Research Paper By Hector Sandoval
(Leadership Coach, SPAIN)
I began training as a professional Coach in June 2012. My main motivation is to leverage over 26 years of corporate experience (as a leader and executive in a variety of operational, commercial and people management roles) to support individuals and corporations who are committed to developing and improving leadership effectiveness. Over the past years I encountered many situations where the opportunities to improve employee alignment and motivation failed, mainly because the leaders did not recognize gaps in their own behaviors and skills. As part of an executive team or as a consultant my degree of influence was very limited. As a Coach, however, the process and commitment that can be established on an individual level, based on creating a trusted, effective and moving forward space, may yield extraordinary results in bridging those gaps.
As part of the requirements to graduate as a Coach I have developed my own Coaching Model: the LeadER Model. This model is based on the premise that effective change can take place when individuals assume a leadership role to create, steer and accomplish goals in their personal or professional dimensions. The LeadER Model defines a structure where the Client is listened to, learning occurs through powerful inquiry, acknowledgement, assessments and perspective reframing. This knowledge is then transformed into action plans, with clear steps to build a bridge between the current state, the desired state and an emphasis on Execution and Review phases of these plans. At the end of the journey, the Client is able to experience positive change to behaviors and skills, understanding that common leadership traits can be useful in discovering and leveraging untapped potential.
As with most Coaching models and propositions, the Client is advised that in order to develop the proper knowledge of the current state, desired direction and goals, and the execution of successful plans, time and effort should be committed in a genuine way. In this sense a typical Coaching engagement may take around 12 sessions, usually spread between 3 to 6 months, in order to materialize the actions into results. With this in mind I began to look for alternatives that may add value to the Client by way of reducing the length of the engagement, in specific cases where this may be appropriate. Because I would like to focus my practice coaching leaders in positions of considerable responsibility, and as a former executive myself, I believe providing an option for a shorter but no less powerful relationship can be an attractive proposition.
In late October 2012 I attended an ICF Sponsored Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The primary motivation was to begin a networking strategy within the local Coaching community, in order to understand the market situation and position my own personal brand and services accordingly. Another objective was to learn any new trends or perspectives that the keynote speakers could bring to my attention. It was in this context that I first encountered the concept of ‘Brief Coaching’, as presented by one of its strongest practitioners, Dr. Peter Szabó of Switzerland.
Brief Coaching: According to Dr. Szabó’s own publications and his keynote speech, Brief Coaching is a product of the ‘Solutions Based’ paradigm, and has been extensively developed, practiced and documented through his work. A well-stocked resource center can be consulted in Dr. Szabó’s ‘Solutionsurfers’ website: www.solutionsurfers.com. One can better understand the origin and progress this particular approach, since its origins and through the work of Dr. Szabo, as well as the research conducted by sociologists Steve de Shazer and Insoo Kim Berg.
In a summarized version Brief Coaching can be explained in the following terms:
This approach blends very well with the ICF and ICA principles stating that ‘Clients are capable, resourceful and whole in order to approach their intentions to grow and introduce positive change in their lives’. While Brief Coaching supports a structure containing the elements of: Listening, Powerful Questions, Perspective Reframing, Actions and Commitment, it simply proposes to accomplish these phases in a much shorter period of time by taking advantage of solutions the Client may already have in place. Dr. Szabó explains that in this approach there are three distinct phases that distinguish Brief Coaching from a more ‘problem based’ paradigm1:
Coaches can be useful to Clients in different ways, depending on how they approach the journey from a current situation, a desired outcome, and the steps in between to accomplish goals and objectives. To represent these approaches one can formulate questions such as: “How can I help you unblock the situation”, or, “What are the steps you would like me to help you with”, which are associated with the more traditional Coaching relationships. Or, in a ‘solutions based paradigm’, one can ask: “what have you already done to accomplish the desired situation”. That is, focusing on what the Client has formulated as solutions rather than analyzing the problem.
