10 Principles of Effective Coaching and feedback

Although there are many principles of quality coaching techniques, there are some that will have the biggest impact on those being coached and the effectiveness of the experience for both parties. Consider the following ten principles as those that have been ‘boiled down’ for maximum impact for your coaching success. Consider always that we are all on a quest to continuously learn and adapt, so don’t stop your research in to ways and techniques that can improve your style, strengthen your approach and increase your abilities as a coach.

Principle 1: Coach the individual

The first basic for coaching is to realize that each person is different and they will

require some individual attention and approach in regards to feedback and coaching. Some people will be very sensitive and embarrassed to be given constructive feedback and may need some confidence boosting first while others will want to dispense with any pleasantries and get straight into areas of improvement. You can’t treat these two extremes the same.

There isn't just one model of feedback and one way of coaching that works but there are plenty that don’t.

In order to know how to approach each person, you need to know a bit about them. What type of learning style do they have? What is their personality type? What do they like to do in their spare time? Who do they hang around with at work? What are some of the strengths you have noticed about them? What makes them smile? Why do they work where they do? These are just a few of the questions that knowing the answer to will help you in your role as a coach.

Principle 2: Know several ways to coach

As a coach and knowing the key point about coaching others as individuals means that you then need to have several tools in your toolkit of ways to effectively coach and give feedback. It’s impossible to coach everyone the way they need to be coached with one dimensional coaching abilities. It’s your role to look for, learn and master several coaching skills and feedback techniques.

Principle 3: Don’t just tick boxes

Several people have said to me in the past, “Well, we do coaching regularly but nothing changes.” If you consider motivation factors, most people see the need for coaching so they do it but in some cases the coach isn't converted. The coach doesn't have buy-in and at best ‘accepts’ that it needs to be done. The problem isn't often with the person being coached – it’s with the coach!

One of the big traps to fall into is to get into a routine of doing something because it should be done. In a lot of cases, it might as well never be done for all the benefit that comes. Coaching is not a register. It’s not a checklist. If our approach is all about making sure we coach a certain number of times and cover off the minimum number of points, we have done just that – we might have achieved our goal (coaching each team member every two weeks say) but our objective to help people improve performance has been missed by a mile.

So, when coaching, we need to have a purpose. Ask yourself the question, “What is it I really want to see as a result of this coaching session?” or “What will tell me this session has been worthwhile?” or even “What do I want to see next for this person?” Have a purpose, have a reason for the coaching session to go ahead. This might need some planning time. Be prepared. The coachee deserves a bit of preparation. Sure, they need to be engaged too – but the onus is on you as the coach to run the session and direct the result.

Principle 4: Encourage self-discovery

There are varying schools of thought on what ratio the coaching discussion should go in regards to the amount of talking from each party. It wouldn't be too far off the mark though to suggest 70:30 in favour of the person being coached, where the coach effectively facilitates the discussion to draw out information and suggestions from the person being coached.

The ability to get the other person to try and figure out an answer or solution will help them immensely over just telling them. We all benefit more when we have had to struggle a bit. The result is more valuable to us. We had to earn it. By the same token though, don’t leave them floundering. If they need a nudge – help them in the right direction.

Principle 5: Look for the cause

Most of us will have been to the doctor in order to be diagnosed for a cure to be given for a number of symptoms we have. You will have noticed on a trip to the doctors or hospital that you will have been asked a number of questions. These questions are designed to help determine the cause of the symptoms that you have. Let’s say you have constant headaches. There could be lots of causes for those headaches but if the doctor merely prescribed a headache tablet for example, it may not cure you of the headaches ongoing. The doctor’s job is to identify what is causing the headaches and treat that cause – not just the symptom.

In your role as a coach, one of the key aspects is to try to uncover the reasons why somebody may not be doing what they should. The skills of using self-discovery could be very useful here.

Principle 6: Be present and focus

One of the four main principles of the FISH! Philosophy established by John Christensen is ‘Be There’ or ‘Be Present’ which has more to do with giving your full attention to a task or individual. We expect our staff members to focus on their tasks - especially when they are engaged with customers, so it’s right that we are focusing on the individuals in coaching. We may feel that we can multitask but let’s face it; some multi-tasking is just like being all over the place.

In order for us to fully comprehend our staff and to catch all the nuances and potential reasons behind their statements etc we need to give them our full attention. At the very least, it’s common courtesy to be fully engaged in a coaching session anyway. If we aren't prepared to listen intently or if we allow ourselves to drift into ‘auto pilot’ because we've ‘heard this all before’ or we ‘think’ we know where this is going, then we may miss something vital.

Principle 7: Give direction

This principle may be one that sounds obvious. Of course we need to give direction. We don’t want to take away from the individuals though and their opportunity to think for themselves so you’ll notice that this follows on from the principle of self-discovery.

Being a coach or a leader means that you need to ensure the individual goes away with something specific they can do. They don’t just need encouragement – although that’s important. If encouragement was all that was required, you could be a cheerleader instead of a team leader. Telling someone they’re doing ok or that something wasn't too bad doesn't actually give them any help as to how to make it better or how to improve. While coaching, you need to ensure that your instructions are specific and direct and not ambiguous.

Principle 8: Change their perspective

Sometimes people struggle to ‘get it’ from the customer perspective. You obviously get it. Why don’t they? This is a common issue that’s faced. Part of the problem with this principle is that people haven’t experienced what the customer is experiencing and find themselves with absolutely no empathy for the situation at all. This is especially evident when young people are employed and are serving customers in areas that they have no experience in. Take for example power companies. A school leaver dealing with customers in a power company may have never paid a power bill, don’t know why it costs so much and has no idea of budgeting for it.

It’s important therefore to focus on something they will have some idea about or some relationship to. For example, if you’re trying to get across a point about the way they spoke to a customer, you may try to turn things round a bit and ask: “If that customer was your mother, would you be happy with the way she was treated?” Or “If you were on your lunch break and waited 15 minutes in a bank queue only to hear the person in front of you at the counter talk about the weekend sport – would you be happy about that?”

The trick is to find a scenario that will allow them to tap into their way of thinking and turn it around. What would make sense to them? What is the equivalent in their language or their world?

Principle 9: Use positive language

Your staff will mimic you. We want our staff to be confident and positive with our customers so we need to be examples of that when we are talking with them. There’s no doubt that as customers we want to feel confident in the person who we are speaking with. Imagine what it would be like if we asked our insurance company if something was covered under the policy and they replied, “I think so” or “It should be”. Those types of responses do not create a feeling of safety or peace of mind. We expect to hear things like “Yes it does” or “No it doesn't, but it does cover you for xxx”.

Some of the words that we use don’t support the positive, confident environment we want to portray. Avoid using words like, ‘should, maybe, possibly, perhaps’. All these words leave questions about the situation. Some people try to soften sentences by using these words as preambles. Just don’t do it. Be confident.

Principle 10: Keep it simple

It’s the old adage of K.I.S.S. – keep it simple stupid. The more we load up our staff, the less likely they are of completing any of it. When you’re coaching someone, there may be a list of 10 or 12 things that they need to work on. Forget it. That’s just not practical. Get them to focus on the one or two things that will make the biggest impact in their role or to their performance. The likelihood is that if they fix those things, some of the others will fall into place as a result anyway. If the list of areas to work on is too long, they will just not know where to start. It’s best to fix a couple of things, get them embedded then work on a couple more.

For an expanded view of this and more great tips on coaching and feedback, check out the book, ‘Coaching and Feedback made easy’: Click here for Amazon link to the book