Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Time for dreaming, criticising, and being realistic....

I sometimes work with coachees who will come up with a strategy, and then immediately add the tag “that won’t work because…”. This focus tends to result in some great ideas and strategies never getting off the ground as a result. 
The Disney Strategy was developed by the Neuro Linguistic Programme (NLP) practitioner, Robert Dilts. Dilts based the strategy on the approach Walt Disney used with his creative teams to support them to develop ideas. The underpinning concept is that, even if a person has a way of thinking that they find most comfortable, any person can consider something from three different perspectives and switch between them. The approach can be used with individuals, or with small and large groups.
The reason the Disney Strategy works so well in situations where the person is their own worst critic of their ideas is because of the three separate modes: Dreamer, realist, and critic. The strategy, even when coachees are initially sceptical, is effective in part because it also acknowledges a coachee’s perceived barriers - but not until they have explored their initial ideas.
The Dreamer mode is where I encourage all the coachee’s new ideas - the focus here is purely on (positive) creative suggestions and on invention. The sky’s the limit! Barriers and issues have no place here because they are acknowledged in the next two modes.
In the Realist mode I encourage my coachee to consider how to make their ideas work in practice. This is the mode where ideas become detailed plans (with milestones and timelines) that are likely to work in the coachee’s context because it integrates complexities.
The final mode, the Critic gives space for the coachee to look for flaws in their ideas and to identify what might go wrong. This mode helps ensure that the coachee ‘audits’ their idea, registers risks, and considers mitigations; it is a way of keeping the best of an idea - maybe using it as a springboard for a second idea - at which point the coachee and I would work through all 3 modes again. Alternatively, possible big picture fixes could be taken back the the dreamer mode and other two modes again if an idea still holds merit but has some apparent issues.
I carefully facilitate each mode, clearly defining the associated ‘rules’ and describing the modes. Shifts from mode to mode can also be signalled by different coloured items of clothing if the approach feels comfortable.
In brief the Disney Strategy provides time and opportunities for an idea mature and develop because:
  • My coachee can generate a range of ideas quickly, and cannot immediately jump on what they see as flaws, concerns or risks.
  • Idea / brainstorming spaces can be shared in advance of a coaching session to start the coachee’s creative energies flowing.
  • Using communication links between the dreamer and realist, and then the realist to critic, avoids the critic directly making comment about an idea in the early stages, thereby keeping the energy level high and positive during the dreamer mode.
  • The approach can break habits of constantly scanning for, and criticising, flaws in a suggestion, which can clear the ‘log-jam’ and allow ideas to flow more freely (i.e. less “that won’t work here because…”.
  • By working through one mode at a time, the dialogue remains focussed and is not undermined by the possible distractions caused by the other modes.
  • Ideas that have gone through the Disney Strategy are likely to be way more robust.


Message stones. CC ( BY ND ) licensed Flickr image by: Roselyn Rosesline - https://flic.kr/p/eTzoib

