FEATURE ARTICLE
The Achieve Coaching Model® - A Systematic Approach to Greater Effectiveness in Executive Coaching
by Dr. Sabine Dembkowski and Fiona Eldridge 

Introduction

Everyone in the business coaching profession agrees that executive coaching works. However, according to Coaching and Buying Coaching Services (London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 2004), an even greater impact, more sustainable results and increased effectiveness can be achieved when a systematic approach to executive coaching is applied.

Novice coaches wonder if effective, experienced coaches possess mysterious methods for producing magical results. In fact, the genuine trust that renders coaching effective is created when both coach and client have a clear understanding of the coaching process and methodology. We have always believed in the value of such transparency, and have made it a cornerstone of our practice. To validate our belief, we conducted research and monitored our own coaching results.

In order to determine and define what actually happens in sessions facilitated by an effective coach, we observed and analyzed transcripts and video tapes from executive coaching colleagues in the US, England and Germany. We investigated how the coach achieved results, what specific actions the coach took to improve executive performance, and what distinguished an effective, experienced coach from a novice. Our observations, analysis and study of various coaching models led to our development of the seven-step Achieve Coaching Model®, which has been applied successfully in some of the finest organizations in the world.

Application of the Achieve Coaching Model®

A brief description of each of the seven steps follows, along with insights into the skills and techniques employed by an effective coach at each stage.

Step 1:  Assess the current situation
In this step, the executive is encouraged to reflect deeply about his or her current situation. The enhanced self-awareness obtained by describing that situation helps in identifying areas to address, and provides a useful context for the sessions ahead. However, the most important benefit of this step is the client's opportunity to reflect on past events, enhance understanding of what specific actions contributed to the current situation, and how those actions may have stimulated specific responses in others. 

Key coaching behaviors

  • Makes informed use of assessment instruments (without relying solely on those instruments) to gain an understanding of the client's situation
  • Expresses sincere interest in the client's life stories
  • Takes time to understand the situation from the client's perspective
  • Listens deeply so that the client is fully engaged and feels genuinely understood and valued
  • Creates a sense of connection and comfort, fostering a climate of openness and trust
  • Observes and registers all verbal and non-verbal communication

Step 2:  Brainstorm creative alternatives to the client's current situation
This phase broadens the executive's perspective and creates a sound foundation for the development of creative solutions and behavioral change. The objective is to increase the choices available to a client who is facing a challenging situation.

One of the most pressing issues for clients is the feeling of being "stuck" in a particular situation with no visible alternate course of action available. In some circumstances, particularly in times of heightened stress, perspective can narrow, resulting in mental and emotional "tunnel vision." The effect resembles a confrontation with a massive wall--nothing is visible but that wall.

An effective coach draws the client back and restores a broader perspective, which is a prerequisite for the next stages in the coaching partnership. Absent creative brainstorming, the client continues to circle and repeat the same patterns of behavior. Essentially, the first natural reaction in this "stuck state" is to do "more of the same."

Key coaching behaviors 

  • Utilizes a variety of tools and techniques to interrupt the client's habitual patterns, thus breaking the "stuck state"
  • Surprises clients with creative, unexpected questions
  • Brainstorms a variety of alternatives to the current situation, probing beyond initial responses to unearth a broad spectrum of options

Step 3:  Hone goals
In Step 3, the client forges alternatives and possibilities into specific goals. This is the stage at which SMART goals are created and/or refined, and it is essential that the principles of effective goals formulation be taken into account. This is more difficult than it may first appear. Most executives are very aware of what they do not want. However, they frequently find it highly challenging to specify exactly what they do want. In this step, the coach helps the executive to clearly articulate specific, desired results.

Key coaching behaviors

  • Encourages precise definition of goals (in positive terms)
  • Takes time to develop SMART goals
  • Works with the client to develop goal(s) with high personal meaning and relevance
  • Ensures that the goals are, in fact, the client's
  • Develops a specific set of measurements with the client to provide clear evidence of goal achievement

Step 4:  Generate options for goal achievement
Having decided upon a specific goal, the aim at Step 4 is to develop a wide range of methods of achieving it. At this point, the purpose is not to find the "right" option, but rather to stimulate the client to develop an abundant array of alternatives. No option, however seemingly appealing, should form the sole focus of attention. At this stage, the quantity, novelty and variety of the options are more important than their quality or feasibility.

