Coaching Best Practice

Coaching Best Practice


Coaching is widely recognised as a key management skill in today’s business world.

This blog looks at the following areas:

  • What is coaching?
  • The role of the coach
  • How coaching can be used in the workplace
  • What makes a good coach?
  • Key skills of coaching
  • Process of formal coaching

Relevant Programmes

To develop your skills and confidence as an internal workplace performance coach, the ILM Level 5 Certificate in Effective Coaching would be the ideal qualification.

If you would like to view upcoming Open Programmes Dates for this qualification, click here.

If you would like to develop the coaching skills for your managers, we have our very own Coaching Skills for Managers programme, as well as the ILM Level 3 Award in Effective Coaching.

What is Coaching?

The term ‘coaching’ is commonly used today both inside and outside organisations. There are various types of coaching and various interpretations that mean that there is often a lack of clarity in respect of both its application and effectiveness.

Coaching can take place across all walks of life be it in the organisation, the sporting field, or within the home. It happens all the time both formally and informally in various forms, in a variety of different ways using a variety of different skills.

Every successful Olympic athlete of today will have worked with a professional Coach in order to achieve optimum results. A professional Coach will see their role as making the perceived impossible a possibility by working with the individual’s body and mind. Coaching in the work environment is similar.

Coaching is about unlocking potential in order to maximise performance and/or development. It is about the individual solving their own problem rather than it being solved for them. In this respect coaching is a different to other management processes that can be merely one way, with the manager having the authority and the solutions. It is however possible for coaching to be built into everyday management processes so that a manager maximises every opportunity with their people.

Different Types of Coaching

There are 2 main types of coaching:

Formal Coaching

This occurs when there is a clear and explicit agreement to Coach between the Coach and the individual.

Informal Coaching

Does not necessarily require a clear and explicit agreement between the Coach and the individual, it happens on the spur of the moment.

Some examples of Formal and Informal coaching opportunities have been summarised in the following table.

Informal vs Formal Coaching Table

The Aims of Coaching

There are 2 broad aims of coaching:


Coaching in business is most often concerned with performance. Performance may relate to the following:

  • Successful delivery of a particular task or set of tasks
  • Achievement of a particular goal or set of goals
  • Improved effectiveness overall in undertaking a role and achieving success
  • Improved capability to deliver results

Learning & development:

This is about the individual understanding their strengths and limitations.

It is about:

  • Self - awareness and discovery and identification of future potential.
  • Enabling an individual to see where they are today so that they have a baseline and a foundation for the future. A good Coach will help an individual to assess themselves either through the use of good questions or through using a variety of tools and assessments.
  • Individual learning and identification of long term and sustainable changes in behaviour or actions.
  • Increased self-awareness that facilitates transfer of learning into the workplace, which usually means the individual experimenting and applying skills in different ways to different situations.
  • Reviewing learning as part of continuous development.

What Coaching is and isn’t

A summary of what coaching is:

  • A means of enabling individuals or teams to develop their own innate potential and maximise their performance.
  • Effective coaching is always associated with specific performance goals for the individual and the organisation.
  • These objectives can sometimes be divided between ‘private’ and ‘public’ goals. ‘Private’ goals are determined by the Coachee and are strictly confidential. ‘Public’ goals, are determined by the Coachee and the ‘sponsor’ of the coaching programme (often the organisation) together and often become one of the means of measuring the success of the coaching programme.
  • Effective coaching takes place when the ultimate authority for action, transformation and change remains with the person being coached – the ‘Coachee’.
  • Effective coaching only takes place when the Coachee does not feel judged by the Coach, but instead appreciates that the Coaches single intent is to enable them to perform to the best of their ability

A Summary of what coaching is not:

  • Coaching should not be confused with mentoring which often involves the transfer of relevant knowledge or information from an ‘experienced’ to a ‘less experienced’ individual.
  • Coaching should not be confused with counselling which as a form of therapy has a medical or clinical outlook.
  • Coaching is not a form of assessment or appraisal for the Coachee’s skills or ability. While 360 feedback mechanisms are often used within coaching, this is always firmly and mutual agreed between all parties in the coaching relationship.
  • Coaching assignments undertaken by should avoid being seen as remedial in tone or approach.

