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What happens in a Coaching Program?

Graham is back to share what a coaching program looks like, how it progresses, the steps you as the coachee are required to take to achieve your stated goals, and how you might feel along the way...



I thought would be talking about how what happens in a coaching program and how it feels to be a coachee. What is the experience like? I have been coached myself, so I know what that's like, and clearly, I've coached a lot of people so I've also sat on the other side of the desk.

I thought I'd start by giving an outline of what a coaching program looks like, and then we can talk about individual program elements and individual coaching sessions.

A coaching program is typically around a series of objectives, goals. Four, five or six really big things that the person wants to change in their life or in their career. They can be a combination of what they know they want to address and what they believe, or they agree, that their sponsor (the person paying the bill) wants to work on.

There's very rarely a definition of the problem to be solved; it's more ‘I want to get better at learning to deal with X’. A typical coaching program often lasts between six and twelve months with a monthly session of about two hours, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter.

The space between each session is for the coachee to work on the things they've committed to doing. In simple terms, the coachee has identified the things they want to change in their life and their career, the big things, and as each session unfolds, they agree that they're going to do certain things differently on each of those goals and objectives.

To make the progress that they're looking for (and in reality, it's a cumulative process) you don't identify the problem in session one and then put it to bed by session two, usually, they are big meaty subjects, so there's a journey that they're going on through the course of the program, and each session is a review of that progress in the previous month, and the lessons learned, celebrating success and planning work for the next session the next month. It can be a very wide-ranging conversation, as you can probably imagine. As a coach, you are committing to change in your life. As a coach, you're looking to find ways to help them do that, to think about how they might do that, and then to hold them accountable for things they promised that they would do for themselves during the course of that program, you're also a support function.

Not everything goes right. Sometimes things happen along the way that we weren't expecting and you help them pick up and make the most of those situations. Occasionally some of the goals do get put to bed during the course of the program and you can add new ones along the way if you choose to.

So, as a coachee, what's it like? Well, the first thing is having a conversation around the ground rules before the coaching program starts. Outline the program itself and some of the tools that might be being used, as well as the program. So, for example, are they going to take a psychometric test? Are they going to do a 360-degree feedback survey? Are they going to do some background reading or some specific learning on a particular subject? In that early pre-program meeting think very deeply about the priority of the things they want to work on; the half a dozen or so things in their life, that they really, really want to change.

There's no point in doing small things. There's no point doing stuff that's not important or that’s not going to generate a level of emotion to be used as energy, because it's a waste of everybody's time and money.

When we get to the first session, having already identified what the main goals are as a coach, I'd spend quite a bit of time in the first session unpacking each of those to be sure we really understand the issue that's at stake. If it's a relationship issue, what is it about the relationship? How does it manifest? What are the problems that it generates? Not necessarily what the causes of it are, but what is it at the heart of this relationship? That's a problem.

If it's a hard skill; it's just public speaking, go through examples of where there's been a problem, go through examples of the impact it's had on them in the past.

You spend the first part of the first session clarifying precisely the challenge that they're trying to meet, and then you move on to a conversation around ‘What could be different? What would you like to experiment with, or try to do differently? That's going to give you a better outcome.

If you do that for half a dozen or so key objectives, you'll get a small number for each objective or things that are going to be tried in the coming month, but it adds up to quarterly; two times six is twelve so that's twelve things they're doing that weren't previously doing. Some of them can be big or can be risky. Some of them can be adventurous. Some are going to involve a lot of time. If it's a studying program, they've got to learn something.

Then we get to the next session; session two. We're going to look at what happened. I personally do a session record at the end of each session, I send the coachee a short summary of what we've said we're talking about, and then a list of the things I committed to doing between that session and the next, and all of that counts within the overall coaching goals for that program. We use this session record as the prompt, as the starting point for asking ‘How did that go? What was the learning? What went really well? What was not so successful?’. Then move on to the next phase of asking ‘What are you going to do next?’ What happens in the next month? How do you move this to another level? So, having gotten the learning, having got the experience of progress, how do you build on it and take yourself forward from here?

