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Responding to a Request for Coaching

Wednesday, April 15, 2020
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Requests for coaching come from a multitude of sources. Consider these examples:

  • A manager comes to you asking for coaching for one of her employees whose performance is slipping.
  • A manager comes to you asking for coaching about time management for his two direct reports.
  • A person comes to you asking for coaching on how to manage her boss or find a new job.
  • A person comes to you because he didn’t get a promotion and wants to get one the next time.
  • An organization that is going through a change initiative wants you to provide coaching to those employees who are having trouble managing the transition.

Should you coach these employees? Maybe. Certainly, there are questions to consider:

  • Why did the request for a particular topic for coaching—such as time management or an organizational change—come about?
  • Do you want to coach people whose performance is slipping or will you focus on high-potential employees?
  • Will you coach for success in a current role, future role, or both?
  • Is the potential coachee on board and willing to be coached?
  • Should you coach people without their supervisor’s permission?
  • Will you be able to obtain the information needed so that your coaching will be effective? For example, will you have access to information about why an employee didn’t get a promotion so that you can provide targeted feedback? Will you be allowed to share sensitive information you have about an employee?
  • Is the organization committed to implementing an organizational change or looking to shift the blame when things go badly during the transition by getting you involved as a coach?

Your response to a request for coaching should mimic how you may respond to any workplace request: You’ll need to do some analysis to determine whether coaching is the right strategy to address the presenting problem. For instance, is time management for the manager’s direct reports in one of the examples above the best course of action, or could it be that the manager himself needs coaching on setting expectations and managing priorities? What might be the cause of the slipping performance in the first example? Could it be related to an organizational issue that has little to do with the employee’s own behaviors or skills? If so, coaching—or any developmental intervention—may be ineffective.

When the person requesting the coaching is not the person who will be receiving the coaching, there are other issues to consider. For example, is the employee aware of how they are doing compared to what is expected of them? Are there other obstacles in place preventing them from doing their job? Have they been given a choice about getting coached? Resistant coachees are unlikely to be motivated to invest in making changes.

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What about when an employee seeking coaching reaches out to you directly? Can you proceed without engaging their boss? That all depends. If the coaching will be done on work time, if there is an internal charge for coaching services, or if you will need information from the supervisor for the coaching to be effective, such as performance data, you will probably need to tell the requesting employee that you’d like to ask for their supervisor’s approval and involvement before moving forward. On the other hand, you’d probably not loop in the supervisor if the employee would receive coaching on their own time or if the focus of their coaching is sensitive. This might include when the issues they’re facing have to do with their supervisor and they’d like some help managing up.

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A more controversial question might be: As a coach within an organization, can you coach someone about finding another job? My answer is yes. First, you may find in working with them that you can help them fix the problem that is prompting them to want to leave, thus preventing them from finding another job. Second, there’s nothing to say that the new role they’d end up in isn’t somewhere else in the organization. And, third, what’s best for an organization is to have the person who is the best fit in the right role for them. If a coachee is looking to move on because that is not the case, it is, ultimately, in the organization’s best interest for them to do so. Not everyone in an organization would agree with my answer. It’s important to find out how your organization feels about whether you can coach someone without a supervisor knowing and whether any topics are off limits.

Coaching is an incredible tool for development that has wide application in organizations (as well as more broadly), and it isn’t always going to be the right tool in every situation. Before jumping on board with a request for coaching that comes your way, make sure you have checked the boat thoroughly.

Editor’s note: This post is adapted from 10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2nd Edition.

About the Author

Sophie Oberstein is an author, coach, adjunct professor, and L&OD consultant helping individuals who are seeking increased effectiveness and satisfaction at work. She’s been in the field of learning and organizational development for more than 20 years at public and private organizations, including Weight Watchers North America; Columbia University Irving Medical Center; Redwood City, California; and Citibank, N.A.

Oberstein is on the faculty of the NYU School of Professional Studies, in the Leadership and Human Capital Management department, where she developed and conducts the fundamentals course in the learning design certificate program. She has also taught at Drexel University, Mercer County Community College, and Menlo College.

Her books—10 Steps to Successful Coaching, 2nd edition, and Beyond Free Coffee & Donuts: Marketing Training and Development—are available from ATD Press. Oberstein is a past president of ATD’s Greater Philadelphia chapter.

You can reach her on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/sophieoberstein or via her website at sophieoberstein.com.

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