Coaching gets confused with counselling and mentoring. There are some similarities and some differences which are explained below:

Coaching v. Counselling

Counselling will tend to relate more to the individual’s personal issues. The counselling process is less likely to have such a specific goal as coaching. The purpose of counselling is more for the individual to talk, explore and reflect as opposed to meeting a specific aim. As such it is less directive and more open ended than coaching. Whilst this distinction exists it is fair to say that parts of the coaching process may contain some counselling and parts of a counselling process could contain some coaching.

Coaching v. Mentoring

Mentoring is again different to coaching. A mentor will tend not to be the persons’ line Manager. They will tend to be more experienced and senior than the individual and is usually someone the individual admires and recognises as a role model. The mentor tends to work with the individual on a longer-term basis over a period of time, whereas the majority of coaching conversations have an immediate or short-term performance impact. The mentoring relationship has a focus on supporting the individual’s learning and development. The relationship usually develops as an informal and friendly relationship.

The Role of the Coach

The role of the Coach is to enable the individuals to improve their own performance or skills. This is achieved by understanding that the Coach’s role is not to solve the individual’s problems for them but to enable the individual to resolve the problem for themselves. The Coach will use a diverse range of skills dependent on the person and the circumstance to help the individual gain understanding and awareness of their strengths, limitations and thus options available.

The emphasis therefore is about spending time with people efficiently and effectively. A successful Manager will recognise and understand that coaching is an invaluable tool to help maximise individual performance and results whilst at the same time meet and exceed individual expectations in terms of motivation and personal fulfilment.

The Uses for Coaching in the Workplace

Why use Coaching?

At an Individual level

Coaching is a conversation or series of conversations that help a person. It can help a person to:

  • Perform closer to their true potential
  • Understand their role or task
  • Understand what they need to learn to complete a task successfully
  • Help them develop for current or future roles
  • Achieve fulfilment in the workplace (meet their psychological contract)

At a Managerial level

Coaching can be helpful to achieve:

  • Improved productivity
  • Improved relationships and morale
  • Greater flexibility and creativity
  • More effective use of resources
  • More effective use of time

At an organisational level

Coaching can be helpful in the following ways:

  • Attracting and retaining talent
  • Creating a workforce that is more capable, committed and motivated
  • Developing managers who are highly capable of getting the most from people
  • Unlocking the talent within the organisation
  • The fit within Organisations - How Coaching is used

There are various opportunities for coaching, some of which have been summarised below:

  1. Coaching of direct reports. This is one of the most common types of coaching, and opportunities for coaching can happen on a formal or informal level.
  2. Coaching as part of the management processes. Most organisations have a number of processes that lend themselves to coaching, such as performance reviews, appraisals, development reviews, objective setting and progress reviews.
  3. Coaching during major change. Coaching can be really helpful to make the recipient feel less anxious, more empowered and in control and it can help them to see the scope and options of the situation.
  4. Coaching before and after training events. There is evidence to suggest that training interventions can increase in effectiveness by 20% if the individual is coached pre-course about their learning objectives and post-course around the implementation of these.
  5. Coaching on projects. There are opportunities for coaching individuals for a specific task or project to help the individual consider how they will manage it, e.g. timescales, costs, progress etc.
  6. Coaching peers. some organisations today have a buddy system whereby individuals pair up and co support one another with specific learning objectives.

You can find out more information on a guide to one to one Coaching in the workplace Here

The Different Applications of Coaching

There are a number of different areas in which an individual can be coached. However, there are some common areas in which people often need help. These have been summarised below:

Competence/skills - A particular skill or set of skills that the person wants to address. This could be an area that the individual needs to develop and perceives as a remedial or weak area - perhaps it has been brought up in an appraisal or feedback. Alternatively, it could be an area of strength and the individual wants to increase or develop further.

Performance - An individual may be falling short of their targets, goals or results and may need coaching around how they can meet these. The coaching at this stage could be around the skill as described in point 1 or it could be around attitude/motivation. The Coach works with the individual so that they are aware of the required performance level and plans steps to towards achievement.

Relationships - This is about improving the relationships that are important in the workplace. This could be about managing a team, managing a boss or managing important stakeholders. Coaching in this area looks at those relationships in terms of what is working well and not well with the aim of understanding and improving them.

Managing oneself - This looks at the individual’s profile, image and network. Many individuals fail to progress in their roles because they do not have the image and profile that the organisation appreciates or recognises. Coaching in this area would be about raising the individual’s awareness of the perceived expectations in the workplace as well as strategies for the individual to close the necessary gaps.

