The Coaching/ Consulting Process in 4 Phases

The goal of coaching is behavioral change toward a desired personal or professional outcome.   For instance, Sarah may need to develop her business development skills to grow her new franchise by 50% within the next 6 months. John may need to develop an assertive meeting style with his new manager, in the next 30 days, or risk opportunities for promotion. How do these leaders attain their goals?


Some leaders like to imagine the coaching process in the following 4 phases. My experience, since 1997 with hundreds of coaching engagements, is that coaching engagements rarely fall into the neat categories of these 4 phases.   One reason is that learning is a messy process. The process is ongoing, iterative, client-focused, both an “artful craft” requiring practice, and a scientific management consulting process requiring expertise.   The action learning process implies that coaches and leaders jointly learn what works, and why it works, so that the leader can do more of that behavior.


That said, the process of organizational development can be described in these 4 phases. (Source: Gallant & Rios, 2014).





  1. The start-up phase requires candid assessment of what is working, what is not working, and what is needed. The selection of a coach or consultant is crucial. Leaders should not select someone they like as a potential confidante or best friend. Leaders should select the most expert consultant who can help them master a new behavior. For instance, if a leader needs a woman who speaks Spanish to help prepare for relocation to Mexico City, then I am not qualified. The goal of this start-up phase is to define boundaries of the engagement, and to mutually agree on those boundaries in a written contract.


  1. The diagnosis phase includes learning what the leader thinks about their reputation, brand, strengths, and weaknesses. That self-assessment often conflicts with data gathered from others. Techniques include surveys, interviews, assessments, observations, and video. The word “diagnosis” is not accurate, because it implies a gap or deficiency that is static and needs correction. I prefer the words “development” or “focus” or “assessment” because they accurately describe the ongoing quality of coaching engagements that reinforce the strengths of leaders.


  1. The intervention phase is the core of any coaching engagement. The process includes ongoing assessment of the client’s agenda, review of behaviors, feedback, and constructive actions. There is both art and science involved in coaching. The art requires constant attention to the leader’s words and actions, following intuition, and what I call “dancing with curiosity.” The science requires ongoing consideration of recent research in evidence-based behavior or world-class tactics that may be useful to the leader.


  1.  The transition phase occurs at the end of every coaching session, in monthly written summaries, after any feedback session or observation, quarterly frequency reviews, and opening and closing meetings with the leader, HR business partner, direct manager, and the coach. Those 4-way meetings insure that behavioral outcomes have been exceeded. As a 4th step in this model, the transition phase reminds all stakeholders that coaching has a beginning and an end. There are some “executive coaches” who boastfully declare that they have provided value to a leader for years. I sincerely hope that they regularly review the behavioral outcomes and business needs so that each phase of that engagement is closed. If not, they may be describing a dependent relationship that has little to do with a leader’s need for behavioral change.


This neat model with 4 phases may be useful for those who like structure. Accountants and engineers and some HR managers may find them useful.


One final thought: if the client needs a more fluid model, then these 4 steps can be twisted into a circle or a spiral.


Call us if you need to assess step 1 above, the start-up phase.


If we cannot help you, then we will refer you to someone who can do so.




Gallant, S. & Rios, D. (2014). The organization development (OD) consulting process. In B.R. Jones & M, Brazzel (Eds.), The NTL handbook of organization development and change (2nd ed.) (pp. 153-174). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.


Book Review of Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith (Crown Business Books, 2015)

(Disclosure: I am a fan of Marshall Goldsmith because he is an enthusiastic role model for countless executive coaches. When I shook his hand at an event hosted by the Center for Creative Leadership, I told him so. And when I was given four copies of this book to distribute to our largest CoachSource clients, I told them something favorable. Marshall Goldsmith has celebratory cachet as a thinker and a champion.)


I wanted to love this book, but it fell short.


Triggers can be defined as “any stimulus that defines our behavior.” That broad definition enables Goldsmith to go beyond Skinnerian behaviorism, or beyond antecedent-behavior-consequence, or Duhigg’s cue-routine-reward model.   The “Circle of Engagement” model includes five steps: trigger-impulse-awareness-choice-behavior. The primary focus of the book is to “help others achieve lasting positive change.”


Structures help us define individual behavioral change. Goldsmith defines three structures: the AIWATT question, the “Six Engaging Questions” and the “Wheel of Change.


