When British Steel offered the opportunity for managers to apply to become coaches, I couldn’t wait to sign up. My application made me focus on my real reasons for wanting to do the training, which were to help in the development of others and also to challenge myself out of my comfort zone while learning something new. Aside from my initial thoughts on why I wanted to coach, I hadn’t put much thought into what the role would involve and how this differs from mentoring.
Two days of intensive training provided the answer; coaching for me is about providing a neutral space where an individual can voice their real thoughts without judgement. It’s not about providing solutions, it’s about empathetic listening to allow people to gain perspective on a situation, consider how they feel and what impact they can make.
Day one of the course and I was thinking about how this works in a business environment - there was a lot of reflection and soul-searching and, for someone from a technical background who works on facts and job outcomes, it was uncomfortable. However, amid the ‘touchy feely stuff’ came the tools and techniques which underpin coaching conversations and which can uncover new opportunities and help others to see things in a new way.
One technique which appears the simplest is ‘ask, don’t tell’- be curious, listen with the intent to understand not with the intent to reply, don’t judge, and don’t give solutions. Simple? Well, for me, it took practice and lots of sitting on my hands not to butt in with ‘have you tried this’ and ‘in my experience I would do this.’
Once I had mastered not answering and really listening, it unlocked how powerful coaching can be. My role was to ask questions: ‘why do you have that view,’ ‘what element is the biggest challenge,’ ‘what barriers do you need to overcome,’ and ‘what would success look like?’ Loads and loads of questions! Then you feedback on what you’ve heard to ensure understanding, and maybe challenge the view by asking how your colleague/boss would feel about this, while getting people to consider how it may look in the future.
In the end, we were given a process which in a business context is spot on. This included identifying three areas an individual wants to work on and improve, building a confidential, non-judgemental relationship, finding a neutral space and (once a month for six months) having an open, authentic conversation guided through time-tested coaching techniques. Throughout the process, you should take time to check there is progress. If not, ask the individual you’re coaching: ‘what’s stopping you,’ ‘why,’ and ‘what can you do differently?’
I've already worked with four colleagues in the business and I hope our coaching conversations have made a difference to how they approach work issues and to their personal development. For me, I’ve recognised a change - a desire to listen more carefully to the people around me and not to judge or jump to a conclusion.
I’m really curious about the psychology of how we as individuals work and interact and I’m enjoying discovering more on this through books and online posts. It’s great that British Steel has embraced this way to grow and develop our key asset - people. I’m looking forward to learning more and interacting with more people across the business.
Well done to our HR team for recognising the benefit this type of training can bring to both the individuals involved (coach and coachee) but also the business as a whole.