immediate data and a focal point for our first couple of sessions) and then meet at increments of every two to four weeks. While there are other things we might do, such as onsite shadowing (where we watch the client as they go about their duties), providing additional resources (like videos, handouts, or books) or answer “911 calls” from the client (where they have an emergent issue that requires immediate assistance) this is largely the pattern that we follow.

Now let’s be clear, we love coaching; it’s a joy to see someone increase their skills and either grow to be the person everyone just knew they could be or make a grand U-turn and defy the odds, becoming an excellent and valuable team member.

And without doubt, coaching works. It is a brilliant combination of “just in time” training and targeted strategies, with many chances to practice, reflect, and practice again, in a supportive environment that stresses accountability.

But while we will always give it our all, we simply can’t guarantee that it will always work.

So, what, if anything, can be done to increase the likelihood of success?

  1. Make sure it’s the right time: There’s a definite “sweet spot” for timing; in the event there is a concern, it needs to be early enough that everyone still wants the person being coached to be successful and not so far along that either side is bitter. If it’s a situation where the employee is seen as a high potential, both sides need to be committed to a long-term relationship. We don’t have a lot of control over this one; but we can attest that the only thing that has ever brought a raisin (employee) back to grape status is development, so we are (almost always) willing to give it a go, if they are.
  2. The right mix of coach and client: For coaching to be effective, the client has to trust that the coach has their best interests at heart, genuinely like and respect them, and have helpful things to say (which is a combination of experience, education, and empathy). We may be unique in the world of coaching in that there are two of us, so we usually have something that we can offer the client, no matter the situation. Also, clients tend to have a “go to” member of our team, where they feel more drawn to one of us and tend to reach out to that person, when the need arises. But make no mistake, we aren’t the right fit for everyone and that’s okay. People deserve to have the best coaching experience and much of that is born out of simply having the right coach.
  3. The client must be ready, willing, and able to do the hard work of engaging in coaching: This means they show up prepared to share their concerns and experiences, face blind spots, accept input, sometimes have difficult conversations, and practice the new skills. What makes someone ready to make change? Sometimes the client is in a lot of pain, or they have goals they want to accomplish, or they realize they are lacking something small that would make a big difference in their career, or, well, it’s anybody’s guess, to be honest. But whatever motivates them, it has to be enough to sustain them when things get hard (new and unfamiliar can equal scary) and the old way beckons (it may not actually be working, but it is a road they understand and have traveled before). Put bluntly, the client has to actually put in the sweat equity, or the best work is ultimately to no avail.

In summary, when considering coaching (for yourself or an employee) be certain it’s the right timing, the right chemistry, and the right amount of “can do” to increase the likelihood of success. When those things come together, it’s absolutely magical for everyone involved. And while we always want it to work, we simply can’t make any guarantees. Coaching is complex and imprecise because humans are complex and imprecise.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.