Career aspirations – This looks at where the individual wants to go with their career. All too often in organisations performance and skills are looked at via the appraisal but career aspirations are often overlooked. Coaching would seek to bridge this gap by helping the individual define their goals and aspirations and encouraging the individual to explore practical ways to achieving these goals.

Coaching Process v. Skills

An effective Coach will differentiate between the skills of coaching and the process of coaching. Both of these need to happen in the coaching environment simultaneously and seamlessly.


The skills of a good Coach relate to a number of areas - listening, summarising, paraphrasing, giving feedback etc. We will look at these in more detail later in this handout.

The key is to be able to apply the appropriate skill at the appropriate time. The Coach’s skills will inform HOW the coaching intervention is undertaken. It is important therefore to recognise your areas of strengths and development in this arena.


If skills are the HOW, then the process is the WAY. The process will inform the direction of the coaching. It will be the road – map for the Coach so that they have a framework to help navigate their way through the coaching intervention. The process helps to keep the Coach on track and also helps to manage expectations.

There are many different coaching processes in the marketplace. A simple, clear and straightforward process, particularly for practical application by line managers, is described later in this blog.

What Makes a Good Coach?

There are 3 main aspects to consider

  • The Skills of the Coach
  • The Coaches Personal Style
  • The Process or Approach the Coach uses

The Skills of a Good Coach

A good Coach will recognise that coaching is about the relationship and the conversation that takes place within this relationship. One of the most important distinctions that can be made is the difference between a directive and non-directive approach.

Directive - The intention of a directive conversation is more PUSH in its style. It’s about active involvement in solving someone’s problem. This can be telling, instructing, making suggestions, offering guidance, or giving advice. There may be times in the coaching relationship where the individual is stuck and needs an answer or some feedback.

Non-Directive - The intention of non-directive coaching is more PULL in its style in that it is helping someone solve their own problem for themselves - listening, paraphrasing, summarising and asking questions that raise awareness encouraging the individual to learn and discover for themselves

The table below shows these 2 styles:

Coaching Approaches

Useful Coaching Skills for Managers

Four key skills have been looked in a little bit more detail and some best practice guidelines and advice are given on the next few pages:

Push - Giving feedback

Pull - Asking questions

Pull - Listening

Pull - Non-verbal behaviour

Push Style:

Giving Feedback – given that the primary purpose of coaching is to improve performance, a person can only do so if they know what the required standard is and if they get some feedback about their current level of performance. When giving feedback, the aim is to make it constructive but it must also be real.

The model below gives a simple four-step approach to giving feedback:

  1. Describe the performance/development issue
  2. Express organisation/personal impact
  3. Discuss the feedback
  4. Explore and agree the next steps

Describe the performance /development issue

Start with a description of the performance/development issue at hand. It could be that you have had a complaint about the individual’s performance, or it could be that you have observed a particular area of development. Whatever the area is, it needs to be introduced as a first step so that the individual is aware of the area to which the feedback applies.

Express organisational/personal impact

You may then need to make a link to the impact this issue has on the organisation and to the individual. For example, if there has been a customer complaint, you may need to point out the negative impact of poor customer feedback and stress the importance of good customer feedback to the organisations’ future success. Make the link clear between the individuals’ behaviour and how they have the accountability to really make a difference here.

Discuss the feedback

Be specific about what they did well and not so well, check for the individual’s own assessment of how they did and help them to own the feedback by assisting them with the identification of what could be better and how they can change/develop. Avoid generalisations and judgement of the person.

It is beneficial to give feedback as soon as possible after the event/incident and to focus on the things that can be changed.

Explore next steps

Following this, you should be able to move into the agreement with the next steps. It’s beneficial at this stage to get the individual to suggest ways to take things forward as this enhances ownership.

Pull style:

Asking Questions

This is probably one of the most important skills in coaching. It is important because you will need to gauge the individual’s level of skill and comfort before, during and after the coaching session.

  • Open questioning (i.e. questions which allow the individual to explore and expand the issue) will help to ensure understanding, will keep the individual involved, and can be a really useful checking mechanism. Open questions also allow for stimulation and for agreement to be reached.
  • Closed questions will be useful to close down conversations where required, to get to specific points, and to check understanding.

Active Listening

Your ability to listen effectively is a key element of any relationship, but particularly when you might be listening for what is not said as well as what is said. Hearing and listening are not the same and the manager must suspend his or her own thoughts in order to listen on the surface as well as beneath the formal communication.

