Leadership and coaching


  • Congruent Coaching – Outiline
  • Coaching tools
  • Team dynamics
  • Meeting planning (team building and productivity)
  • QQTR-Managing expectations (video)

VIRTUAL COACHING

Coaching fundamentals:  observation and evidence gathering.

Effective coaching depends in large part on observation and evidence gathering.  It is much easier to provide guidance or discuss evolution when all parties can rely on factual elements rather than impressions or feelings.  While this article addresses coaching in a business setting, whatever the industry, we will be using an example that most people can relate to as we are in the middle of a worldwide race to vaccinate against SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.  Once nurses have filled a syringe and prepare to give the injection, they must remove air bubbles that may have entered the syringe.  Here is how coaching will benefit from observation and evidence gathering.  The competency of effective administration of an intra-muscular vaccine includes the knowledge of how and why bubbles need to be removed, the determination to do so because it is the correct methodology and creating a habit of removing air bubbles for each injection.

Continuous observation that a nurse forgets to tap the air bubbles out of a syringe provides a coaching opportunity.  The observer, gathering evidence, may, 1- count the number of times it was forgotten in a given period, 2- remind the nurse how many times the observer had to prompt to tap just before the injection was to be given, or 3- referring back to the repetitive utterance from the nurse that “I forgot to tap, darn”.  The direct observation of a competency application allows discussions on the associated behaviors and leads to finding solutions and improvement.  This is especially true when competencies are well defined and supported by detailed behavioral examples (a well-structured competency model).

Coaching in a virtual environment.

The new reality of virtual interactions is changing the coaching world.  It is true that coaches can still observe individuals in their application of competencies via remote observation.  For example, a professional interacting with a client for a consultation can be done on any of the available remote meeting platforms available.  While it may at times be less effective than in situ observation, it is still a very good option and the coaching principles of observation and evidence gathering can happen directly.  But what happens when the coach cannot directly observe the implementation of key competencies?  Imagine that the professional above will meet the client without their coach being able to attend.  This obviously happens all the time in normal circumstances.  It is just more frequent these days.  As this happens more and more, coaches need to rely on “indirect” observation and evidence gathering.  In fact, we have clients that live in a world in which their coaches (leaders, managers) are never able to directly observe the interactions between their team and the clients they service.

Coaching by investigating.

Coaches must now further develop their abilities to “observe without being there”, by extracting factual and fair information from the person that performed certain actions.  But how can one gather behavioral evidence without directly witnessing specific actions, exchanges, attitudes, or performance?  Ask any criminal investigator how they can extract the truth and uncover evidence on events that they were completely unaware of occurring at the time.  They investigate.  They ask questions that eventually reveal the evidence.  They read between the lines and corroborate information.  One may argue that coaches are not trained investigators.  One can contend that coaches may not have the time to dig like investigators do.  We can also highlight the fact that since no crime was committed, there are few reasons necessitating such invasive prodding.  Let us then return to a more corporate related situation without the gory details and lamentations that criminal investigator must face.  What about hiring interviews?  We hear stories from candidates on what they did in the past, how they succeeded and struggled at times.  In no case is the interviewer a direct witness of actions from previous times.  Still, skilled interviewers, like investigators, can piece information together to conjure up an image of the person in front of them using various competencies.  How is it done? 

We need to think of virtual coaching in terms of interviewing and investigating.  Using questions that not only provide perspective on events for which we were absent but also on intent, reasoning (for what was accomplished or not for example), options, reflection, and planning.  If I need to assess the progress of a team member on active listening, I must ask what they heard, what it meant, how it impacts their coming interactions or what the plan is for the next discussion.  I need to explore the reasoning for the person’s comments and corroborate various pieces of information.  The same goes for competencies such as strategic questions, initiative, building rapport, adaptability, and numerous others.

Creating an environment for virtual coaching: The four principles.

To help with a fair evaluation of competency usage, coaches must create the opportunity to have coaching discussion before and after an individual on their team accomplishes certain tasks.  If, for example, a person must present the results of a market research initiative to investors, their coach can hold a conversation prior to that event and inquire on the objectives, key messages, story line, links between topics, questions to ask, ways to engage the audience, and other relevant aspects.  By also discussing the reasoning of the individual, the coach will not only have a perspective on the what and how, but also on the why.  This in turn will feed the discussion to be happening after the event to better capture thinking processes, decision making, and a plethora of other critical competency-related aspects.  Here is an example of this.  Imagine that it was determined prior to the presentation that the objectives needed to be crystal clear at the very onset of the exchange with the investors and that it was necessary to outline the 4 main areas of opportunities that would be covered.  The exchange between the coach and the presenter astutely established those parameters for success and the presenter explained how this was to unfold.  Inquiring on the reasons for this to happen, the coach may understand that the investors in question are particularly demanding in terms of the value of their time and need to be very quickly made aware of the advantages they will likely gain.  That sounds like a good Strategic Thinking approach and demonstrates essential elements of Building Rapport.  The event occurs without the presence of the coach and, after the presentation, the debrief brings to light a series of facts:  many of the people in the audience repetitively asked questions throughout on the objectives of the presenter and also the need to, time and again, clarify the investment opportunities, mentioning that they were unclear.  This is just one aspect among possible others, yet it is sufficient for a coaching opportunity based on factual events.

