Preparing & Planning for Coaching


What are the factors you need to consider when preparing for running a coaching session or series of coaching sessions with a direct report? Unless it’s a coaching on demand session, coaching doesn’t just happen. This means there is preparation for both of you to do ahead of the coaching session. This article covers your preparation as the coach. A later article will cover coachee preparation.

Coaching Journey

The coaching may be part of your monthly one-to-one with a direct report. Or it may be part of a series of coaching session you have scheduled with your direct report. I call this a coaching journey.

The coaching journey will most likely be on a chunky performance or development subject. You will have committed your time based on an expected return on coaching investment. Your direct report will also have committed their time and agreed to implement the coaching session outcomes in their daily work. Formally or informally, you have struck a coaching contract. Now you both need to work hard on adding the maximum value to the business.

High Positive Expectations

Let’s set the scene with a quote from my colleague and co-author Keith Svendsen.

“There are two specific situations in business where coaching is very valuable to me. The first is where a team member is not living up to his or her potential. The second is when a team member is already successful at producing results and wants to develop much further. Either way it is our job to facilitate both – extending the limits of their current potential much further as a result of the coaching. Let me be clear, it is all about how to move forward, despite any previous limitations, and to realise the desired goal. As a result, the team member begins to consider what is possible from a much wider perspective and – at the same time – develops a realistic view of what it will take to be successful in achieving the goals set. People who succeed have motivation AND the successful performer holds high positive expectation around the goals they intend to deliver and exceed. As Leaders it is our role to make sure that our teams have high positive expectations towards the goals they are working on”.

Go back and re-read Keith’s words. This is a senior vice president in a major international organisation describing the coaching for performance approach he expects his leaders to adopt. Keith has a direct leadership task of about a thousand people and indirectly about 2,000.

Preparing for Coaching

What are the key words in the quote from Keith that lead us to an understanding of how you can prepare for coaching sessions?

Here are some ideas. It’s not an exhaustive list. Please post your comments to add to the list.

  • Business Goals. Start by ensuring you have a clear idea of the overall business goals in your part of the business. This means understanding what you need to achieve in the current business period (your goals), what your boss needs to achieve and maybe even their boss too. If in doubt, ask.
  • SMART. In each case do the goals pass the SMART test? Do the goals of your direct reports also pass the SMART test? Don’t know what the SMART test is? Ask me.
  • Line of Sight. Confirm there is line of sight on everyone’s goals – top down and bottom up. Talk to your stakeholders and verify this. It is important to do this before you proceed.
  • Data. Gather information on your direct report’s performance from a number of sources – including of course from your direct report. Where will you find this information? How will you be sure it is reliable?
  • Diagnosis. Where is your direct report coachee’s performance against expectations? What are the gaps to expectations? Where are expectations being exceeded? What are the priorities?
  • Decide on Investment. Decide how you will invest your discretionary leadership time to carry out the coaching. Your time is limited and needs to be rationed according to a return on coaching investment formula.
  • Differentiation. Make decisions on which of your direct reports need more of your time and which less – differentiate according to their needs and the needs of the business.
  • Devise a Coaching Plan. For coaching journeys this means structure, formality and accountability (for example, over 6 months we will have a coaching session every two weeks for 1 hour).
  • Feedback. What feedback have you given the coachee in relation to this subject since the last time you spoke on the subject? How will you use this feedback in the forthcoming coaching session?
  • Observations. What new or additional observations have you made in relation to this subject? How will you incorporate these observations into the forthcoming coaching session?
  • Set the Scene. What coaching questions can you prepare ahead of the coaching session to help you build rapport with the coachee, gain their trust, raise their awareness of the issues, create responsibility for action and energize them towards positive expectation of the goals they intend to deliver and exceed?
  • Coaching Goals. What is your goal for the coaching session? You are the boss. You take charge on this. What is the longer term coaching goal – for the journey? How will you establish – within the context of your goals – what your direct report coachee wants to get out of the session?
  • Platforms. What documentation do you need to have on the table when you are in the coaching session? This might be management information reports, customer feedback, a personal development plan, the direct report’s 360 report, etc. I call these ‘platforms’ because they support the coaching process.
  • Practicalities. At what time and where will the coaching session take place? How will you protect this time in your calendar? What preparation will you ask the direct report coachee to complete ahead of the session? What documentation do you need? How will you ensure privacy and that you won’t be interrupted?

Think of this list as a set of key principles rather than rules or guidelines. Lists like this work best when you use the material for inspiration and take what you want from it. The magic bit is when you come up with your own ideas and experiences and build on my list. When you do, please post your comments and share your ideas.

There is further reading in the Coaches Toolkit – see Templates / Coaching Contract and Templates / Coaching Preparation.

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