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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.