Effective coaching: it’s a middle distance run not a sprint

Over the years, I have sometimes worked with clients impatient for quick results from a coaching engagement. While understandable – we all want to see a problem or issue swiftly sorted – a short-term mindset fails to recognise the longer-term process needed for coaching to deliver the change and results both the coached individual and their sponsoring employer want to see. Yes, we can make tactical changes in the short term, but it’s the long-term shifts in behaviour that will provide the most value to both client and their employer.

So, what does that coaching process look like? With my approach, it goes something like this:

Understanding you and your context

Every coaching assignment begins with me seeking to understand the client’s life and business context. Firstly, that means a forensic deep dive to understand what has formed them as the person they are today. It’s their life story from childhood to where they are now, the highs, the lows, the joys, and the challenges. I’ll also look to underpin that interview with specific, tailored psychometric testing.

Secondly, it’s about understanding their context within their organisation. What are the experiences of the client and what are the views of the people they work with? This is where a 360° exercise and the feedback it generates can be invaluable.

Following all our meetings, I provide notes along with key reflections and actions for the client to focus on ahead of our next session.

Regular meetings

It’s then about meeting regularly – every two to four weeks for the first months of an engagement – to understand what is happening in the client’s world, their reflections, and generating refreshed actions for when we next meet. Some of those discussions might go into uncomfortable areas such as whether the client and I think they’re in the right role for them. If a client is not emotionally connected to their organisation, for example, it’s unlikely that they can give their best. I think it’s a healthy discussion to have both for the client and their employer.

Putting what you’ve discovered into practice

Moving on from those early sessions, the meetings might become a little more infrequent, probably once a month recognising that it will take time to put into practice what we’ve discussed. Ultimately clients should expect a coaching engagement to take anywhere from six months to a year and beyond.

Where’s the finish line?

How do you know when the coaching process has finished? It comes down to an assessment of the client’s feelings of alignment with their work and development, how connected they feel, and how their adjusted behaviours are being noticed and responded to by others in their organisation.

My objectives will be to help the client turn their existing strengths into towering strengths, help to mitigate any issues, and learn new habits. It’s a role that serves as advisor, guide, thought provoker, challenger and supporter. And while the true value of working with a coach takes time to deliver, those prepared to invest themselves in the process will reap the benefits – as will their employers.