How I discovered the joy of coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

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How I discovered the joy of coachinI am obsessed with work.

I realise in making this claim that I risk alienating those followers who have worked long and hard to bring a little balance into their own working lives and those of their colleagues, so let me qualify the statement.

I am not obsessed with working. I believe that for the most part people spend too many of their waking hours in factories, shops and offices and that many of these hours are not really productive. There is a difference between business and busyness. Throughout Europe and perhaps the UK in particular, this is further exacerbated by appending the start and end of each working day with as much as two hours travel in either direction. The promise of home working has also yet to deliver in my experience.

No, my obsession is with work itself. The way that places of work are organised and structured, the way that business is run and won, the increasing importance of work in people’s lives and most crucially the business of deploying and developing staff.

This preoccupation started early for me. I left school at aged 16 with the four ‘O’ Levels I needed to secure my job with a high street bank. Almost from the first day I was more interested in what was happening on the office side of the business than anything the customers might be getting up to. I was particularly puzzled by the way tone group of people apparently called management, would talk to another group of people apparently called staff. These interactions were usually terse, unfriendly affairs consisting of managers more or less ordering staff to do certain tasks which the staff then carried out to whatever minimum standard was necessary to get by. Looking back it all seemed quite adversarial with little sense of mutual success.

In my naivety I thought that people were people and that if you expected people to work hard and achieve results then you ought to treat them well; ‘Do unto others….’ and all that. This being the early 1980s however, high street banking was characterised by complacency and laziness, knowing that customers would continue to come and profits continue to flow however the business was run, and however its people were treated.

The de-regulation of the industry and the consequent increased competition in the 1990s changed all this. Now there was a need for staff to provide superior service lest the customers take their business elsewhere. People working in banks needed to become sales people and actively promote the bank’s products and services. Jobs which had been thought of as secure for a lifetime were now the subject of continual uncertainty.

The whole backdrop to the business changed irreversibly, but the management style did not. Those who struggled to make the change from bank clerk to sales person were told to shape up and get with the times. They were sent on sales training courses and if that didn’t work they were sent on them again. The pressure was on to perform; crude targets and incentives were introduced. Managers were hauled before directors and told to try harder, Staff were hauled before managers and told to try harder, or else.

Yours truly watched all this unfold with a sort of morbid fascination.

Of course banking as an industry was not alone in experiencing change of this kind or on this scale. Globalisation, the march of technology, downsizing and so on were all transforming the whole landscape of work and organisational life.

By now I was working in Personnel and had been introduced to the world of training and development. I’d had some exposure to management and team leader type roles and was seen to have an ability to get people on side and achieving results. As a management trainer I was similarly able to press the right buttons and to help people access their ability. I guess I was coaching them although I had no idea at the time that there even was such a thing, certainly not in the world of work.

In 1995 I was given the opportunity to attend a Performance Coaching course run by Sir John Whitmore and his firm Performance Consultants. As I learnt about coaching principles and practices I came to realise that coaching was simply a way of describing an approach to people at work that I had always believed in but had never been able to articulate. It offered an explanation as to why certain of my managers had been able to get the best from me and why others had left me exhausted and scanning the job advertisements. Coaching described a management style that I could see was essential for the turbulent times that were coming.

From that point forward coaching became the lynchpin of all my training and development work. I left banking and established my own consultancy practice where I found myself extolling the virtues of coaching and high performance even when I’d essentially been hired to teach Time Management or Presentation Skills.

Eventually I decided to grasp the nettle and focus my practice on teaching managers how to coach and this has been my focus and passion to this day. All of my work in this area has informed the ideas in these blog posts.

I hope you find ideas here that will help you take your coaching approach forward in your own unique way so that you can positively impact the working lives of those around you.

Was your coaching a success?

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles


Successful CoachingWarning! Coaching is about people not numbers. You will never be able to prove beyond all doubt that coaching is the sole cause of any performance improvement. To try to do so will prove exhausting and you are better off spending your energy on coaching more people.