Listening skills are critical to effective communication. There are three main levels of listening:

Hearing the words - you must be able to actually hear and understand the words that are being spoken

Understanding the meaning - you must understand the overall meaning of the statements that are being made

Perceiving the inference level - you must pick up signals which infer opinions, attitudes or biases which may be important in getting a true understanding of the situation

In active listening you show that you are listening through your own body language and communication, and you operate at all three levels described above, picking up verbal and non-verbal signals.

Non - Verbal Communication

There are a lot of myths about non-verbal communication; myths, which suggest that people cannot control their behaviour and/or can be ‘read’, like a book through non-verbal ‘leaks’. If someone looks uncomfortable defensive or hostile, check this out and ask them why and how they might be made to feel more positive. The time when non-verbal communication is really important is when it gives clues that people are not saying what they feel, in other words, if there isn’t congruence between what they say and what they do. But it should, in all cases, be checked out to ensure that you’re drawing the right conclusions about what is going on.

Be aware that your own style of behaviour influences the style of the people you are meeting with, sometimes unwittingly or unknowingly.

As a coach it is important to be aware of the behaviour of both the individual and yourself.

The Personal Style of the Coach

Your own style and approach will have an effect on the coaching process, understanding your style and how others perceive you are critical if you are to be an effective Coach. Your personal style will be a complex combination of personality traits, communication style, appearance and your approach to others. The general terms that are often used to describe this complex set of things are qualities and attributes.

The qualities and attributes of an effective Coach:

  • Being a respected role model
  • Trustworthy - honesty and confidentiality
  • Building a trustful climate
  • Challenging
  • Questioning assumptions
  • Giving feedback - straight forward, objectively and clearly
  • Guiding and supporting people in the right direction
  • Energising and building confidence
  • Open-minded, listening skills, considerate

Process or Approach the Coach Applies

Earlier we outlined the process is the WAY - it is the roadmap and helps steer the Coach throughout the coaching. It helps the Coach stay on track and manage the conversation. Whilst the process provides a clear and consistent framework upfront for the Coach in order to plan for the coaching conversation, the Coach needs to be mindful of amending the process in accordance with the person and the situation. The Coach needs to have freedom and flexibility to veer off course with the confidence of getting back on course as required.

An effective Coach will be aware that skills, style and process are all important

Coaching Process

The skills and personal style of a Coach will make a significant difference to the coaching relationship. It is not enough however to just be comfortable with the skills and personal style, and most coaches find that they need a framework to help them steer their way through coaching scenarios.

Below are the typical stages of the coaching process.

COCA Model

  1. Contracting Phase
  2. Opening Up Phase
  3. Closing Down Phase
  4. Action Planning

Contracting phase

This phase is about establishing clear outcomes, confidentiality and rapport. This phase will take into account the type of person and their unique circumstances and needs. This phase is focused on creating the optimum coaching environment so that there is a sense of mutual trust and respect. The Coach will need to be responsible at this stage for both the hard and soft parts of the contract. The hard refer to specific goals of the coaching whilst the soft are the rapport and trust elements.

The Coach will need to explain upfront why the coaching has been initiated and allow for the individual to respond and open up.

What does good contracting look like?

Mutual trust & credibility is established. Ground rules for working together: when, where, how. Boundaries established - what is legitimately part of coaching and what is not:

  • Goals/objectives are mutually understood and are SMART
  • Ownership for achieving goals clear
  • Confidentiality agreement in place

Opening Up phase

This phase is about encouraging the individual to open up and out. The focus for the Coach is on allowing thorough exploration of the issues through good questioning, listening and paraphrasing. The tone will be dependent on the topic of the discussion and whether this is a performance, skills, development or career discussion. However, the conversation should always allow for the individual to do more of the talking (80-20%) and the Coach should be mindful not to jump in too early with judgements or observations too early on. The opening up phase is about getting as much information from the individual about the topic in order to move forward sufficiently together. This phase will occupy about 40-60% of the conversation time.

Closing down

Unlike the opening up phase, this phase is about narrowing down the information gained. The significant issues will need to be identified/prioritised and the Coach will move towards a more focused problem-resolving approach. Once the priorities are on the table, this is the phase where further exploration to resolve these priorities will occur. The individual should be invited to suggest ways forward and the Coach may be directive at times with their own suggestions. Thus, whilst strong pull behaviour will be essential some push behaviour in terms of managing the process will be essential at this stage. This phase will occupy about 20% of the conversation.

