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For Successful Workplace Coaching, Sculpt Your Raw Material First

Across organizations, you’re bound to find someone, somewhere, who’s being coached for improvement. Maybe it’s an individual who’s been tipped for their potential in executive management. But increasingly, coaching is being applied to other positions, as leaders realize that everybody can contribute to the group’s success.

Workplace coaching is a one-on-one collaboration between a coach and their client. It focuses on a twofold desirable outcome within the context of an organization’s goals. On one hand, you seek to improve the client’s performance. On the other, you provide an impetus for their career development.

However, coaches may often encounter difficulties when they work with less pliant or driven individuals compared to those identified for their high growth potential. The key to getting results in this scenario is strengthening the quality of the coaching relationship, much like an artist becoming more familiar with their chosen medium.

A complex endeavor

Human beings are complicated in general. Even when it comes to our careers, everyone has different goals and motivations. The same person will rarely demonstrate a single-minded focus on one specific objective all the time. Our aspirations can adjust over the years as lifestyles, influences, and circumstances change.

Empirical evidence reflects this complexity. Myriad factors affect the potential outcomes of a coaching intervention. Many of these have something to do with the client’s personal characteristics, both in the immediate circumstances of the coaching scenario and in the long term.

However, the competencies and background of a coach also factor into the equation of success. So do influences such as the organizational setting and support, or lack thereof, from the hierarchy. Some people don’t mesh well with an established culture or structure.

Changing tactics for efficiency

You can attempt to improve outcomes by leveraging any of those factors. Depending on the client, the gains in performance and career prospects might be significant. Thus, coaching is a highly bespoke process.

Yet it’s also a process that costs time and money. Organizations dislike inefficiency, and for various reasons, many people aren’t very receptive to feedback.


When a craftsman works with a pliable material like clay, it’s easy to shape that stuff into the form desired. But if you’re working with concrete, for example, you have to adjust to the medium. You take a diamond cup grinding disc and apply it to the surface to achieve a high level of polish.

In the same way, coaches need to recognize when the standard tactics aren’t working. For instance, feedback is often regarded as an effective tool for improving performance. Yet studies have shown that feedback’s benefits are situational and can actually have an adverse effect.

A psychological, artisan’s approach

The biggest stumbling block for clients tends to be self-efficacy: the belief that your tasks fall within your capabilities.

The reason for this is simple. Coaching and self-efficacy have the potential to form a strong feedback loop. As a coach strengthens your self-belief, you get better at your job. You feel more confident, and you trust your coach to continue to make you better.

Lack of self-efficacy prevents that feedback loop from hitting the high gears. To address this problem, coaches need to focus on their working alliance with the client, similar to how an artist will prime their medium first.

When dealing with a difficult client in this sense, coaches must be psychologically-minded. They have to be attuned to the needs, states, and feelings of the client. This will help them foster a quality relationship with a strong level of trust. From there, it’s easier to motivate clients to be interested in making an effort to learn and improve.

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