Notwithstanding the above you may want – or be asked – to show that your coaching has been successful. This short section will provide some basic pointers and you can then do further research if you wish.

The ultimate type of evaluation is known as ‘Return on Investment’. Here we are trying to put a financial value on any benefits that coaching has brought about and compare that to the financial cost of providing the coaching. Hopefully the benefits outweigh the costs and thus a return is demonstrated. It can get extremely complicated, but the following list gives the most common items that would be considered under each heading.

Costs Benefits
Coaching Skills training Increases in revenue


Travel, accommodation, etc

Decreases in costs
Opportunity* Increases in productivity
Improvements in quality
Increased effectiveness
Changes in attitude and behaviour
New knowledge acquired
New skills acquired


*Opportunity costs are the costs of doing something else. A salesperson taking time out to coach instead of sell would be missing their normal sales opportunities and this would be the opportunity cost.

Note that we would obviously factor in the costs of an external coach where that is the case or you could calculate a time cost for an internal manager providing coaching if you prefer.

The costs should be fairly easy to identify or calculate but establishing the benefits is less straightforward. You have three main sources of data; the coach, the coach’s manager and the coach’s staff (their coachees). These can be considered the main stakeholders in the success of coaching and I would recommend that you collect information from all three.

The tools you can use for data collection include:

Interviews. You can interview all three stakeholder groups to ascertain their views on the benefits that coaching has achieved. You may like to consider pre and post coaching interviews as these can show a more accurate movement from one state to another.

Self reports. If both coaches and coachees keep journals of their coaching experience these can add real insight to evaluating success. However, they are very subjective, which needs to be allowed for, and can soak up a lot of time in completing.

360 degree feedback. Many organisations have existing 360-degreee (feedback from managers, subordinates, clients, etc) frameworks and it is usually quite straightforward to include coaching amongst the attributes on which feedback is sought.

Observation. Direct observation can be very valuable, but remember that people rarely behave in an entirely natural way when being observed.

Using a blend of these approaches or using different tools over time is likely to give the best results and offer the most reliable data.



Cultural considerations in coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

Cultural considerations in coaching

Cultural considerations in coaching

I was once running some training in Kenya for Kenyans. I became exasperated that getting the delegates to come back to the training room after coffee breaks and lunch was like an exercise in herding cats! Some would wander back into the room and then wander out again to speak to someone else, others would be on their mobiles and seemingly quite reluctant to finish those conversations. When I stopped to think about it I realized that I was experiencing a cultural difference. My Anglo Saxon culture had taught me to operate through time. In other words to be always conscious of ‘what has happened before’ and ‘what will happen next’ as well as dealing with the here and now. My Kenyan participants on the other hand had a culture that operates in time. This means that their consciousness was purely in the here and now. They weren’t being rude by not being prompt back to training; they were just fully focused on the current moment. To them it would have been the height of bad manners to rush a conversation with a client in order to get back to training. Now you and I could argue forever about who was right and who was wrong, that’s not the point. Different cultures have different values and we need to work with them rather than get tied up in thoughts of right/wrong, good/bad, better/worse.

Of course when we talk about culture and how if effects the coaching relationship we need to realise that it is not just a matter of considering nationality, race or religion. We need also take into account the cultures people may have become used to in previous employment, in education or in the home. More importantly perhaps, we need to think about the prevailing culture in our own organisations if coaching has not been the norm.

There are many dimensions to culture and we need to consider, amongst others


Do people rise through the organization on merit or is status gained through age, length of service or qualifications?


Some cultures value flat hierarchies with everyone free to express their views, others are used to bosses telling everybody what to do.


What have people been used to and how much scope is there to move up and down the communication spectrum?


Do we apply coaching at the level of the team or the individual?


Are the people that we coach comfortable with emotional language and very open in their discussions or more reserved; wanting the coach to always take the lead?

Of course, there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. They are simply views that we need to think about in order to give coaching its most solid platform.

Finally, if you find yourself coaching people who will be experiencing cultural change, raise awareness by having them identify the similarities and differences with their current culture, and help them to take responsibility for making any necessary adaptations.