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Getting your goals right

Coaching has a wide range of definitions and approaches. One of the most prevalent understandings is that coaching comprises “a collaborative relationship formed between a coach and the coachee for the purpose of attaining professional or personal development outcomes which are valued by the coachee” (Spence & Grant, 2007, p. 185). Couched within this understanding is the importance of goal-focused activity with a clearly defined outcome. A person embarks on a coaching relationship because they are working through a challenge, or a goal that they want to attain, and they are looking for support to develop effective strategies and solutions (Grant, 2013). As such, a big part of development is setting effective goals that will enable a person to plan and identify clear directions to achieve their desired change.
Beyond the practical aspects of goal-setting, research indicates that setting and evaluating your own goals play a large part in sustained motivation and ongoing action, even in the face of emerging issues (Bandura, 1998). The process of associating attainment of stated (valued) goals with self-satisfaction has a direct influence on “how much effort [a coachee]... expend[s]; how long they persevere in the face of difficulties; and their resilience to failures … [and these contribute]  to performance accomplishments” (Bandura, 1998, p. 75).
There are several characteristics to effective goals … and some common mistakes. I’m now going to briefly discuss a few of them.
Challenging but attainable
Goals need to stretch you, but still be attainable .. within your stated timeframe. So, if you have never run a step in your life and are not in the best of shape, it is unlikely, for example, that you will attain a goal of winning a marathon in a month’s time. However, if you decide you would like to run a marathon in say, 4 hours, in a year’s time, and put together a training plan with milestone goals along the way, then you are likely to achieve it. So, a long-term goal, with incremental steps (and celebrations) along the way, and with enough challenge to keep you interested, is the way to go.
Specific and within a timeframe
A mistake that is often made is to identify a goal that says we will try harder, do more of something, or improve a skill. However - how will you know you are making progress, or have achieved what you have set out to without some ‘measure’ that will enable you to evaluate how you are doing. You goals should be as tangible as possible, and specify how many, of what, and by when. Using the example above about the marathon, if, as a sub goal you decide to run the Auckland 10km race in April in under 1 and a half hours, it would be easy to know if you have or have not achieved the goal. It’s not always easy to set such specific goals, but the more specific you can be the greater your sense of progress will be.
Sometimes it’s tempting to identify what we don’t want - things (emotions, behaviours, contexts) we’d like to avoid - rather than looking at what we do want. It is, though, way easier to actively set out to do or achieve something than it is to try to avoid doing it. Again, taking the example of the marathon, compare ‘I will stop eating biscuits until after I have run the marathon’, with ‘Up to when I run the marathon I will eat at least one salad a day, except for Monday which is my day off when I will eat 1 biscuit’.
Other things to include in effective goals
As well as the three key areas discussed above, it is good to also keep in mind the following characteristics of effective goal setting so that you include:
  • clear direction to attain your desired change,
  • clarity of priorities (which will inform your ongoing decision making),
  • identification of resources available to you (including people),
  • clearly stated tasks and activities that align directly with specific aspects of your goal(s), and
  • specific links to your performance and personal development
(Southern Institute of Technology, n.d., n.p.)
Even if you set effective goals, sometimes you’ll feel as though you aren’t making progress or that other things are derailing your efforts. At times like these it is good to talk with your coach to work through responses that will help you stick with your long-term goals, while maintaining your motivation - and sanity!
Terry Pratchett in his novel The Wee Free Men sums up the importance of goals as opposed to dreams as follows: “If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things ...” (Pratchett, 2004, p. 21). Dreams can be incredibly motivating. However, you need to sit down and work out how to turn them into them reality, and setting effective goals is part of that process.
Back in time. CC ( BY ND  ) licensed Flickr image by Hartwig HKD: https://flic.kr/p/6zXq7Y
  • Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).
  • Burdett, J. (2005). The listening paradox. Organizational Performance Review, 7-9.
  • Castleberry, S., & Shepherd, C. D. (1993). Effective Interpersonal Listening and Personal Selling. Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, XIII(1), 35-49.
  • Grant, A. (2013). The Efficacy of Mentoring - the Benefits for Mentees, Mentors,  and Organizations. In Jonathan Passmore, David B. Peterson, and Teresa Freire (Eds). The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Coaching and Mentoring Series: Wiley-Blackwell Handbooks in Organizational Psychology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 16 - 34.
  • International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from http://www.coachfederation.org/files/FileDownloads/CoreCompetencies.pdf.
  • Pickering, M. (1986, Fall). Communication. Explorations, A Journal of Research of the University of Maine, 3(1). pp. 16-19.
  • Rogers, C R., & Farson, R.E. (1987). Active listening. In Communication in Business Today. Eds. R. G. Newman, M. A. Danziger, & M. Cohen. Washington C.C.: Heath and Company
  • Rothwell, J. D. (2010). In the company of others: An introduction to communication. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Salem, R. (2003). Empathic Listening. In Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Retrieved http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/empathic-listening
  • Southern Institute of Technology. (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module A) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC105 (NET).
  • Spence, G.B., & Grant, A. (2007) Professional and peer life coaching and the enhancement of goal striving and well-being: An exploratory study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 185–94.
  • Whitworth, L, Kimsey-House, K, Kimsey-House, H, & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-active coaching: New skills for coaching people toward success in work and life. Palo Alto,California: Davies-Black Publishing.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Place yourself - on a scale of one to ten...

