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Coaching: The Competitive Edge

Coaching, as a preferred method of management training is being embraced in corporations worldwide, across a wide range of industries.

The growth of personal coaching is influenced by our new-millennium lifestyles where people are busier, have to make decisions and problem solve solutions faster and are often too time-poor to attend more structured, traditional training and learning programs.

Personal coaching also reflects the growing recognition in corporations that successful business practice requires a combination of skills: analytical, quantitative and qualitative interpersonal skills, plus ethical values management and enhanced interpersonal communication skills Research amongst coaching practitioners reveals that:

  • Conflict that leads to ineffective management practice is often driven by a clash in values between workplace practice and personal ethics;

  • Effective communication is one of the greatest time savers in the marketplace.

The new emphasis on measured performance outcomes and performance reviews and personal evaluation charting the performance of executives has also created clearer insights on areas where individuals need more feedback and support. Coaching as a preferred training method has become a natural development in the feedback process.

Coaching as a learning methodology is immediate, hands-on, supportive and positive.

The roots of business coaching are linked to sports coaching and clinical and counselling psychology.

Coaching can be considered as a subset of counselling: they both have the same objective - to improve performance and people and both apply essentially the same problem solving processes: listening and understanding, problem identification, goal identification and an agreed action plan, and clarification of alternatives.

The International Coach Federation defines coaching as:

An ongoing relationship which focuses on clients taking action toward the realisation of their visions, goals or desires. Coaching uses a process of inquiry and personal discovery to build the client’s level of awareness and responsibility and provides the client with structure, support and feedback. The coaching process helps clients both define and achieve professional and personal goals faster and with more ease than would be possible otherwise.

Effective coaching requires an understanding of key socio-cognitive behaviour that is also related to counselling: an exploration of different models of self-regulatory behaviour, different personality types, the relationships between our emotions and our cognitive behaviour, our attitude towards optimism, our skills set for self-reflection and our insights into behaviour change.

Coaching in some workplaces is also achieved through formalised mentoring programs where experienced employees are assigned new recruits. Mentors perform the role of coach and counsellor as they guide their less-experienced colleague towards improved performance.

Coaching for Outcomes

Orth, Wilkinson and Benfari (1987)* identified three general skills that coaches can apply which will generate breakthroughs in performance:

  • The ability of the coach to perform analysis of pathways to improve performance.

The coach needs to demonstrate acute observational analysis of their client in the workplace, highly developed active listening and open questioning skills and, the ability to show respect for the client and his or her individuality. The coach needs to have an insight into the client’s uniqueness.

  • The ability to create a supportive climate.

It is the coach’s responsibility to facilitate a workplace climate that is positive and encourages and rewards improved performance. This also requires the coach to analyse where the barriers are that currently block performance.

Once again the interpersonal skill of active listening and suggestion and empowering the client to try new approaches to problem solving are requisite skills. Any change in approach contains degrees of risk and it is at that moment that the coach’s integrity and strength need to be palpable. Failures, conflicts and mistakes need to be discussed and categorised as ‘learning opportunities’.

  • The ability to influence others.

Modelling is a learning methodology for the coach to demonstrate examples of qualities in behaviour which produce successful outcomes. Enhanced interpersonal communication skills are also key skills for collaboration and empowering others, through feedback and feedforward messages.

Feedback’ is an interpersonal communication process for the coach to send messages back to the client concerning reactions to what has been said and the impact of what he or she said on the listeners. Feedback can be unpacked using five important dimensions: positive or negative, person-focussed or message focussed, immediate or developed, totally honest response or carefully constructed response, critical or supportive. Coaches who use feedback effectively make educated choices using these dimensions.

Feedforward’messages are those messages that are provided - prior to - sending the primary message. They are often used as ‘softeners’ or for ‘preparing the listener’ for what is to come. They serve a variety of valuable functions. For example: they can set out a structure for what is to come and act like a verbal ‘table of contents’, they can preview the message and set the emotional climate for its reception, they can act as a disclaimer and they can forecast the ‘blow’.

The ‘Feedforward’ technique is often used to place the listener in a specific role and to request the client to respond to you and the message in terms of that assumed role. This procedure is known as altercasting. It is an invaluable tool for coaching as the coach can elect to be received as other role players and therefore provide valuable feedback to the client.

Although the total quantity of the information we consume comes from a variety of media, ‘learning’ and ‘changed behaviour’ is significantly linked to and influenced by human interactions. Enhanced interpersonal skills are enabling tools for effective learning.

Coaching relies on quality interpersonal interactions to achieve results - clients learn how they appear to others and the coach helps clients to relate and have influence amongst others.

One of the clear values of an investment in coaching as a learning methodology is that results and effectiveness can be easily measured. The ultimate test of coaching effectiveness is whether a client’s performance improves. The coach’s task is complete when there is recognition that the client can act independently at a high level of effectiveness.

An effective coach:

  1. Negotiates the responsibility for outcomes and sets goals with the individual client which are measurable and clear and clean.

  2. Builds the client’s self-esteem by breaking down set goals into manageable chunks.

  3. Does not tell the client the ‘right way’ to do the job.

  4. Acts as a role model.

  5. Uses a collaborative style

  6. Is skilled at using feedback and feedforward techniques effectively.

  7. Respects the client’s individuality.

  8. Suspends judgment and evaluation.

  9. Acts in confidence.

  10. Is comforatble with productive conflict.

* Orth, Charles D, Wilkinson, H.E. and Benfari, R.O., ‘The Manager’s Role as Coach and Mentor’, in Organisational Dynamics, Spring 1987.

This article was written for HRINZ publication by Margaret Helman is Principal of Margaret Helman and Associates.


These examples are provided as generic examples that the employer may consider using and have been published in good faith for the general information of HRINZ Members of the Institute. HRINZ recommends employers seek independent advice before using these templates in the workplace.

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Disclaimer: This information has been written for and submitted to HRINZ for publication and has been published in good faith for the general information of HRINZ Members of the Institute. HRINZ accepts no legal responsibility for the contents of the Knowledge Base and appropriate professional advice and assistance should be sought in particular cases.

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