In another article I compared mentoring with coaching. Mentoring is popular because it allows an experienced person to help a less experienced one. The mentee benefits from the expertise of the mentor and receives solutions and advice for their problems.
However, coaching can be seen as a more demanding process for the learner because the focus is on the coachee creatively producing solutions. In my view, the results are especially valuable therefore, because as well as finding good solutions, the coachee builds their own confidence as a problem-solver and benefits from having a thinking-partner who supports and challenges them, and is a catalyst to their normal channels of thought.
Accountability begins with a stretching goal. If it’s easily achievable, reaching the deadline may not be a problem so accountability is less of an issue.
So the goal should stretch the comfort zone not lie well within it, and needs to exciting and motivating - to the learner, not the coach of course. But if the objective pushes the coachee into feeling pressure or panic, a good coach (whether leader-as-coac, manager-as-coach or external coach) will encourage the coachee to modify the goal, such as:
- How can you change that goal so that it stretches you and doesn’t induce that panic element?
If the coachee discovers new options in the coaching conversation, discusses ways forward, decides on action but afterwards does not implement the actions, skilful coaching follows up in a developmental way. This is why a one-off coaching session, while useful, does not have the developmental success of a series of sessions fairly close together.
In a series of 6 regular sessions over 3 months, say 1-3 weeks apart, the coaching relationship has a momentum and there is follow-up from one session to the next on actions taken, success, failure and progress towards the stated goal or goals.
Without this agenda of meetings, the actions decided in one conversation are forgotten at the next one or something much more immediate and important has taken over. So, to check what happened since the last coaching conversation, the coach might use some of these questions to start a session:
- What “wins” have you had since last time?
- How did it go with X (action decided last time)?
If action was not taken, the coach might ask:
- What do you think got in the way? OR What stopped you (doing the agreed action)?
- What can you learn about yourself from that?
- How could you manage that differently next time?
- Who could help you?
- What would help you?
- What else might work?
- If you do that, how certain are you that you will do it on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being you definitely won’t do it and 10 being you are 100% certain to do it?
- So what are you going to do?
One benefit of this process is building personal awareness and, as important, that this insight is witnessed by another person so it is less easy to push away and ignore. You build on this by ensuring accountability is driven through within the same coaching conversation.
Building accountability can be done in several ways. If you are using the S-GROW model to structure your coaching conversation, focus now on the W element, which supports the team member in taking action. If the leader/manager-as-coach asks very specific questions (for example, which day, by when, what time of day), this enables the coachee to do all the planning in the coaching conversation itself.
My clients see this as an excellent benefit.
Alternatively the learner can commit to finishing the detailed planning after the coaching conversation with a deadline.
If you are using another coaching model to structure your conversation, such as ACHIEVE, Solution Focus, The Rule of 3, or other models often taught on workplace coaching courses, there is a step which corresponds to planning implementation.
To plan implementation which builds commitment and accountability, a process of questioning is useful, such as:
- What barriers might there be to that happening?
- What might stop you doing that?
- What could get in the way?
- How could you deal with that?
- What else could you do to help yourself in that?
- Remembering what happened last time, what have you learnt that ensure you are successful this time?
- What needs to happen to make sure you have enough support?
Naturally one of the final steps of the conversation needs to link back to the goal of the programme and of the meeting. If the latter was to clarify the client’s thinking on a topic, action is not necessarily relevant but even then the learner might now want to take action as a result of thinking more clearly. The manager/leader-as-coach can check:
- Would you like to decide on some action at this point?
- What would be an appropriate next step?
- When will you do the planning for that?
- Would it be useful to do it now?
Finally, you keep the momentum going - by arranging 10-minute updates on a weekly or fortnightly basis, asking how it is going on a spontaneous but regular basis, noticing and remarking on progress, or in some other way that suits you. Ensure you do one, some or all of these, together with holding a scheduled next meeting when progress and results (whether successes or failures) are acknowledged and learnt from.
And alongside this process, be sure to ask your coachee what is working for them, what is most effective, what should be kept or changed, so that you make the coaching conversations more effective. That way you will avoid making assumptions, adapting your communication so you maximise performance for the individual and thus for your team as a whole.