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Coaching in the Workplace


CoachingIf coaching in the workplace seemed like no more than a trendy idea put about by a few business gurus and trainers in the 1990s, think again.

The upward rise of the trend has stabilised. And today, over 25 years from the publication of John Whitmore’s ‘Coaching for Performance’, the discipline is in rude health.

From my perspective, coaching is here to stay.

Why question?

Many organisations promote a simple mantra, that:

‘our people are our greatest asset’

It’s not the place to analyse that statement, so let’s accept that they mean it, and that it is broadly true. People are a huge cost and benefit to their employers.

So, it pretty much follows that senior management would want to make the most of those assets, by maintaining them and honing their abilities. Coaching is a way to develop the people in your organisation.

And it is also an effective and economical way to do it. Often, organisations wisely train their own coaches to supplement and even replace external professional coaches. Time spent, with a colleague, finding better ways to do your job and solve today’s problems is time well spent.

Coaching is good at both getting results from people and boosting their motivation.

The Philosophy of Coaching

I think coaching is also popular, because the philosophy that underlies it is appealing. It is rooted in the belief that an individual always has the answer to their own problems. The coach’s role is to help them find that answer.

So, coaching is a highly respectful and empowering approach to helping people learn and develop. It feels right for our times. And there is now a whole generation of business people, like me, who have grown up with coaching, and see it as an integral part of how management and leadership work.

What is Coaching?

At its simplest, coaching is a way to develop people, so they can perform at heir best. It uses a coach to help the learner (or coachee) to find ways to meet their goals, solve their problems, or develop specific skills.

Rather than share their knowledge, or train the learner, coaches take a different approach. They work with the learner to help them to find their own answers and create a route to their own understanding of the situation.

Definition of Coaching

Two of the principal leaders in the field – particularly in the UK – are Eric Parsloe and Sir John Whitmore. So, we can safely turn to them for their assessments of what coaching is.

Coaching is…

‘a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be successful a Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place’

Eric Parsloe, in ‘The Manager as Coach and Mentor’ (US|UK)

‘unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.’

John Whitmore, in ‘Coaching for Performance’ (US|UK)

Origins of Coaching

The deep foundation of coaching is in Socratic questioning. This is a form of teaching ascribed to Socrates, and exemplified in Plato’s narratives. The teacher (or coach) helps the learner to answer their own questions by making them think things through. The teacher directs the learner’s attention, with carefully chosen questions.

But the genesis of modern coaching is in the work of Timothy Gallwey, in developing the Inner Game. Gallwey pioneered a new way to coach sports performers, which Graham Alexander and Sir John Whitmore brought from the US to the UK. Along the way, all of them started to use and refine the coaching methods Gallwey had created, outside of sports.

Alexander, Whitmore, and Alan Fine went on to teach their coaching approach to McKinsey consultants in the UK. Characteristic of the firm, McKinsey requested they codify their approach into a clear methodology. After a false start that tried to reconcile coaching to the McKinsey 7S model, they alighted on the GROW Model. This is now the most widely used of many coaching models.

Flavours of Coaching

Coaching has become a massive industry. Aside from sports coaching and business-oriented, or performance coaching, you will find it in many other domains, like:

  • Career coaching (what career move is right for you)
  • Financial and wealth coaching (how to enhance your financial situation)
  • Health and wellness coaching (helping you to keep healthy)
  • Relationship coaching (finding and maintaining important personal relationships)
  • Life coaching (how to build a better life)

How to Coach Someone

There are lots of models of coaching, but at the heart, they nearly all prioritise two skills:


Asking the questions that will open up greater awareness in the person you are coaching. Your questions help them find their own answers. And, once they have the answers they need, more questions will help them to make decisions and take responsibility for those choices.


To properly understand the person you are coaching, and to carefully assess which questions will  best help them,the other primary skill you’ll need is listening. Don’t discount the impact you can have on someone’s motivation and confidence, simply by giving them your time and attention in this way.

Awareness and Responsibility

Your job, as a coach, is to evoke high quality awareness of their situation and the options they have. And then to help them to take responsibility for their actions. Follow-up to a first coaching session enhances both of these by reviewing outcomes from their actions, and asking questions that will help them learn from experience.

The tool of choice for many coaches within organisations is the GROW Model that Whitmore, Alexander, and Fine developed in the early 1990s. This is articulated most clearly in John Whitmore’s best-selling book, ‘Coaching for Performance’ (US|UK) – now in it’s 5th edition, since first publication in 1992.

The GROW Model

The GROW Model has 6 steps – it is more properly an acronym spelling out GROW ME.

The coach helps the learner articulate clearly what they want to do or improve at.

The coach asks questions that help the learner to assess their situation with rigour and objectivity

The two steps here are to identify as many choices as possible, and then to evaluate each one against the desired goal

Here is where the coach helps the learner to articulate their plan, and set appropriate targets and performance measures

The follow-up to initial coaching sees the coach helping the learner to…

Monitor and
How did the options and plan work out, what can the learner learn from their experience, and what are the next steps. This is the introduction to the next coaching session, and a repeat of the GROW ME process.

What is Your experience of Coaching?

We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.

To learn more…

The Coaching Pocketbook is full of tips, techniques, and tools on how to coach others to achieve outstanding performance.

The Advanced Coaching Pocketbook* is full of tips, techniques, and tools to advance your coaching skills and promote a more confident and reflective approach.

The Team Coaching Pocketbook* is full of tips, techniques, and tools to harness the collective capability of teams and boost performance.

The Cognitive Behavioural Coaching Pocketbook is full of tips, techniques, and tools to enable coaches, L&D specialists and managers facilitate transformational change.

* For my money (and this is a personal opinion of the Pocketblog author), these are two of the very best books in the Management Pocketbooks catalogue. If you are interested in coaching, each is a very worthwhile investment.

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