Most people will be familiar with the 1-10 scale … from surveys and polls for example, where the focus is abstract things such as opinions, beliefs and emotions rather than concrete things like the number of things we do and how many hours we take to do them. In other words, the 1-10 scale enables a person to make a subjective response, in a way that reflects how they think and feel - i.e. their own assessment. In a coaching context it enables the coachee to make an initial response and then discuss, in a solutions-focussed way, the strategies or other factors that may help them shift on the scale. It also enables them to compare their original response with their target state. The approach has the added benefit that it is easily understood and doesn’t require a lot of explanation.
As part of using the scale it is important to describe, based on the conversation up to that point, what the coachee’s ‘10’ might ‘look like’, as well as a brief description of their ‘1’. For instance: ‘On a scale of 1 to 10 where a 10 is your ideal outcome where you feel totally comfortable with achieving what you have stated in your goals, and a 1 is where you feel uncomfortable and don’t feel you will be able to achieve your goals…where would you place yourself?’
Other variations might be - on a scale of 1 to 10...
  • ... how [insert suitable opinion / emotion word] are you with using [insert suitable skill or action]?
  • …since we last talked how much progress do you feel you made towards your goal?
  • …how confident do you feel with this approach?
As a coach you can use the 1 to 10 scale as a way to help your coachee identify their commitment to go through with an action. If you ask ‘how committed are you to completing this action before we next meet?’, your coachee is likely to respond something like ‘very’. Compare this with asking ‘on a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is you will definitely do it, and 1 is you almost definitely won’t do it, where would you place yourself?’. An 8 or more is likely to indicate that a question to see what would make it a 10 is likely to be useful. If the response is 7 or less it is probably worth spending more time working through some underlying issues that are creating barriers.
The 1 to 10 scale can also be used as a way to encourage a coachee to assess their position, explore it further, and then identify ways to move forward. Usually, a coachee will place themselves somewhere between the two extremes. A response of 5, for instance, could be followed up with a positively framed question such as ‘You have chosen 5 - what things are you contributing to the team that have led to you choosing a 5?’ And then ‘If you feel you are now at a 5 what other things can you do to move yourself to a 6?’
However, the scale should be used sparingly and sensitively in a way that appreciates what is best for the coachee at that moment, in their context (Wallis, 2013). Consider the following scenario - a coach is working with Abni. Abni has recently been promoted to team leader (one of her goals), and she is really pleased, but also a little apprehensive about whether she is going to live up to the role. As one of her goals she has identified that she wants to implement a new process that will support the team to be more collaborative.
The coach asks: On a scale of 1 to 10, Abni, how confident are you that this new process will bring about the results you are looking for?
Abni responds: A ‘7’.
The coach follows up with: Hmmm, so what would it take to increase your confidence in the effectiveness of the process to a 10?”
Wallis (2013) highlights some of the issues with this approach and some of the assumptions that are being made, including:
  • The coach makes an implied judgement that a ‘7’ is not good enough, and the assumption is being made about something as unmeasurable as confidence.
  • There is an assumption that a ‘10’ is required to help ensure the effectiveness of the process.
  • The underlying suggestion that perfection is what Abni should be aiming for in relation to her level of confidence - something that is nigh on impossible given that her confidence is likely to be based on “elements that are ultimately outside of her control” (Wallis, 2013, Para. 10).
Compare the questions above with the following:
The coach asks: ‘Ok, Abni, in order for you to introduce this process to your team next week, what level of confidence do you think would be a score you can move forward with confidently?
Abni: ‘7 out of 10’
The coach: ‘So, what do you think you need to do, or change, in order for you to move in the direction you want to go on this scale in terms of your level of confidence?’
In this second set of questions, the coachee remains empowered and in charge of the scale. She self-assesses and the coach supports her to consider if there are things she could do (i.e. realistic and achievable) to increase her confidence.
The 1 to 10 scale, when used appropriately, can be a powerful tool that offers a way to frame-up and ‘measure’ intangibles that can have a massive influence on our performance and wellbeing. The key is to use it sensitively and just frequently enough to make sure that it remains fresh and effective.


10. CC ( BY ) licensed Flickr image by Paul Downey: https://flic.kr/p/nSwy


Wallis, G. (2013). One a scale of 1 to 10. Retrieved from http://www.theexecutivecoachingblog.com/2013/02/27/on-a-scale-of-1-to-10/.