Sari van Poelje

personal, expert, consultant, author, Speaker

Executive Coaching Step 5: Evaluation — January 14, 2021

Executive Coaching Step 5: Evaluation

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m an executive coach, team coach and expert in business agility. On the one hand I have schools where I teach coaches and consultants to become kick ass intervention experts. And on the other hand, I help businesses, family, businesses, startups, to grow, and to thrive in these turbulent times. 

We’re talking about executive coaching. We went through a general model, contact, contract, problem definition and interventions. Now we’re at the fifth step in this iterative cycle of coaching – evaluation.

Patricia Clarkson, really helped us figure out what kind of criteria you use for your evaluation. There are other models, such as the ICF, the International Coaching Federation with a set of criteria that makes good coaching. The EMCC, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council has criteria too. But I’ll share this one with you because I think it’s to the point. 

What do I look at when I want to figure out if it’s been a good executive coaching process? 

  1. Contract realisation: The most obvious one is: did we realise the contract, the agreement we made at the beginning of the coaching together? 
  2. Key issues identified: In key issues identified you look underneath the surface of the immediate problem, to see what the obstacles are to solving these problems yourself. The executives who come to me, are successful people, but they’re stuck. We are looking for the recurring patterns they get stuck in. 
  3. Reduction of harm: The third evaluation criteria that I use is reduction of potential harm. In a previous blog I mentioned the guy who didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t do sports and wasn’t taking care of himself. Part of your evaluation criteria should be whether you have managed to reduce potential harm to the client, to his team and to the environment. 
  4. Professional and personal development: The fourth one is have I helped this person to develop not only professionally, but personally. When you are an executive leader, you are your own instrument. You can learn techniques and methods, but it’s your relationship with the people in your team and your environment that makes  you successful or not. Personal development is an integral part of your professional development and executive coaching. 
  5. Coach models process: When I contract, I want to be the change they want to achieve. So when someone says to me, for instance, I’m lonely in the organisational change process. I want to model the potential of creating partnership during the coaching process, as a model for the client to create more partnerships in their organisation. 
  6. Respectful and equal relationship: In TA we call that an okay/okay relationship. Within the coaching experience we stay  in an equal relationship, where we both respected each other as a person. People come to me and I value them as equals. I don’t get above them, I don’t go below them, I’m at the same level.

I invite you to create an evaluation form and to send this to your clients. Check to see if you’re already on the right track with these criteria. And when you’ve done that, let me know I’d love to hear your experiences with this. Good luck in your executive coaching process.

Executive Coaching Step 4: Types of Intervention (Part Two) — January 8, 2021

Executive Coaching Step 4: Types of Intervention (Part Two)

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy, we train up coaches and consultants from beginners to advanced, from team coaches to consultants. In Team Agility I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. I work with multinationals, family, businesses and startups. I’m a registered European Union startup coach. I still love my work after 35 years. So I feel very privileged and lucky to be able to contribute to better lives, better business this way. 

My book is coming out next year, so watch out for that. 

I’m talking about executive coaching. We’ve gone through a general model, contact, contract, problem definition, and the roles and interventions you could have. Now I really want to talk about what types of interventions you can do. 

I want to take you through Eric Berne’s eight operations or interventions. My students often ask me, “Now I have the executive coach clients in the room, what do I do with them?” What you do is informed by the contract or agreement about goals you made with them. You can never go quicker than your clients. 

Berne believed that doing the interventions in the right order would help you to realise the contract quickly. I don’t think executive coaching is a linear process. It’s an iterative process that goes round and round until the client is ready. 

  1. Authoritative interventions: use your own authority as a coach, to give an opinion, to instruct to suggest. What usually happens for me is the client comes in for executive coaching, I ask them if they know what they’re here for and how they can best use their time with me. This is my opening gambit. And then they tell me their story, a mixed bag of problems.

I could say, “What I’m hearing is_____. At the behavioural level, at the relational level, at the existential level….” At what level do you want to work? What is the most important thing for you to solve today?

  1. Prescriptive interventions: Prescriptive interventions are about informing and teaching. The client will come to a point where they have a lack of competency, information, or of skills. For example, if someone has a conflict with a colleague, I could offer them a model of psychological games:  “Every conflict goes through the same six steps. Would that help you if I tell you that?” That’s a prescriptive intervention. Only give information on the basis of an agreement to do so, else you slip into an expert role instead of the coaching role. 
  2. Informative interventions: The third type of intervention Berne talks about is informative. This is where I give feedback, when it’s needed and asked for (contracted). The client will ask me, “What do you think? How am I doing? In comparison to other teams, am I doing the right thing?” The feedback is informative because it helps them to calibrate where they’re at.
  3. Confrontative intervention: The fourth type of intervention Berne talks about his confrontative. Confrontation is when you hold up the mirror and help clients see a difference between what they are saying and what they’re doing. A confrontation is always constructive.

I sometimes say that in executive coaching, you are a healer that creates awareness through authoritative, prescriptive and informative interventions. But sometimes you need to be a surgeon cutting through their pattern. In confrontation you’re a truth teller. Often the executives I work with don’t have mirrors around them anymore. They have Yes, people. It’s very rare that people will confront them. Many coaches are very good at the healing part, but not very good at confrontation. To be a good surgeon, you need to know where to cut. To know where to cut, you need to develop a really good diagnostic sense. And that takes practice. 