- Exploring the Future, or ‘desired state of being’
- Exploring signs that the goal is already being reached
- Experimental Phase
Dr. Szabó demonstrated this approach by using an example where his own 12 year old daughter became a one session Client: the ‘problem’ his daughter wanted to be coached on was the requirement to write a school paper in the midst of an already busy schedule and time pressure. After listening to his daughter’s description of the problem, Dr. Szabó asked his first question: “on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being submitting the final version of the paper on time, where are you at?”. His daughter replied: “a 3”. He then explained that the following two questions were fundamental in moving the Client forward and represent the essence of Brief Coaching: “What have you done already to be in a 3”. After his daughter explained the first steps in collecting data for the paper, organizing other sources of content and agreeing with another student on sharing the work, Dr. Szabo’s next question was simply “what else?”. After repeating this question several times, the Client reflected that she had accomplished much more than she originally thought, and stated that her current position on the scale “was more a 4 than a 3”. With this realization came empowerment and confidence, and after only 15 minutes the Coaching engagement came to an end. Dr. Szabó’s daughter did not return for a second session, but did report to her Father that a few weeks after that single conversation she was now “a 7” on the scale and eventually she turned the paper in, on time, and with very satisfying scores.
I was very impressed by this concept and realized that this was probably the first significant ‘new trend’ in Coaching that I had come in contact with since completing most of my ICA training, and other research I had been conducting to expand my knowledge of the profession.
I consulted Dr. Szabós website and found several compelling ‘case studies’ where he applied the concept of Brief Coaching to real life engagements with managers and leaders of considerable corporate responsibility. In most cases the key to implement the Brief Coaching approach was to use a scaling type question and to repeat the process that Dr. Szabó demonstrated in the conference: ask the Client what has already been accomplished to reach the initial position in the scale, and follow up on that level of inquiry. In most cases the Client required one or two sessions to realize that significant solutions were already in motion, sometimes improving the position on the scale, and feeling very empowered to take the remaining part of the journey on their own.
Brief Coaching – A Case Study:
With all the above information, I employed some of the basic Brief Coaching techniques to specific coaching conversations where I felt they could add value and provide a faster and more visible result. These included a specific session where one of my Clients was expressing some degree of preoccupation with creating a business development strategy. In a one hour session, using the scaling type question, the three step process outlined by Dr. Szabó, and the frequent use of the ‘what else’ powerful question, the Client was able to discover a robust strategy, clear action steps and time frame, realizing that she had already accomplished a more significant body of work than originally thought.
With this inspired confidence in the method, I approached my next Client with the idea of proposing a Brief Coaching format. I chose this process simply because the commercial agreement that was reached provided a three session engagement. In the following paragraphs I provide some relevant information on how the Coaching process was originally defined, followed up on, and the results that were reached by the Client.
The Client is a 37 year old graphic design professional who has been working in a small business that creates and distributes video games. He has been employed in this company for nearly 5 years and has been promoted twice, from junior designer to senior designer, and later as a ‘team leader’ responsible for a unit of 2-3 persons charged with specific responsibilities. When the Client approached me, he had been promoted to the ‘Studio Chief’ position, reporting to the company’s owner and general manager, and responsible for all operational, commercial and administrative aspects of the business, including leading a team of 22 professionals.
This was the Client’s first significant management and leadership responsibility, and he wanted to be Coached in order to gain insights, confidence and practical solutions to succeed in his new role. I agreed to be his Coach and outlined a process where we could focus most of the effort in 3 sessions. Before the actual sessions commenced, I did spend approximately one hour to outline the ‘terms of reference’ of the engagement, including the schedule for sessions, the concept of Coaching vs. counseling or consulting, and other considerations that were agreed upon in order to bring practical solutions.
The First Session:
Although I had met the Client before, in brief social circumstances, I employed the first hour of the Coaching engagement to be © Copyright 2006 International Coach Academy Pty. Ltd. Use is governed by the Terms and Conditions at http://www.icoachacademy.com Last updated Feb 2006 5 properly introduced and gain knowledge about the Client’s overall personal and professional profile. We then discussed what was his desired outcome for the Coaching process we were undertaking. He expressed two specific goals: How to drive a stronger influence in the overall business strategy, as the Owner/General Manager had formulated a business plan for 2013 where the new Studio Chief had some serious reservations about its success in terms of core product and service delivery. A second goal was formulated around improving the relationship with his team now that he was invested with a new figure of authority and responsibility. The Client was concerned on how to manage the team effectively, without compromising some of his personal relationships and the standing he had achieved amongst his colleagues before he had been promoted.
