An Agile Approach to Coaching

Why organizations should continuously coach their employees, what coaching is and how to start coaching.

Coaching, Kevin Husell, Nature, Hiking
Coaching and hiking in the Bavarian Alps. Can nature be a coach? It definitely helps with reflection.

Most organizations want to grow, however finding new talents is becoming more competitive, and holding on to top talents is also becoming more challenging. Poor growth opportunities are one of the major reasons for employees to leave and seek new challenges.

Additionally, when companies talk about growth, it’s not only about the number of employees that counts, but the quality of the growth. One valuable way of handling these challenges is for organizations to invest in their people. This can be done by having proper mentor programs and focusing on coaching the employees. In this article, we will focus on the coaching part.

Before we dive deeper into coaching, let’s distinguish between what coaching and mentoring is. There are some similarities even if they have fundamental differences in their approach.

Mentoring is often a longer-term relationship on the directive side, more instructing, advising, telling and the development is driven by a holistic approach. Coaching is usually more performance-driven and non-directive. It’s about asking questions and giving space to the person they are coaching to be able to do reflection. Both mentoring and coaching are about helping and supporting people.

Coaching is a Power tool

Coaching is a powerful tool when it comes to providing structure, support, and reflection that is required for learning, development, and quality growth. It drives employee retention, engagement, productivity, and results. It is a great way to show that you value and care about your people.

According to LinkedIn Learning’s 2019 Workplace Learning Report, “94% of employees say they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their learning and development”. So, coaching is a great way for a company to hold on to its top talent.

How to coach?

It’s important to remember that coaching is not about telling others what to do. As Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to do” but this doesn’t mean that a new hire, or even experienced employees, should be left alone. Even top professionals can benefit from coaching. The best soccer players in the world do not need someone to advise them how to kick the ball, still, they have coaches. All top athletes in the world have coaches, why should the approach in business (or personal life) be different?

As mentioned, coaching is about asking questions and active listening, providing feedback, and challenging thinking. There is a time and place for helping in solving the problem itself, giving advice, and making suggestions. But for long-term development having an “asking” approach is better than a “telling“ one.

Coaching is a method of training, counseling, or instructing an individual or a group on how to develop skills to enhance their productivity or overcome a performance problem.

Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.

– John Whitmore

Coaching continuously

In one of Agile’s frameworks, Scrum, the fast feedback loop is of great value. Software is built in small iterations, and the teams and stakeholders learn fast what is good and what is not. It makes me wonder why many companies fall short of having the same mindset toward their people. Great software is built by great people, so that is where the focus should be — on the people. People need fast feedback, support, and reflection. Hence coaching the people should be continuous.

I believe that one-on-one coaching should be done in a biweekly cycle. 15–30 minutes is enough when done continuously, sometimes a longer session can be beneficial. If there is no time for this, then I’d argue that the problem is somewhere else.

But what is it that coaches do exactly? Using the basic skills of asking questions and active listening, a coach provides guidance. A coach helps to:

  • Gain clarity about the current situation
  • To create a strategy for improvements — how to get to the next level from the current situation
  • To help the person act
  • To help one feel more accountable for making progress
  • To evaluate the process — are we making progress or not? Why?

As mentioned before, it’s not about telling people what to do or solving their problems.

A view from Jochberg. During the hike, it felt like nature was coaching me.

How to start?

Anyone can do coaching when you put your mind to it. When starting coaching it’s good to have a plan. Commit yourself to the topic, do it on a regular basis and work on your listening skills. Try not to give advice or solve the problem, as said it’s all about asking questions and active listening. The more you can challenge others’ thinking the better the long-term results will be when it comes to the individual’s personal development. Remember to be patient, change does not happen overnight.

Do some preparation and think about the questions to ask. Keep track of the discussions and on agreed action points, ask if you can help, and remember to do follow-ups.

Coaching is not about you, it’s about the person who is coached. It’s about giving your presence to someone else, and that is a precious gift.

To ensure a structured coaching session, I like to follow these templates for my one-on-one coaching sessions:

Template 1:

  1. What’s on your mind
  2. Challenges (for you)
  3. What else is on your mind?
  4. Some reflection at the end: What was the most useful thing you learned today from our discussion?

Template 2:

  1. Check-in: How is it going? On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy/satisfied/… are you with <insert topic>
  2. Find/agree on a topic
  3. Explore the topic
  4. Focus on the action points, ask if you can help
  5. Check out — decide on action points for which you follow up on the next time.

Coaching can be done by anyone, and it is for everyone. One does not have to be a professional coach to use the simple tools and frameworks to coach others. A coaching session can even be a short discussion at the water cooler. The most important thing is that it must be continuous.

I encourage you to go out there, practice asking questions and active listening, use the templates and help others to maximize their own potential. It’s good for you, your employees, and for the whole organization.

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