When should you use coaching?

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Coaching Skills Series

This is one of many articles I intend to post this year considering the range of principles, skills and experiences you’ll need to be an effective coaching manager for the people in your team.

Here we consider the times in which the coaching approach is most useful. Check back in a couple of weeks for a follow-on post.

In my office we like to dine out on this little anecdote. A University lecturer we know phoned her HR department and asked “How do I go about getting myself some coaching?” Their reply was, “Why, what’s wrong with you?” This mentality is something we must absolutely avoid if we’re to have any chance of coaching doing its job. Coaching is a fantastic tool to use in all manner of work situations – as we shall see – but only if it’s positioned in a positive way.

So the question remains, when should you use coaching? I suppose the simple answer is, now! Get on with it! Look at all the benefits I’ve illustrated, why wait? But I realise you need a more refined answer than that.

Coaching Skills for Managers

Let’s firstly consider what makes the average manager consider the coaching approach in the first place. After all, the typical work situations we encounter are not new; they’ve been happening for decades, so why do we need a new approach to dealing with them? The answer lies in the ever decreasing effectiveness of the ‘tell and instruct’ approach.

Tell Coach Results Time

Consider the graph above.

When somebody is new to the team, we need obviously to do a certain amount of telling. When people are new, they need information and instructions and it’s arguably a little too soon to be asking for their views on the way forward (although you could really benefit from their objectivity). When time is short, or in crisis situations we need also to tell people what to do, because the needs of the situation require it. There is no time for a debate and the risks of inaction outweigh the risks of doing the wrong thing. The tell style is perfectly appropriate in these situations but then passage of time intervenes and telling becomes first inappropriate and eventually counter productive. People have information and instructions but now want to exercise a little responsibility. Crises eventually pass and things calm down.

Coaching is an investment of time and like all longer term investments, the pay off is not immediate. This can be unacceptable at work and even I would argue that it can sometimes be premature to coach or the timing can be wrong.

So the graph illustrates a cross over point where the effectiveness of telling falls dramatically and coaching comes into its own. Unfortunately there is no hard and fast rules for where this point lies for each individual whom you coach, the real trick is for you to become aware of their changing needs and circumstances and spot when it’s time to switch lines.

Matt Somers

Matt Somers

Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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