Key coaching behaviors

  • Exhibits confidence in the process and works with the client to develop alternative pathways to the desired goal
  • Uses a broad spectrum of techniques and questioning styles to stimulate the client to generate options
  • Provides space and time for the client to think creatively
  • Ensures that the client  "owns" the options generated

Step 5:  Evaluate options
Having generated a comprehensive list of options, the next step is for the client to evaluate and prioritize them. As is the case in Step 3, "Hone Goals," this is the stage at which an experienced coach can guide the executive towards developing focus. Without a well-defined focus for action, the executive is unlikely to move forward effectively. 

We have found that executives who are skilled at evaluating options for their business objectives often find it difficult to apply the same techniques to their private lives. In such situations, the coach can serve to remind the client of the value of these techniques, and encourage their application on a personal level.

Key coaching behaviors

  • Encourages the client to develop personally meaningful criteria for the evaluation of options, since these criteria form the basis for option selection
  • Probes the client to develop a comprehensive evaluation of each option
  • Ensures that the key options and their evaluation are fixed in writing for future reference

Step 6:  Design a valid action plan
As one coach described it, "This is where the rubber meets the road!"  At this stage, a concrete and pragmatic action plan is designed. One of the main advantages of executive coaching in industry and commerce is that it provides "just in time" learning and development when and where an executive needs it. This stage of committing to a plan means that the executive is ready to take action. 

With many executive development programs, the challenge is translating "classroom learning" into everyday practice. Coaching helps bridge this gap, and the executive commits to taking action using newly acquired skills. 

Key coaching behaviors

  • Creates a detailed action plan with the client
  • Works with the client to check the feasibility and achievability of the plan
  • Fixes the action plan in writing
  • Ensures the client's commitment to the action plan

Step 7:  Encourage momentum
This is represented as the final stage in the Achieve Coaching Model®. While the final step in a coaching partnership may be to facilitate the client's execution of the defined action plan, the role of the coach in encouraging momentum between coaching sessions is equally important.

As a US coach explained, encouraging momentum is a "crucial part of the process. Until the new behavior becomes the new reality, it remains difficult...executives who are in the transformation process need encouragement and reinforcement."  We have found that it is important to reinforce even the smallest steps, since this helps to build and maintain momentum and increase the executive's level of confidence. Cumulative small action steps create the critical mass necessary to accomplish the desired goal. Sustainable change is easier to achieve with continuous reinforcement and encouragement.  

Key coaching behaviors

  • Demonstrates continuing interest in the development of the client
  • Organizes regular "check-in/keep-on-track/follow-up" coaching sessions
  • Takes measures throughout the coaching program to avoid dependency, and knows when to end the partnership

Conclusion

The aim of this article has been to describe and provide insights into the practical application of the Achieve Coaching Model®. Coaches can use the model to structure their coaching sessions and coaching programs without confining the coach to a "straightjacket" which inhibits flexibility and individuality. For those considering hiring a coach, the model provides a transparent, forthright description of coaching methodology. It can also help potential clients to evaluate coaches when choosing those with whom they wish to work.


Source: 

"Coaching and Buying Coaching Services." 2004. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. London. Available at http://www.cipd.co.uk/subjects/lrnanddev/coachmntor/coachbuyservs.htm?IsSrchRes=1
 
 

Sabine Dembkowski, Ph.D is based in Cologne, Germany. Following a successful career as a top management consultant at A.T. Kearney and Monitor Company, Sabine founded The Coaching Centre, an international consultancy for executive coaching and leadership services. Read more about Sabine in the WABC Coach Directory. Sabine can be reached by email at sabinedembkowski@thecoachingcentre.com.

 

Fiona Eldridge is the Director of The Coaching and Communication Centre. She is a Master Practitioner and Certified Trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming. Fiona has appeared on television and radio and frequently contributes to newspapers and journals. Learn more about her work at The Coaching and Communication Centre. Fiona can be reached by email at fionaeldridge@coachingandcommunication.com.

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