While the goals were clearly stated by the Client, I used most of the time of this first session to better understand the corporate culture that is displayed in the business in terms of communications, leadership styles, and the way the leaders engage the organization to execute the strategies and business plan. It became clear that the Client’s vision on these matters differ from his direct boss, in terms of behaviors and skills, making the process of achieving his goals more challenging.
In terms of facilitating the sessions, I am conscious on the basic steps of the Brief Coaching process, but I am also introducing elements of my own ‘LeadER’ Coaching Model, specifically in the Execution and Review components of the action plans we will discover and agree upon. For the benefit of the relationship, I articulate these steps and how they can empower the Client to reach a satisfactory level of progress throughout the following two sessions.
The Second Session:
In this session I leveraged the Brief Coaching steps outlined above, and asked the Client for his assessment, using a scaling question, for both of the goals he wanted to achieve. As Dr. Szabó predicted, most people faced with a similar question will place themselves on a number ‘3’. I then asked the Client to outline all the steps and actions he has already taken to position himself on that level. After a very productive one-hour conversation, I tasked the Client with formulating a written plan that incorporated his desired outcome, his own assessment on what was required to accomplish that state, and timing of some of the activities.
Between these sessions, the Client was able to produce two detailed documents: one described the main challenges and opportunities he identified in formulating an alternative strategy to the one the Owner/General Manager had communicated, divided into ‘clusters’ (operations, commercial, administration and people aspects). Each cluster in turn contained alternatives, risks and rewards associated with his proposed amendment of the original strategy.
The second document was aimed at introducing short term actions focused on improving the employee climate in the studio, which were more of behavior vs. resource investment nature, following some of the Client’s core principles and values as a Leader.
The Client approached the development of both documents under a scenario of “what would I do if this were my own business, and I had three months to either turn it around or to cease operations”.
Before the third session, I reviewed both documents and took notes in order to prepare for our last conversation. My aim was to reach validation on whether this information was useful to achieve the ultimate desired state on both goals, closure on the specific steps required to execute and review progress, and evaluate the Client’s overall satisfaction with the process.
What is significant in this step, is that the quality and detail of the work the Client undertook was excellent, displaying already a more confident and resolute attitude than the one I observed during our first session, in a short period of time.
The Third and Final Session:
Having had a week in between to review the documentation, we came to this last conversation with a strong focus to close the engagement in the most productive and successful way. With regards to achieving the two original goals, the Client realized that a series of meetings had to be undertaken between him, his boss, and later with the rest of the team in order to reach agreements using a ‘CORE’ philosophy: What are the Commitments, Objectives, Responsibilities and Expectations that should be subscribed between all the parties in terms of the fundamental business strategy, the corporate culture, the way in which the individuals and team execute the business plan, and resolve any ongoing or outstanding differences. The aim of the ‘CORE’ meetings is to identify the elements where the key parties: The Owner/General Manager an Studio Chief, and the Studio Chief and his Team, are already in agreement, leveraging and building on that alignment to tackle other matters where they may differ on.
The Client feels extremely energized and empowered with this structure. He is aware that this is not a ‘magic wand’, which will automatically resolve all the differences he anticipates will surface in the day to day running of the business, but it will provide a clear agreement in writing and after constructive debate, on how to move forward.
In addition to discovering the CORE approach to frame and formulate the issues, actions and agreements he plans to undertake with his most critical stakeholders, we also discuss a secondary action aimed at identifying, assessing and improving leadership and management competencies.
For this action I share with the Client a standard ‘Leadership and Management Competence Framework (LMCF)’, which describes 36 specific behaviors that a Leader and Manager can exhibit or develop in order to reach a high degree of performance and effectiveness in running a business. The Client has committed to reviewing the LMCF, identify two sets of competencies and behaviors where he is confident and strong, but that will require reinforcement to succeed in his new responsibility, and two where he feels he is in need to build a same level of ownership and trust to execute.
Final Session Debriefing:
For the last session we allocate an extra 30 minutes so that we can discuss the Client’s assessment on the overall Coaching Engagement, the usefulness of the actions that were uncovered and agreed upon, and his degree of satisfaction on the entire experience. The following is a summary of that conversation:
On the Coaching Experience:
Very positive review. The Client has felt new energy, ideas and confidence, by being able to speak openly and freely © Copyright 2006 International Coach Academy Pty. Ltd. Use is governed by the Terms and Conditions at http://www.icoachacademy.com Last updated Feb 2006 7 about complex issues and his own vulnerability when facing them. He feels that speaking to a Coach in an environment that is void of judgment, focused on his agenda, and able to sound ideas and options out without being told ‘If I were you this is what I would do’, has been rewarding and very satisfying.
