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Coaching for better performance.

[check] This checklist describes the processes involved in coaching as a method of developing skills, potential and performance.


Coaching is especially effective as one of a range of learning activities and training processes, where an individual or learner has potential that can best be developed through a focused individual relationship with a more experienced and senior colleague.

It is both a style and a method of conducting a one-to-one relationship in which managers empower and help their people to develop their skills, through a series of planned work-based activities. In coaching, a manager works with the learner to identify where they could develop new skills, either for their current job or for the future, and provides support, guidance and advice on how to achieve their aims.

Coaching differs from mentoring in that coaching is appropriate for specific tasks, skills or techniques which can be mastered and measured; mentoring is more about longer-term development or progress within an organisation. Coaching can be part of mentoring.

In coaching sessions the manager often works directly with the learner, giving them the chance to try things out and supporting them as they find areas for further improvement. Coaching effectively may well mean finding others with appropriate skills and experience to run specific sessions, with the manager coordinating the steps in the overall coaching strategy.

Coaching involves assessment skills adapting these to a more constructive purpose. Assessment is the neutral and objective observation of success or otherwise, while coaching is a relationship where the coach provides tips, guidance and support.

Advantages of coaching

When used selectively and appropriately, coaching:

is a cost-effective approach to development, targeted specifically at one individual and their identified needs

develops the skills of an existing employee, rather than having to take on extra or replacement staff

provides the coach with a sense of achievement and value

sends a positive message to other employees about the way the organisation values its staff

motivates employees and therefore avoids unnecessary staff turnover and the associated replacement costs of recruitment and initial training

helps the learner reinforce and apply theoretical and knowledge-based learning acquired through courses and other training.

Disadvantages of coaching

* It can be a drain on limited resources because it is one-to-one.

* If there is no real structure to the activity, it can be confused with the 'sitting with Nellie' approach.

* The coach/manager may need to gain support and help from others to provide coaching sessions with the learner and others may not be committed to the coaching approach.

Qualities of a coach

Coaches need to:

be caring, supportive and patient

have good listening skills

be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses

have good verbal and non-verbal skills

be good observers and counsellors.

Action checklist

1. Plan the approach before you start a coaching session

Hold a preliminary meeting with the learner to establish the ground rules.

* Identify and agree the learning needs which the coaching sessions will aim to address, and prioritise these.

* Agree and set learning objectives--what the learner should achieve should be clearly set out (for example 'By X date you will be able to explain/demonstrate how to do YZ').

* Agree success criteria, or task objectives, between the coach and the learner, specifying the standard against which success will be judged. These criteria should be defined, agreed and understood: 'By the end you will be able to weld two pieces of pipe to industry standard tolerances'.

* Review the options and make a detailed plan--this is where the coach prepares to demonstrate, explain and review a task or skill.

2. Establish the most appropriate approach to learning

Everyone learns in different ways. For coaching to be effective, it is essential to understand what these might be for the learner. Explore and test a mixture of methods, including watching, listening, thinking, reading, observing, reflecting or trying things out, to find the approach which gives the biggest payback, or the combination which seems most suitable.

3. Identify opportunities for coaching

In coaching, the learner should try out skills in an actual task, so it will be necessary to plan the occasion and place where a coaching session will happen. From the identified list of priorities, agree a suitable time for the first session.

4. Carry out the coaching session

Bearing in mind the preferred learning styles identified earlier:

* give a clear and easy-to-follow demonstration, whilst explaining to the learner the detail of what is happening and why

* watch for signs that the learner has missed something--for example by observing body language or asking check questions

* build in summaries and reviews at appropriate points, to ensure the learner has grasped the key points

* let the learner try out the task for themselves, with accompanying support and reminders if the learner needs it

* provide the encouragement all learners need and deserve when they are doing well.

5. Provide feedback

Feedback is invaluable; without it most of us are shooting in the dark. Feedback must be honest but sensitive, critical but constructive, and it must always try to point to improvements.

6. Plan interim developments

Plan development activities for the learner to undertake between coaching sessions. Coaching should not be a spoon-feeding process; it is essential that the learner is motivated sufficiently to develop the skills they have learned. Encourage the learner to identify opportunities to practise skills. Improvement targets for practice sessions should be agreed before the close of the coaching session.

7. Close the session

Discuss and review:

* the learner's success against the criteria and standards for acceptable performance agreed at the start

* how well the learner handled the learning process.

Plan the next steps. These may involve more coaching on this task, if either the task or the learning objectives haven't been met in full.

Dos and don'ts for coaching


Make sure that the approach, the detailed steps and the actions within them are discussed and agreed with the learner--both coach and learner have an equal stake in success.

Carry out a detailed task analysis of an activity you are going to coach, listing all the steps in the process--especially the most obvious. These are easiest to overlook when you're experienced in an activity.

Accept the learner's mistakes when tackling new tasks--learning by doing means working out why something may not have worked, and planning better ways next time.

Remember that the successful coach relies on a range of other skills, especially the communication skills of questioning, listening and giving constructive feedback; it isn't all instruction.


Confuse coaching with assessment.

Jump in and tell the learner what they should do, or take over if they have some difficulty.

Assume that everyone knows even the basics of a task; avoid the danger that, just because you are skilled and knowledgeable, the learner is too.

Forget to include all external restrictions and criteria, such as health and safety rules and requirements.

Useful reading


Executive coaching: a guide for the HR professional, Anna Marie Valerio and Robert J Lee San Francisc0: Pfeiffer, 2005

Coaching for change: practical strategies for transforming performance, Kaye Thorne London: Kogan Page, 2004

Winning, Clive Woodward London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004

The art and practice of leadership coaching; 50 top executive coaches reveal their secrets Howard Morgan, Phil Harkins and Marshall Goldsmith eds Hoboken NJ: John Wiley, 2004

The coach's coach: personal development for personal developers, Alison Hardingham London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004

The seven Cs of coaching: the definitive guide to collaborative coaching, Mick Cope Harlow: Prentice hall Business, 2004

Journal Articles

A strategic coach, Barry Zweibel T+D, vol 59 no 4, Apr 2005, pp62-65

Leadership group coaching in action; the zen of creating high performance teams, Manfred Kets de Vries Academy of Management Executive, vol 19 no 1, Feb 2005, pp61-76

The wild west of executive coaching, Stratford Sherman and Alyssa Freas Harvard Business Review, vol 82 no 11, Nov 2004, pp82-90

Thought starters

* Think about who has coached you in the past and how effective it was--if it worked for you, it can work for others.

* Whom can you think of in your team at work, who would benefit from coaching?

* Which tasks and skills would you be best at coaching?

* Whom else do you know who has skills that others would benefit from developing?
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Title Annotation:Checklist 089
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: People Management
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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