Our Thinking
Coaching in Kainos – what it is, what it isn’t and how can I get better at it?
14 December 2016 | Posted by Jane Askin

Last year we made some changes to the role of a Career Coach in Kainos.  As a result of these changes the only specified ‘task’ which sits with the Career Coach is to aid the coachee with their Personal Development Plan.  The Career Coach is no longer involved in their coachees’ performance reviews, the rating their coachees are given or the sign off of goals – that now sits with the People Manager.  And rightly so.  But some people felt that this change represented an erosion of the role of Career Coach – if they no longer played a part in the processes mentioned above, this would, somehow, make the role of Career Coach redundant.  I disagree; I actually think this shift represents a liberation for Career Coaches – a freedom to coach in its proper sense – not having to be tied to the annual performance reviews, to no longer be the ratings messenger, the ‘constructive’ feedback-giver, the goal-setter.  The Career Coach can now be just that; a coach – someone who empowers, listens, supports, asks insightful questions, helps their coaches get their own clarity on their own thoughts, helps them move from a problem focus to a solution focus.  That’s the real value of coaching. And, in our industry, giving people the space to come up with solutions to problems creates the kind of great developers, architects, consultants and managers we need.

But it got me thinking. I don’t know if most of us really ‘get’ coaching. Don’t get me wrong – I think that the fact Kainos gives us all a Career Coach is superb. It’s a great investment in people and is a fantastic way to develop them and their careers. Furthermore, I think that our coaches are helpful, dedicated, and supportive. They mentor and they give useful advice and insight into all sorts of issues – all of which is great stuff. But it ain’t coaching.

Does this look familiar?
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I think there is a misguided notion out there that a really good Career Coach will get you promoted.  Or somehow pave the way for you to make that leap or to make a certain move.  And that concerns me – because that will not empower people to take responsibility for their own career, actions, mistakes. It will simply perpetuate the idea that someone else is responsible for your career.

I think it’s also important to remember that you don’t have to just engage with your Career Coach when you’re making a career move or seeking a promotion; you can use your coach to help you improve your performance in a particular area, help you find a solution to a problem that’s keeping you stuck, help you find ways to deal with a colleague/customer who is proving difficult to work with.

As someone who really believes in the power of coaching, I have to admit that I am still relatively early in my ‘coaching journey’. I have been studying coaching and practising as much as I can.I have been reading about it and delivering training to colleagues. All of which has been extremely useful in helping my understanding of what good coaching looks like. But I have also been the recipient of excellent coaching. From my manager, from other colleagues and peers, and from my own coaches (I’ve been through a couple). And that, for me, has been the most significant catalyst in my thinking.

‘Can a coach advise? Can a coach mentor? Can a coach proffer a solution to their coachee?’ Yes, yes, and yes.  But it isn’t coaching (in a purist sense). But here’s the thing; just because a teacher is called a teacher, doesn’t mean they can’t also be a ‘learner’ and it doesn’t mean that they have to ‘teach’ all the time. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do to offer that piece of advice, give some nuggets of wisdom. Perhaps when you are coaching a very junior employee or someone who is new to the organisation – they may need a steer or they may require you to be more directive or advisory. And that’s OK. Just as long as you are aware that it’s not, strictly speaking, coaching. It’s that awareness that is the starting point in understanding what coaching is (and what it isn’t). Coach/mentor/trainer/advisor – these are not mutually exclusive roles.

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An internal Coaching Development course held in 2016 through Kainos MAP.

Here are some quick tips on how to coach …..

  • Free yourself from the idea that you need to have all the answers. You don’t. That belief goes against the very nature of coaching.
  • Prepare yourself before you coach – this can be a simple ritual or routine (perhaps a couple of seconds) where you stop, breathe, remind yourself of what your role as a coach is.
  • Ask great questions. The power of a great open question can re-frame someone’s thinking.  The brain loves a good challenge and if you can take a scenario where someone feels stuck/without hope of a solution, you can switch their thinking into finding as solution by turning it into a question.
    • Questions should be open (i.e. not just a yes or no answer). If, like me, you have a tendency to ask closed questions, use the acronym ‘TED’ (tell, explain, describe) as a starting point. Using those words will ensure your question is open.
    • Questions should be simple (i.e. – just ask one thing at a time). People should be able to freely answer you without having to unpick or decipher the question.
  • Really listen. This is a tough one to do.  We can all hear what the coachee is saying. How long is it before we are already solutionising on their behalf in our head.  Try not to get distracted by your own thoughts, no matter how ‘helpful’ you think they are.
  • After a session with your coachee, take a few minutes to reflect on what went well, where you asked good questions, if you truly listened, did the coachee seem to have made some progress towards their goal? All this can help your awareness and, ultimately, your ability as a coach.

So, in the spirit of coaching, ask yourself, ‘what kind of coach am I?’ Or, even better, ‘what kind of coach do I want to be?’. In answering these questions, you can start making traction or progress in improving your coaching. Good luck!

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