Coaching Case Study By Giulia Villirilli
(Transformational Coach, GERMANY)
Who are the main players in this case study?
The main player is Joy, a senior manager in a company. I had a discovery session with him and this was our first coaching session. Both sessions were audio-only.
What is the core problem or challenge you applied your coaching skills to?
Joy enters the coaching session with many concerns. The company he works for just lost the extension-contracts for the projects he is working on. He and some colleagues got the information that they will lose their current job, but the company has an interest in keeping them employed. However, the new positions and possibilities are not defined yet and there is no clarity around the new employment plan.
The issue represents a problem for Joy in several aspects:
- if he wants to go on working with his current projects and clients, he would have to change company (a competitor got the extension of the business): in this case, he would be loyal towards the customer but not towards his current colleagues and employer, as he would move to the competition;
- if he stays in his current company, he does not know which is the new role he will have. He is not even sure that his current company will be able to offer him a new position any soon. Moreover, he will probably disappoint the customers by stepping out of the projects. The customers know that it is possible for Joy to be employed by the competitor and thus have continuity on the projects;
- he definitely needs a job and a “safe” environment, as he has four children. This means, he cannot and does not want to wait for a long time for his current employer to find a solution.
The worst thing about this problem is the feeling Joy is experiencing: he has the impression of being torn between disappointing the customer or his current employer and colleagues.
What specific coaching skills did you use in this case?
I enter the session empty and ready to be there for the coachee. I only have one point that I want to keep in mind “set a clear coaching agreement and do not move on until it is set”.
Despite a very noisy background, I feel trust is established early in the session and the conversation is open and honest. The voice of Joy is calm, yet I can clearly perceive the concerns he openly shares and his low energy. Although I cannot see him, I know he is calm but not smiling.
Setting the coaching agreement: we walk through the goal for the session, its significance, the current status and the desired one. The goal of the session is to reach more clarity around the problem and on personal values. Then, decide on a response and next steps.
Joy states his current clarity level is a “5 out of 10” and he wants to get to 8 or 9 at the end of the session. “What has to happen to reach the 9?” Joy answers that he wants to be peaceful, reassured, gain confidence. Also, talk through the issue and the competing values he sees and considers all players involved in the situation.
At this point, I have a little doubt about the concreteness of the goal but considering the experience and solidity of Joy (from what I know from the discovery session), I decided to move to exploration.
Active listening: I start by mirroring back one sentence which came up during the discussion on the coaching agreement: “I feel torn about this decision”. I only play it back and Joy explains more in detail what he perceives as a dilemma: this change is coming, and, no matter what he will choose, he will disappoint someone. This makes him concerned and unable to decide.
I paraphrase often to be sure not to misunderstand important details, due to the noisy background. I ask permission to share my first observation: “I have the impression that you know already what you want to do”. I pause. Joy: “Yes, indeed, but it’s complicated”.
Then I ask: “What is blocking you?” and Joy: “the fear of disappointing someone and burning bridges”. He goes on sharing details about the situation and his feelings.
Powerful questioning: at this point, I go into some questions that bring the coachee back to himself and his core values and desires. The purpose of my questions is to let him “zoom-out” and see what he finds there.
My first question is not asked properly and thus misunderstood: “you mentioned many times someone will be disappointed, what about yourself?”. Joy’s answer was again linked to the situation.
I let him answer without interrupting and then I frame my question differently: “which decision would make you proud of yourself?”. Joy stops for a moment, answers something but then adds that he needs time after the session to reflect on this.
At his point, I check with Joy if we are going in the right direction and how he perceives clarity. He answers that he is gaining a better clarity. He shares with me that he is thankful for this job he got, the employer treats him well and the working atmosphere is very good. The job is rewarding and he believes he served the company well and with loyalty. However, now he feels caught in the middle of this issue.
Raising awareness: I share another observation: “I have the feeling that you want to keep a fair and good relationship with your employer but at the same time you do not want to pay the price for their business loss, as you were not involved and responsible for this” – here Joy replies with a big YES. Full awareness is raised on this knot.