Action planning

This is the final phase where the conversation is wrapped up and the next steps are agreed. The Coach should provide a summary of what was discussed and what has been agreed upon. Milestones and dates should be agreed and both parties should be clear on the way forward. Once again, the Coach should be aware of both the hard and soft outcomes and should not overlook the importance of ongoing trust and respect and leave the conversation on a good note.

Smart Objectives

Devising Smart objectives are at the heart of effective coaching. Your role as Coach is to facilitate and enable appropriate objectives to be established.

A SMART objective is:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

In a coaching situation the challenge is not necessarily in writing the objective but is selecting an objective that is really going to make a difference. Depending on the level of self-awareness, the individual may or may not be aware of what they need themselves. You may need to help them to identify what is going to help that at this moment in time. For example, if someone is continually late for meetings, the individual’s first response may be that their watch is telling the wrong time. The challenge for you is to get them to take responsibility to arrive at the meeting on time without excuses.

A good coaching objective would look something like this:

‘To make a strong impact in my presentation to the Senior Leadership Sales team on 24th October at the Annual sales conference. Specifically, I want the audience to recognize the importance of sales targets going forward and also to perceive me as a vital team player going forwards.

The specific actions I know I can take to do this are:

  • Allow at least two days preparation to prepare for the presentation
  • Consider the audience and their preferred style of presentation
  • Consider the key messages that want to leave with the audience
  • Practice giving the presentation to 2 different people I trust

Coaching with Different People

Every coaching situation is unique as every individual is unique. The Coach cannot approach every coaching scenario in the same way. Coaching should always aim to achieve a highly supportive yet also highly challenging environment. If it’s too challenging it will feel stressful and if it’s not challenging it will feel too comfortable.

The Coach needs to consider carefully the following areas in order to fully appreciate the individual differences:

  • Who is the person I am coaching - What type of person are they? What do I think they enjoy about work? How do others get along with them? What do I know about them and their personal life?
  • What is the individual’s preferred learning style? How do I need to structure the coaching?
  • What is their readiness level like? (Situational leadership) to what extent do they have the ability and willingness to take on a certain task?
  • How do they respond to me? What is our relationship like? How are we different from one another and thus how should I structure the session to suit them and me? Do they respect and trust me? Do they have any issues over status/power? How much of a political player is this individual?
  • What is their track record? What is their reputation? How have they been doing this last 6 months? Have they met their goals recently? What are their skills and competencies?
  • How have they responded to coaching situations before? Do they want to be directed or are they comfortable resolving the way forward with some guidance? Do they prefer a more formal or informal setting/environment?
  • In what way will I need to consider the individuals’ needs versus the organisation’s needs? How does this person fit within the team? How can I balance this person’s needs in terms of the team’s needs?
Key Skills of a Coach


  • Coaching is about unlocking potential in order to maximise performance and/or development. It is about the individual solving their own problem rather than it being solved for them.
  • There are many different applications for coaching in the work environment and it is increasingly a skill that managers need to have to be successful.
  • Coaching can be formal or informal, and the manager will have many opportunities within day to day working life to Coach individuals.
  • Coaching generally has one of two main aims – performance or development.
  • The role of the Coach is to enable individuals to improve their own performance and find their own solutions to problems.
  • There are various reasons for coaching ranging from addressing specific skills through to considering an individual’s career aspirations.
  • Coaching can be used in many situations, for example:
  1. As part of a management process
  2. During major change
  3. Before and after training
  • Coaching requires both skills and process and an effective Coach will combine these two aspects seamlessly.
  • The effectiveness of a Coach will depend on his or her skills, personal style and the process he or she applies.
  • Some of the key skills required for effective coaching are:
  1. Giving feedback
  2. Asking questions
  3. Listening
  4. Using non-verbal communication
  • A coaching process will provide a framework for the coaching conversation, the COCA model is one such model and it has four phases:
  1. Contracting
  2. Opening up
  3. Closing down
  4. Action planning

Relevant Programmes

To develop your skills and confidence as an internal workplace performance coach, the ILM Level 5 Certificate in Effective Coaching would be the ideal qualification.

If you would like to view upcoming Open Programmes Dates for this qualification, click here.

If you would like to develop the coaching skills for your managers, we have our very own Coaching Skills for Managers programme, as well as the ILM Level 3 Award in Effective Coaching.