  1. The AIWATT question can increase engagement. Ask yourself, “Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required, to make a positive difference on this topic?” Am I willing at this time… is the short version.


  1. The six “Engaging Questions” can be useful early in a coaching engagement, and when measuring behavioral trends. The questions are: 1. Did I do my best to set clear goals? 2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals? 3. Did I do my best to find meaning? 4. Did I do my best to build positive relationships? 6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged?


  1. The Wheel of Change can be described using two axis or four spokes on a wheel. One axis is the Positive to Negative axis, which “tracks the elements that either help us or hold us back.” The second axis is the Change or Keep axis, which “tracks the elements that we determine to change or keep in the future.” This descriptive model encourages clients to explore what they may need to create, eliminate, accept or preserve in order to achieve their desired behavior change.


The remaining content includes anecdotes from Goldsmith’s broad client base. His charming, self-effacing style often made me smile. The inclusion of the Buddhist anecdote reminding us that anger is always directed at “an empty boat” is a perfect reminder to stay focused on our internal locus of control in the moment. The resounding feeling I had is that the book made me feel good, consider using some of these structures, and then wonder “Now what?”


There are no citations of published works in this book. However, an emerging body of academic research does exist. Positive psychology provides the theoretical construct that the profession of executive coaching sorely needs. There is abundant research in well-being. Seminal leaders include Richard Boyatzis’ Intentional Change Model and studies using neurobiology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and optimal experience research, and Martin Seligman’s work in PERMA (positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and purpose, and accomplishment.)   These are evidence-based thought leaders, with broad following, who are not referenced by Marshall Goldsmith. That fact makes me wonder, why not?


According to the International Coaching Federation, there are now some 50,000 professional coaches in a $7 billion industry with little consistency. (Disclosure: I have been certified at the ICF-PCC level since 2006.) The Conference Board 2014 survey, from 142 companies, defines external executive coaches compensation ranging from $600-200/ hour depending upon the size of the company, developmental needs of the leader, and seniority. The average investment for 6 months and 40-45 hours is $25,000. The 2014 ICF survey states that the average salary is $214/hour. The market realities and financial value of executive coaching are significant.


My experience of countless “coaches” is that the profession sorely needs a) a scientific evidence-based backbone and b) a theoretical backbone.   Without such theory, science, and applications, the profession of executive coaching is at risk.


In hindsight, I realize that I wanted Marshall Goldsmith to provide some leadership or insight into these aspects of executive coaching. Marshall Goldsmith’s book Triggers does not address any of these academic, social and market realities. Hence it fell short of what I had expected. I can imagine him chuckling and retorting, “OK, so what are you going to do that would make you happier?”


Perhaps that is the subject for a different blog.


Call me if you’d like to discuss this book?

2014 Executive Coaching summary from the Conference Board

Hello friends,

I thought you may want to see some recent trend data for external coaching and internal coaching, by industry and size of company.


  1. After the recession, companies are investing more than ever in leadership development and key talent, with both external and internal coaching  
  2. 39% of these 140 companies use internal coaches for leaders who are lower in the organization, and over 75% use external coaches for their senior leaders (directors and above)
  3. The top 3 types of coaching remain 1) development-focused coaching, 2) performance-focused coaching, and 3) 360 debriefs
  4. Fees invoiced at a standard or fixed rate per engagement, rather than an hourly or variable rate, have increased from 26% in 2012 to 38% in 2014
  5. Hourly rates for executive coaching range from $600+/hour for CEOs and direct reports to $300/hour for directors and above; naturally, those rates vary by size of the company, industry, and level of the leaders
  6. The top 3 topics covered in coaching engagements have not changed for many years; they include:  1) executive presence/ influencing skills, 2) relationship management, and 3) leading teams and people development

If you should have any questions, please let me know.

Doug Gray, PCC,  CEO/Founder


How do I make money and do what I want to do?

Have you ever asked yourself this question?

Then come to Tuesday’s Career Lunch & Learn featuring Doug Gray, author of Passionate Action: How You Can Turn Life’s Challenges Into Life’s Adventures and owner of Action Learning Associates, Inc., an executive coaching business.

That was the advertisement last week.  My daughter asked me to speak, so of course I said “Yes!”