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Management: The coach approach

Using emotional intelligence

A coaching approach to management – integrating the principles of coaching into the nitty-gritty, day-to-day business of managing staff – can transform performance. Alongside core skills such as questioning, listening, generating awareness, and giving feedback, the coaching approach to management provides a structure to our conversations with staff. Two helpful frameworks, created by =mc are the FORCES and STEPS models outlined in this blog.

In the voluntary and public sectors, we face increasingly demanding challenges. Greater competition. Tighter regulation. Shrinking budgets. Higher expectations. Never-ending change. But one of the oldest challenges of all remains the most pressing concern for many of the managers we work with: how do I get my staff to give their best? Which is another way of asking how do I get to be a good manager?

‘Management’ often demonstrates itself in ‘conversations’ in the form of 121s or supervisions. Two people – manager and staff – talking about what’s happened in the past and what needs to happen in the future. Good management is demonstrated in the quality of those conversations. A clear, focused, constructive 121 with an individual about what they’ve done well and less well, what still needs doing and how it needs to be done, will take that person immeasurably further than a full-colour Gantt chart of desired outputs.

Rescuers, Gurus and Coaches

Imagine this scenario. You’ve asked one of your team, Andrew, to get help from another department for a project. Andrew comes back to you and says: “Anne has said no – can you have a go at speaking to her?” Here are two typical responses:

  • 1. “OK, leave it with me and I’ll deal with it later.”
  • 2. “Drop Anne a polite but firm email – don’t call – explaining this is one of the corporate goals we agreed so they need to make the time to help.”

Either of these responses could be appropriate. The problem comes when you find you are defaulting to one or other approach on a regular basis.

Response (1) is the Rescuer. Rescuers are very busy managers – the work they delegate to their team often finds its way right back to their own in-tray. They abound in the not-for-profit sector where ‘helping’ others – including their own team – is embedded in the culture. The problem, though, is that they can end up spending more time doing other people’s work than their own.

Response (2) is the Guru. Gurus relish any opportunity to share their wisdom and instruct those around them on how they should go about their job. Ask them a question, and they’ll give you an answer; present them with a problem, and they’ll give you a solution. The risk here is that they don’t actually understand the problem. And even if they do, a culture of dependency quickly flourishes, and staff fail to take risks, think for themselves or take ownership of their work.

The Coach approach is different. Managers who coach refuse to take on their team’s work (unless or until it’s necessary). Nor do they serve up a solution on a plate. Their message to the team is: “I’m available to help you, but I expect you to do what you can.” They’d more than likely use the FORCE.

Use the FORCE!

The FORCES model provides a framework within which we can coach staff to greater levels of performance. The model outlines six stages to any manager-staff conversation focused on solving problems or increasing staff effectiveness. Giving your conversation a structure like this greatly improves the chance of:

  • determining what the issue actually is
  • staying on track with the discussion
  • remaining solution-oriented
  • getting to a good result more quickly and effectively than you would by just ‘chatting’
  • ensuring that conversations convert to actions
  • developing a culture of ‘completed staff work’: an understanding that staff are expected to get as far as they can with their work before you take ownership of it

The six stages of the model are shown here, together with a sample coaching question for each stage:

Focus What exactly is the issue?
Outcome What would be a good result for us?
Reality What’s happened so far?
Create What possible solutions can you think of?
Evaluate What’s the best solution?
STEPS What are you going to do next?

Always agree STEPS

The STEPS model links directly to the end of the FORCES model and is designed to help the manager and staff to be clear about what action needs to be taken. It also incorporates an accountability step, ensuring that the manager knows what to expect and when by way of an update.

Specific What specifically are you going to do?
Time When will you start? When will you finish?
Elements What are the key elements of your action plan? (What are your main actions? Who are you going to involve? What resources will you need?)
Progress How will you keep me posted?
Success How will we know that you’ve achieved a good result?

We can see that the manager’s approach in these models is, as much as possible, to keep the responsibility for the issue firmly with their staff. The manager’s role is to provide an environment within which the staff member can think through their job and then do it. It’s not the manager’s job to be either a Rescuer or a Guru. Being an effective manager-coach involves:

  • honing the core skills of coaching
  • integrating them effectively into an appropriate structure
  • knowing when it is appropriate to use coaching skills and structures

It often requires a change of mindset, a change in approach, and sometimes a change to career-long habits. Managing through coaching is a challenging but immensely rewarding journey.

What’s Next?

If you’ve found this article helpful and you would like more information, contact us online or call +44 (0)20 7978 1516 and speak to one of our experienced management consultants.

Or, if you’re interested in finding out more about using coaching skills with staff, take a look at our Coaching Skills for Managers training programme.


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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in leadership, personal effectiveness, change and innovation. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private and charity sector as an HR...