On the Specific Solutions:
The Client feels very confident and empowered about the ‘CORE’ meetings and agreements that will come out of them. He believes this is a very professional approach to debating in a constructive way the pros and cons of the strategy, how to formulate a better corporate culture, and how to manage the relationship with his former peers, now direct reports. He is also very satisfied with having developed his own two documents that provide clarity and depth of the issues he wants to raise
In addition to those assessments, the Client expresses a great degree of satisfaction by speaking to a Coach that ‘brings a lot of experience in executive and leadership matters’, which provides him an opportunity to learn. From time to time, during our conversations, I would ask for the Client’s agreement to break from the ‘Coach/Client’ roles in order to provide him with specific experiences and suggestions I have encountered in similar situations, highlighting that these were to provide context and additional information only. I stressed at these times that the rewarding outcome of a Coaching relationship is based on the Client’s own discovery process and in owning the solutions as his or her own, all the time.
An interesting aspect of this final conversation, which I wanted to bring to the Client’s attention, is an element that Dr. Szabó stresses in his own case studies and explanation of the Brief Coaching approach: At this time I asked the Client if he wanted to formulate a different position in the original Scaling Question. As he had expressed in the first session, he found himself on a ‘3’ related to how much of a solution he thought was already in place to achieve his two stated goals. After only three sessions, and roughly 4 hours of Coaching over a three week interval, the Client expressed with pride that he now felt he was between a 5 and a 6. He acknowledges that there is much work to be done, under pressure and with challenging circumstances, but he now has greater clarity on what would be a successful outcome, the tools to build that future state, and how to bridge some of the key issues he has identified even before he was promoted.
I was very motivated to take on this Client and try a different approach as was suggested by the Brief Coaching proposition, while retaining some of the key elements of my own, ‘LeadER’ model. After conducting the debriefing with the Client, I was inspired and very satisfied with the outcome. It was very rewarding to notice a different, more confident and enthusiastic, attitude in the Client. The following are some of my conclusions on this particular case situation:
People in leadership roles who need an ‘extra edge’ to improve their skills, behaviors and overall effectiveness, are open to a Coaching proposition as a great tool to undertake that development and growth. However, they are also pressed for time to achieve results, to discover practical and almost ‘turnkey’ solutions.
In some cases, I am certain that proposing a shorter, but very focused on solutions approach, may give the Client the confidence they need to recruit a Coach and follow that framework. This in turn can be constructed as a high value commercial proposition amongst Coaching professionals.
As Dr. Szabó pointed out, one of the ‘concerns’ amongst the professionals when learning about Brief Coaching is understanding how shorter engagements may affect their revenue stream. Dr. Szabó resolved those concerns by sharing that his practice is very successful, and that word of mouth references and recommendations provide him sufficient business.
I am very excited to blend this approach into my practice, and have proposed some degree of collaboration with Dr. Szabó in terms of expanding the offer of Brief Coaching to Spanish speaking coaching communities.
In Coaching the above mentioned Client I reflected that, under different circumstances, with a less pressing environment to position his strategy and to claim a respectable degree of influence towards his boss and his team, I would have opted for a more conventional Coaching engagement including assessments and other tools. However, given the need for almost immediate results, I feel that my approach was not only productive but maintained a high level of integrity of the core Coaching competences and principles.
Coaching, as everything else in our professional and personal dimensions, is constantly evolving. I am now more secure and confident on my Coaching skills and model, but open to incorporate, revise and enrich my practice with new trends and influences that can provide clear, substantial value to my Clients.
For Further Reading:
www.solutionsurfers.com Dr. Peter Szabó’s Professional Website
dierolf.html An interview with Kirsten Dierolf, Solution-Focused Coach and Trainer
Brief-Coaching for Lasting Solutions. Insoo Kim Berg / Peter Szabó. W.Norton 2005
www.thesolutionsfocus.com Contains information on solution orientation in business environments