How to Coach

How to Coach

31 December 2021

This guide talks about the GROW model; a widely used performance coaching model that you can use every day. Specifically, it’s focus will be on how you can use the model in your daily conversations. Although lengthy, planned coaching sessions can have their place, they can take up a lot of time and effort and it’s not often easy to know if anyone benefited from them. It seems obvious to say it, but to run an effective coaching session, you have to be a really good coach. Coaching is difficult, and the cold hard truth is that more managers are bad at it than they are good at it.

However, a great way to get better at it, and to benefit from it along the way, is to forgo the long sessions that attempt to creates big changes, and instead focus on what I call micro-coaching. These are the small, everyday interactions you have with your team when they have problems or ask for advice. Applying a coaching model to these interactions is something anyone can do, it doesn’t tend to matter too much if it doesn’t work out, and it allows for incremental growth (for the employee and the manager!).

Let’s cover some coaching basics. One of the most common ways to make you life harder as a manager is to make too many decisions yourself. If you’ve given someone a piece of work, for so many reasons, it’s far better if they make the decisions relating to that piece of work. Coaching gives you a tool to ensure they get to make those decisions, whilst still ensuring those decisions are made in a structured way. This is probably the most important of all the management skills.

When you give someone advice, nobody really wins. If you end up being right, they won’t feel the same sense of accomplishment because they’ll know that it was really you who solved the problem. They also won’t learn how you solved the problem because you just gave them the answer, and that means they’ll come to you next time they have a problem as well. Alternatively, if you end up being wrong, they won’t feel the same sense of responsibility either, because you’re the one who made the call.

This is why coaching is so useful.

Ok, so the GROW model. The trick to this model - especially when used in these quick one off conversations - is to invert the role power. In these conversations, you aren’t the decision maker, they are. You are trying to understand their decision, and you’re going to challenge their thinking, but the decisions will still be theirs to make. If at the end of your conversation the two of you don’t agree, their opinion trumps yours. If you approach your conversation this way, you’ll find you naturally become a better coach.

The Grow Model

Goal - What it is they want to achieve

  • What difference do you want to make?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • What do you want to improve?
  • When do you want to achieve it by?
  • How achievable do you think it is?

Reality - What the current situation is

  • What are your concerns?
  • How concerned are you?
  • Who is affected by this issue?
  • What have you done already?
  • What is stopping you at the moment?
  • What help do you need?
  • How confident are you that you can do this?

Options - What they could do to reach the goal

  • What have you already ruled out and why?
  • What could you do?
  • Could anyone else help?
  • Where could you get more information?
  • What tasks could you delegate?
  • Is there anything you can definitely do today that would help?

Way - What they are going to do

  • What are you going to do?
  • What support do you need?
  • Who are you going to get to help you?
  • How can I help you?
  • What are you going to do first?
  • How confident are you this will get done?
  • When will you have done this by?

What this model does is guide you through a sensible way to make a decision, and gives you a mechanism to walk someone else through making a sensible decision of their own. You don’t have to give advice, you can just ask questions such as those in the examples above. At the end of it, you should have helped that person make the best decision they could.

Working this way is the exact opposite of giving advice in terms of the situation it creates. All the negatives of giving advice become positives here. If they end up being right, they will feel a sense of pride that they made the right choice. If they end up being wrong they will feel responsible, but they will also know they had your support so they won’t resent you, and you will know they made the decision logically so you won’t feel frustrated. And even though it did go wrong, it wasn’t your decision, so they don’t call your judgement into question.

Most importantly though, you’ll find that the more you work like this, the less people need you. When you give advice when someone asks for it, they become dependent on your advice. When you help them make a decision rationally, they start to change the way they think. After a while, people will automatically start thinking this way when they’re faced with problems, so you’re actually helping them improve rather than just giving them answers.

The more practise you have at this, and the more your people get used to you doing it, the more you’ll see results. One of the most common management interactions I have with someone who works for me when we’re starting to get used to working together goes a little like this:

Employee: Hey Matt, I’ve got a problem with this, what should I do

Me: I don’t know, what should you do?

If they smile when I say that, I know that we’re getting somewhere. It means they’ve been through the conversation with me enough times to know all the things I would usually have asked before I got to that question, and they follow the process without me.

If you find that you’re naturally a good coach, and you want to start addressing bigger issues in sit down sessions, by all means go for it. But a great starting point is to follow the model when people come to you and ask for advice. Remember it’s their decision not yours, and ask them the questions you need to ask to help them make that decision sensibly. You’ll find everyone’s working life is much easier as a result.

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