Performance improvement coaching models: the real deal?

Some providers are raising the bar by promising clients they use coaching models that will raise performance levels and profits. Are they on planet reality or in cloud cuckoo land? By Stephanie Sparrow.

Coaching interventions can be a leap of faith. And that faith can be sorely tested if the client expects the coaching to result in an improvement in performance. Especially if the team, individual, or division being coached is being judged by measures such as increased profitability.

This puts pressure on buyers of coaching, which in turn makes them likely to welcome any guarantee of a return on the coaching spend.This is where the coaching model can be important as it provides a specific framework or methodology, which allows the client to chart progress.

One of the strictest of these has been developed by coaching specialist Shirlaws. Called the ‘capacity’ model (see box) it allows, claims the company, a client to calculate the areas of their business that coaching can improve to increase efficiency or revenue.

“Clients can use the model to plot progress in 20 areas of business and the depth of skills and therefore productivity within them,” explains Shirlaws partner Alasdare Lambert.

“Against each area they review how many of five specific layers (such as mentoring and planning) are currently operating,” he says.

Measuring return on investment

Such an approach also facilitates measurement of return on investment (ROI), says Lambert, because it represents a structured way of monitoring performance improvement. A scorecard is used to plot and measure progress against various indicators before, during and after coaching.

These include managing staff, decision making and key performance indicators. “The models are very important in ensuring consistency and a common language in an organisation. The fact that we train our coaches in all of these models means we deliver the same in New York as in the UK,” says Lambert.

But does a rigid framework, as practised by Shirlaws, herald the end of the more fluid approaches of other coaches? Probably not, says spokesman at the Association for Coaching, Francois Moscovici.

“A coach needs to build credibility along a number of dimensions and the model is just one of them,” he says. “And when it comes to measuring ROI the key is for the client to set performance targets, so there is always something that can be measured and related back to the programme.”

However, he is wary of coaches who use a “painting by numbers” approach and says there is more to coaching than just deploying a model.

“For example, having the supportive attitude of the ‘grow’ model (see box) is a good thing,” he says,” but one can’t be a good coach by just using that model on its own – that means one has simply learned four letters.”

Even the developer of the GROW method, Graham Alexander agrees. He told Training and Coaching Today that grow is intended to capture a key aspect of what coaching is and does, by enabling people to develop their capabilities and achieve high performance, but that it is not expected to be a rigid framework.

“Effective coaches have the grow or similar models internalised so that it becomes an unconscious competence,” he says. “Within this framework the coaching is fluid, natural and artistic.”

Neuro-linguistic programming

An integrated model is used at Praesta Consulting explains partner Elspeth May. “We might draw on solution- focused neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), for example, or transformational coaching.”

Like Alexander, May says the skill of the coach is in knowing what fits the situation in front of them. “It’s a continuous process of trying out and reflecting and learning and wondering which of the lights may work,” she explains.

May says coaches can call on a variety of models, and what makes each coach distinctive is how they blend those models. And there is merit in this flexible approach. High-performing clients are looking to compete in a fast-changing world where nothing is a given.

Liz Campbell, portfolio director at performance management firm Lane 4, says: “It’s about handling pressure and having motivation and mental toughness.”

She believes coaching for performance is about helping the coachee to understand pressure and stress and giving them focus, motivation and feedback. “Feedback increases performance by 60% if you set good quality goals”, she says. She sees models as an opportunity to give clarity, but not to be used as a catch-all.

“Approach coaching models as a back- up,” she says, “which can help the coach and coachee analyse the situation and work through the spaghetti.”

Some providers are raising the bar by promising clients they use coaching models that will raise performance levels and profits. Are they on planet reality, or in cloud cuckoo land?

Performance improvement models

  • The ‘capacity’ model. Developed by Shirlaws, it allows clients to review how they manage their business and to set targets for improvement. It looks at the health of a business, its strategies and work-life balance.
  • The ‘GROW’ model. An acronym developed by Graham Alexander, which stands for Goal, Reality, Opportunity and Wrap-up. Perhaps the most widely used model in coaching.
  • The ‘integrative coaching’ model. Developed by Jonathan Passmore for executive coaching, it guides the coachee to write their own “coaching for change balance sheet”, and to focus on behavioural change.

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