Clearly, you then get to session three and it's a repeat of the same process, but completely different content. Clearly, you have no idea what you're going to be presented with as a coach, as to what the outcomes have been. And clearly, they're not all going to have been successful. Some will be difficult.

As the client goes through the program, bearing in mind, we're now talking about months, other things may well have arisen. Something of the moment may have occurred that they need to talk about and get advice on and you're not going to say ‘that's not on the list’. If it's important to them, you're going to give them the time that you think they need without losing focus on the rest of the goals.

These session dates are in your diary, you know that they're coming and you know that you are either going to meet your coach face-to-face or you're going to do it online. You know that accountability is coming; I was going to do these things and I've either done them or I haven't, I've either been successful or I've failed. So, the date in the diary is a crucial and critical part of the program. It's a milestone moment when you get to review what's going on and plan the next step.

Sessions for me are closed; they are strictly between me and the coachee so that they can be as open and as honest as they need to be, and they can share feelings and emotions, they can explore anything. If they feel they need to explore, that's going to enable them to make the progress that they need to make.

I'm not going to go to tell anybody (as I've said in previous conversations, I'm only going to be concerned about the confidentiality if they tell me they're committing a crime, or they're doing something to the detriment of the sponsor, the person who's paying the bill) because that way they can genuinely trust me, they can genuinely get the best from the program.

I do often have a halfway point review with the sponsor. Now, this is not a three-way conversation. This is a one-way conversation with me and the sponsor. I'll tell them what I think is the generality of progress. Doing very well, very committed. They do the things I say, the games too. I see real change in this and that. Then I encourage the sponsor to tell me what they did. Do you see changes in behaviour? Do you see things you're pleased about? Do you have any concerns? Nine times out of ten they are seeing the progress they want. They are pleased with what's going on and it's not normally a difficult conversation.

As we move into the second half of the program, you're probably dealing with somebody who has really delved into the nitty-gritty of the problems that they're trying to address, the challenges that they're trying to overcome. So, you're probably now down to the tricky bits, the hard graft, the risky piece that needs to be tackled and persevered.

It could be that it's just new habits. They've got to really now adopt new ways of doing things as a de facto position. It could be the relationship they've been trying to work on has got to a stage where they have shifted it, but they've still not bought it to the level that they would like it to be. Therefore there's more risk to be taken. There's more work to be put in.

If it's a hard skill that they've been teaching themselves; I've been learning the actual application experience of that skill is beginning to show them why it was difficult in the first place. What you're seeing is you eating the elephant one mouthful at a time one month at a time. You have all of these goals, half a dozen or so, and you are progressively tackling them and building on that success and continuously adding to the progress that you've made. So, when you get to the end of the program, which could be six months, could be twelve months, you'd look back and you'd say ‘wow, haven't I come a long way.

I don't just wait for the end of the program. If I get to the halfway mark, I might do a review. If I get to the three of them or I might do a review. Clearly, in the end, I do a review; you started here, where do you think you are now? This is what you wanted to achieve. Do you believe you've achieved it or you've achieved more? As you come to the end of the program, celebrating the success, understanding the journey that you've been on is enormous in terms of not taking it for granted.

As you've gone through those six months, nine months, twelve months, the coach has achieved a great deal - they have now achieved a level of performance, a level of comfort that they think they've had all the time. Celebrating that success is important to understand that there might even be further work at a later date.

I like coaching programs to have a beginning and an end. I like them to be objective related. I like them to be change-focused. I don't want a series of ongoing conversations, helpful and supportive as they may be, but they're not actually addressing issues. They're not actually adding to the capability of the individual.

I have people, teams of people, that I've coached for many years, but usually there's a gap between each program. Usually, we start with a series of objectives. We achieve them, then they stop and then we pick up again, 3, 4, 5, 6 months later. Sometimes, in a team, there are new entrants to that team, or sometimes there are people that have left; either way, the journey is personal, either way, the progress that's made, the experience that's had is entirely unique to the coach and it's entirely for them to set the pace. It is entirely for them to be satisfied or otherwise with the progress that they've made. Clearly, the sponsor wants to see progress; that's what he or she's paid for, but nonetheless, the important thing is one single journey for the individual.


So, there you have it, the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 30-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.

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