- Congruent Coaching – Outiline
- Coaching tools
- Team dynamics
- Meeting planning (team building and productivity)
- QQTR-Managing expectations (video)
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 a competency 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 remove air bubbles that may have entered the syringe. Removing bubbles is only one step in the competency of “effective administration of an IM vaccine injection”. To master the competency, a nurse must create the habit of removing air bubbles for each injection. Here is how coaching will benefit from observation and evidence gathering to ensure the development of the “full” competency.
In our specific example, the continuous observation that a nurse forgets to tap the air bubbles out of a syringe provides a coaching opportunity. The observer 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 utterances from the nurse that “I forgot to tap, darn”. The direct observation of a competency application allows the gathering of factual evidence which is used in competency-based discussions. Such exchanges lead to finding solutions and improvements when necessary. This is especially effective when competencies are well defined and supported by detailed behavioral examples (a well-structured competency model).
A competency includes the knowledge of how and why specific aspects are necessary (ex. bubbles need to be removed), the determination to do so for every administration because it is the correct methodology and the creation of a healthy habit (removing air bubbles for each injection).
Coaching in a virtual environment.
The reality of virtual interactions is changing the coaching paradigm. In many cases, coaches can still observe individuals in their application of competencies via remote observation. For example, a professional interaction 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 still happen directly when the coach is in attendance. But what happens when the coach cannot directly observe the implementation of key competencies? Imagine that the professional above plans to meet the client without their coach being able to attend. 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 rarely, even 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 are able to 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? Before we engage in the how, let’s briefly touch on one of the “whys”. If a leader decides that investing time to discover factual aspects of competency application is too demanding and/or not really productive, think of the cost, financial, effectual, and reputational of any team member not performing to their potential for months on end.
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 must 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. Coaching is guiding, and to guide I must understand where people are coming from (intent, objective, level of ability, etc.), and where they are going (progress, evolution, determination).
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 discussions 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 gain perspective on the what and how, but also on the why. This in turn will feed the discussion that will follow 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 as to 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, two essential competencies for this team member. Then, the event occurs without the coach being present. How will the coach be able to assess the planned implementation and competencies used? After the presentation, a debrief can bring to light a series of facts: for example, many of the people in the audience may have repeatedly 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 to establish the presentation objective up front was set 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. It seems like the objective was not clearly outlined. The explanation will be part of the coaching discussion.
Fact #2: The areas for investment opportunities were also clearly determined 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 many participants since they asked repeatedly along the way is another demonstration that something was amiss.
Yet if the coach was not able to witness the presentation and the reactions of participants, how can that coach assess if specific competencies were used as planned?
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 the identification of competencies and actions that will or must be used. In the example above, actions are 1- the ability to provide a clear objective and perspective for the presentation and, 2- capture the attention of the audience on known aspects of interest to them very early on in the process. Strategic Thinking, Initiative, Building Rapport and Persuasion are some of the competencies that must be used to accomplish this. Because there is a plan to apply specific competencies and clear actions to do so, it is 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 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?
Fact #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 as competencies to be coached on. 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 and 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.
Fact #2: It may also be concluded that all 4 main areas of opportunities were not identified as planned or at least, not early enough to generate interest. 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 the coaching discussion would not have been possible or clearly identified if the pre-presentation exchange (debrief) 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 by reconstructing the events and identify specific aspects.
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.
“But how do I know these facts if I was not there to observe them?” will you say.
If the meeting between the employee and the investors was conducted on a virtual platform, it may have been recorded. In that case, the coach will review the interactions and capture key factual moments. If there is no record of the exchange, this is where an effective coach will turn on their investigative abilities. The coach must recreate the interaction by asking question. The coach must investigate.
- “What were the questions that participants asked along the way?”
- “What were the questions related to the objectives of the meeting?”
- “What questions were asked on the investment opportunities you had in you plan to present?”
- “What were the main reactions from participants?”
- “Who seemed to be most interested in what you shared?”
- “Who was less so?”
- “What would you have done differently in retrospect?”
- “What part did you prefer?”
- “Which section of the presentation was, according to your observations, less effective?”
- “What do you think are the reasons for this?”
- “What do you think would have happened if things were done differently?”
And throughout, following most answers, the coach also must ask:
- “Why do you say/think that?”
- “What specifically makes you conclude this?”
- “What were some of the words used by participants in this case?”
- “How did/do you feel about this situation?”
The role of the coach is to reveal the events using the facts accumulated in the memory of the employee. It is to reconstruct the events and factual aspects.
If a person cannot remember certain aspects, the coach can still extract factual elements. For example, if a person was to ask questions to the investors on the two or three main objectives they had for the meeting, and that person does not remember those objectives, it is probable that the person either did not ask the question or did not listen to the answers. In either case, it indicates that something was missed which may require a coaching intervention or discussion.
On the contrary, if the person is able to restate all the objectives shared by the investors as well as how they were addressed, the coach has substance for positive reinforcement and adequate accolades.
The debrief serves as a way to recreate the events and identify factual aspects on which the coaching will be conducted.
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 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 also need the “why” 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:
- The person just forgot. They simply jumped right in the presentation details, trying to convince that the ideas contained in the presentation were good.
- The person got nervous and while the objective was shown on the slide, it was not shared with the necessary energy or emphasis.
- 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 instance of situational coaching. Only after factual elements have been identified along with the reasons (the why) for competency usage can a coach and coachee agree on the necessary steps and specifics for continued development.
Coaching happens all the time
While this article addresses formal coaching events, the same principles apply to ad hoc situations, and even to very short coaching discussions. Coaching happens all the time. A simple phone call asking for a perspective may turn into a coaching discussion. A question while having a coffee may lead to some coaching. As is outlined in the four principles, coaching is an interaction that addresses competencies, their application, and their progression. In the case of an impromptu coaching event, principle 1 (briefing) is completed with the coach asking what the person’s objective or intent was for the situation under discussion. The coach must establish some baseline in order, once again, to establish any gap and eventual solutions to bridge that gap.
Virtual coaching is much more dependent on discovery or exploratory questions to bring out facts that could not otherwise 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 for any developmental actions to be reasonable.
Virtual coaching requires that the story of unwitnessed events is told with the highest possible accuracy to reveal the facts on which coaching can be applied.
- 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.
- Meet immediately/soon after the planned event to debrief on what happened, extracting factual elements to describe behaviors and competency application, to reconstruct the events and identify specific aspects.
- Address reasons for competencies to have been applied with efficiency and for others to have been omitted or misused.
- Only then can a coach and coachee properly evaluate usage and elaborate steps to continue competency development.