Getting the best from coaching

You can’t turn around these days without hearing about coaching. But while coaching can be really useful in addressing specific issues, its present high profile and many vocal supporters can give the impression that it’s a magic bullet. It’s not for everyone, and is being over-sold and over-hyped.

So let’s look a little closer at what coaching can deliver, and where it works most effectively. The core of a good organisation is a mix of personalities, policies, structure, vision and strategy, leading to consistent delivery with a clear focus and long-term vision. Get these right first, and then use a coach to hone, sharpen and refine the individual and the team.

Organisations, roles and demands change. Do you still have the right people in the right role? Are their skills and strengths aligned with their responsibilities? Once you have answered these questions, consider coaching. Let people play to their strengths – if you don’t know what they are, assess them, get some 360˚ feedback, talk to them – then use the coach to sharpen their skills and help them really fly.

With a determined empire-builder who’s undermining colleagues, whose very presence disrupts, and who is unwilling to adapt their behaviour, coaching may not be the answer. First, have a straight talk about your expectations, the need to work together, the vision for the business and the damage being done. They have a responsibility to rise above petty battles and focus on the organisation. If your director can’t see this, then they should move on.

Are they in the right role? Have they got the ability and skills to succeed? Do you want to keep them, or give them another chance? If the answer is yes, a coach might help. If no, you have a different problem. Don’t use a coach to duck a tough decision.

Coaches should clarify issues, help people to see solutions for themselves, to understand their role, or to develop new skills or behaviours. They can help pull a top team together, focussing their energies in the right areas, understanding each others’ strengths and styles, moulding the differences into a cohesive whole. But for an over-promoted manager, destructive organisational psychopath, dysfunctional team or critical misalignment between vision and capacity, your issues need a more fundamental solution.

Good coaches market themselves, so don’t be dazzled by the sell. Be clear about what you want, why, and how you want to improve. Set outcome measures that test and stretch your coach, and expect improvement. Finally, coaching is not counselling, so watch out for dependency – a mark of bad coaches. Feeling better about yourself is immaterial, unless you’re also performing better.