Fact #1:  The ability and importance of establishing the presentation objective up front was established prior to the event.  The fact that participants repeatedly expressed the need to clarify the objective tends to demonstrate that the plan did not pan out.  What happened to explain this will be part of the coaching discussion.

Fact #2:  The areas for investment opportunities were also clearly outlined prior to the presentation and it was decided that they would be listed early on and then addressed in detail, one at a time.  The fact that this was lost to numerous participants since they asked may times along the way.

Now before we go further, let us establish the first principle of virtual coaching.  Convene before a coachable event/action (briefing) to establish a baseline for specific competency application providing the ability to identify implementation facts to support coaching efforts.

The first discussion allows to identification of competencies and actions that will be used.  In the example above, actions are the ability to provide a clear objective and perspective for the presentation and capture the attention of the audience on known aspects of interest to them very early on in the process.  The associated competencies may be Strategic Thinking, Initiative, Building Rapport and Persuasion.  Because there is a plan to apply specific competencies and clear actions to do so, it becomes much easier to evaluate the effectiveness of those actions during the debrief.  Without the first meeting, we would not be able to start the coaching process on a solid baseline.  The debrief then establishes facts as they relate to the original intent.

Let us go back to the 2 factual elements identified in the preceding section. What should a coach conclude from these facts and where will the discussion need to be oriented?

  1. The objective of the presentation was not set effectively or at all.  In that case the person did not apply the plan.  But why?  It may be a lack of Accountability which is often a key competency.  This new perspective (lack of Accountability) may now trump Building Rapport or Strategic Thinking.  It may also indicate that Initiative is an issue.  Again, the fact that it was clearly identified in the briefing discussion that setting the objective early on was crucial an agreed upon may support a lack of Accountability.  It may also highlight a lack of understanding on the competency of Building Rapport.  To act in the most productive manner, the coach must now ask what happened?” and why.
  2. It may also be concluded that all 4 main areas of opportunities were not identified as planned.  They may have been overlooked completely.  Or the information was not transmitted effectively.  And depending on the reasons for the mishap, Initiative, Accountability and Effective Communication may be at fault.  Either of those three possibilities must be verified.  The orientation of that discussion would not have been possible or clearly identified if the pre-presentation exchange had not happened.

The second principle of virtual coaching is to meet immediately/soon after the planned event to debrief on what happened, extracting factual elements to describe behaviors and competency application.

Coaching, like any developmental effort, must be aimed at bridging gaps in application or knowledge.  The before and after discussions should clearly illustrate the existing gaps.  Without this, developmental efforts are more prone to find foundations on impressions, preferences, or feelings rather than observable occurrences and facts.

The third principle is to address reasons for competencies to have been applied with efficiency and for others to have been omitted or misused.  We need to identify the WHY.  Coaching efficiency starts with why (see Simon Oliver Sinek’s books:  Start with why and Find your why).  Without the why, we cannot fully understand the reasoning behind the lack of usage of a competency.  We need the why also to discuss strong competencies.  The why guides efforts in a direction that makes sense for the person striving to develop and become more proficient.  Why was the person in our example not able or sufficiently determined to clearly set the objective of the presentation immediately?  Imagine the 3 possibilities listed below:

  1. The person just forgot.  They simply jumped right in the presentation details, trying to convince that the ideas contained in the presentation were good.
  2. The person got nervous and while the objective was shown on the slide, it was not shared with the necessary energy or emphasis.
  3. The person made a last-minute decision to go directly to what they thought was the best investment opportunity.

To what extent is the “why” the same for each situation?  Are the reasons behind ‘forgetting” (1) and “deciding (3) the same?  Until we understand why, we cannot decide on the proper or the most important action to help the person evolve and gain competency.

This leads us to the final principle, one in fact that applies to any situational coaching.  Only after factual elements have been identified along with the reasons (the why) for competency usage to be at the evaluated level can a coach and coachee agree on the necessary steps and specifics for continued development.

In summary, virtual coaching is much more dependent on discovery or exploratory questions to bring out facts that could not be directly observed.  In order to accomplish this with efficiency and focus, a briefing must take place to establish key competencies to be used via specific actions.  Coaching will aim to either bridge a competency gap or recognize proficiency in using competencies.  An immediate debrief will generate the necessary information.  And in every case, coaches and coachees must address the “why’ for any competency to have been used or misused to any developmental actions to be reasonable.

Virtual coaching requires that the story of unwitnessed events is told with the highest accuracy to reveal the facts on which coaching can be applied.

Principles

  1. Convene before a coachable event/action (briefing) to establish a baseline for specific competency application providing the ability to identify implementation facts to support coaching efforts.
  2. Meet immediately/soon after the planned event to debrief on what happened, extracting factual elements to describe behaviors and competency application.
  3. Address reasons for competencies to have been applied with efficiency and for others to have been omitted or misused.
  4. Only then can a coach and coachee properly evaluate usage and elaborate steps to continue competency development.