Acknowledgment: I acknowledge Joy for his caring attitude, for considering his family in the picture, for the value he places on people and for his long-term strategic thinking. He welcomes the acknowledgment and moves from there: he does not want to burn bridges as he believes the situation can change again in the future and he might be able to work with these players again.
Raising awareness: we are in the last 15 minutes and so I choose to ask: “what did you learn about yourself in this session?” Joy greets the question positively and says: “that I set a high value on relationships. I value more cultivating relationships than having the money or a short- term win”. This brought him back again on his values, independently from the situation.
Action: at this point, I try to sum up and reflect back the actions that he shared during the session, to see if they are still valid:
- he will not move to competition;
- he would start looking for other job opportunities that involve no or less traveling;
- he will inform his current employer about steps 1 and 2.
Joy confirms on the actions.
I share the last observation: “I have the feeling that this is not a good situation, but actually it could be seen as an opportunity to elegantly change job and have more time for the family, as you desire” (change of perspective). These actions would actually match what he shared during the session:
- his desire to have more family time (fewer business travels);
- the desire of not burning bridges with both employer and customers;
- his values (with those actions, he would be proud of himself).
He confirms the points are exact. I can feel a little smile (but unfortunately, I did not ask if my feeling was correct).
Action: I offer my support beyond the session. Joy says he knows how to move on and that he will use our next sessions to tackle further issues on this topic.
We close the session.
What were the results of your process? Was your coaching/program effective?
All in all, I would say the session was effective. The feedback was good and actions and direction were set. I shared observations without expecting them to be right: I was honest and straightforward with what I shared and this helped the coachee to take a position by confirming or denying what I was putting on the table.
As always, improvements possibilities can be defined:
- Establishing the coaching agreement was effective, it set the direction. However, it could have been even more specific. I did not dare to ask more specific questions due to the level of experience of Joy, the fact that it was the first session and the low energy I perceived. Next time: dare to dig deeper, if possible.
- Higher clarity was reached → I checked in the middle of the session. Next time, I want to clearly ask again at the end. I missed this opportunity.
If you could approach this problem again, what would you do differently?
- I would go deeper into the values - we touched on that but at the end of the session, my feeling was that they were not explored enough /stated clearly enough.
- I would dedicate more time to action: we reached the action items but we could have gone more concrete into action: when, how, who could support, and so on.
- I would ask the question at the end: “how would you like to close the session?”. I feel this question allows a well-defined closing. My final question was “is there anything that I can do in the next days to support you?” and then I express support for Joy. I did not like 100% closing with that, as it did not leave Joy the possibility to be fully responsible for the end of the session.
- I would have asked if my feeling of a little smile at the end was correct (to raise awareness on his side).
What are the top 3 things you learned from this experience?
- I entered the session in my evening. I had an open and quiet mind but my day up to that moment had been sad and with very low energy. This session demonstrated again to me that one can achieve a good coaching session by emptying oneself and being fully present for the coachee. I had this situation other times and the session always went well, despite my personal situation or state of being. This is a wonderful insight for me, as I am not scared to enter the session and on top of that I know, that after the session I will even feel better.
- Trust can be established early in the process. Enablers of trust are the coach full presence, with heart and mind, no judgment in all questions, a genuine curiosity and no fixed agenda. In this case, I believe that another trust-enabler was the fact that I entered the session not with my usual power and positive energy but with a quiet pace and attitude. This somehow matched with Joy’s state of mind and emotions.
- Finally, I learned that I learned many things in these months. Of course, I am far from being a master coach, but I could observe myself during the session. The fact that I paid attention to the coaching agreement, to the different ICF competencies areas and to the process itself, showed me that I grew so much in these 16 months with ICA. This is the last piece of the puzzle for my ICA graduation and I have a special smile while writing this assignment. A smile that shows happiness but also awareness of the journey and all its ups and downs.
A new journey begins. Cheers:)!