  1. Facilitative intervention: In the facilitative intervention you are an equal partner in helping them to explore. It’s an invitation to try different roles, to look at their situation from different perspectives. Sometimes I ask them to do that literally in a constellation. Sometimes their homework is to call people at different levels in the organisation to check out their hypothesis about what is going on.
  2. Cathartic intervention: In the cathartic intervention it’s about helping them connect their body with their minds and their feelings. Often the executives I work with are split. There’s still a myth, certainly in western type organisations, that work life and private life are completely separate. Reconnecting with the body, the somatic experience helps people to connect to the neocortex understanding of a situation to take the right decision. 
  3. Catalytic interventions: Catalytic interventions happen when you paraphrase, specify, interpret, explore enough to create an aha experience. As an executive coach your observations, contracts and interventions have to be connected. 
  4. Supportive intervention: In a supportive intervention you validate, reassure, give them recognition. Often my clients feel a lack of recognition. They’re lonely at the top. We know that you can only achieve your goals as an executive team. It’s such an easy thing to do to say, “Good job, I’m happy you’re here.” It makes people feel better and also increases performance.

I had a coaching client last week, we were talking about the effects of Coronavirus, and suddenly he started to cry: “It’s so hard. I have to front this operation and reassure my people, but no one is reassuring me.” Getting recognition for the ambivalence and uncertainty you are holding as an executive is essential. This is also a function of executive coaching. To create an oasis where people get fulfilled and nurtured. 

I do these eight types of interventions always directed at realising the contract. Your client will need different types of interventions to get to that goal. It also depends on the type of client as to what types of interventions they accept. Mix it up, figure out what works for you and  for your client, Let me know.

Executive Coaching Step 4: Interventions (Part One) — December 30, 2020

Executive Coaching Step 4: Interventions (Part One)

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy, we train up coaches and consultants from beginners to advanced, from team coaches to consultants. In Team Agility I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. I work with multinationals, family, businesses and startups. I’m a registered European Union startup coach. I still love my work after 35 years. So I feel very privileged and lucky to be able to contribute to better lives, better business this way. 

In this series of vlogs and blogs I’m talking about executive coaching, and the steps and models you could use. First we talked about a general model, then we talked about contact, contract and problem definition. Now we’re going to talk about interventions in executive coaching. 

A lot of my students say: now I know what’s going on, what do I actually do with a client? The ICF, International Coaching Federation has a guideline of criteria. These are quite good as a guideline to see what kind of intervention you can do. I want to talk a bit more about what interventions you could do with a client. 

The roles you can have in executive coaching

We usually talk of four possible roles the coach has in executive coaching: facilitative and educative, then evaluative, and consultative. 

1. Facilitative

A facilitative role (right hand top corner) is the traditional role we think of when we do coaching. We support professional and personal development. And we do that through asking powerful questions, through reflection and paraphrasing, through helping facilitate self-reflection. A lot of the managers that come to me are not really good at self-reflection. They often don’t have the competency to look at what they’re doing, and the effect they have on others. In the facilitative role I help them unpick the problems and cases they bring, to reflect at a meta level what’s going on.

2. Educative

In the educational role I teach. I could ask the client thousands of questions, but really, if they’re asking me what is one plus one, I teach them two. Give them a small piece of information so they can frame their problem or frame their question themselves, and then help them to generalise their answer. 

We’re not just giving people a fish, we’re teaching them how to fish. So hopefully, they’ll solve the problem during the executive coaching, but they’ll also gain competencies to solve their own problems better in future. So part of my role in executive coaching is education. 

3. Evaluative

My third role is evaluative (bottom right). 

A client came in to executive coaching completely agitated. He looked terrible, with a grey tint underneath his skin. He was a young guy, only in his 40s. At first, he talked to me about his great organisational change role, and said he wanted help to lead it. 

I said, How much do you sleep? And he said, Oh, I sleep four hours a night. I don’t need more than that. 

I said, How long have you been doing this? He said, Since the first time I had to change the organisation, I’ve had interrupted sleep. So I wake up tired. 

Was he eating regularly? He said, I don’t really taste what I eat anymore. I go out with clients and I gained weight in the last few years. I used to play football with my friends, I stopped doing that. 

I was gathering information about his social profile, his at risk profile for getting sick. I was concerned that this guy was going to burn out. 

In that case I had an evaluative role. helping him see that it would be good to  work with someone else on improving his health at the same time. Ultimately if he burnt out there’s no point in focusing on the organisational change, because he won’t be there to do it. 

In the evaluative role people ask to help them calibrate where they are on their journey and leadership role. 

4. Consultative

The fourth role is the consultative role. This develops as time goes on. When I know a client really well, we become sparring partners . Here they’re not only concerned about their own professional and personal issues, but in the wider system and context . 

I get into this consultative role usually at the end of our executive coaching contract. It’s almost like they’re crossing a threshold by using me as a consultant, checking out if they’re in the right position, and then moving on to the next step without me. 

I invite you to check out these roles as you do executive coaching. Let me know how you get on.

Executive Coaching Step 3: Problem Definition — December 23, 2020

Executive Coaching Step 3: Problem Definition

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy. At Intact Academy, you can participate in accredited training to become a kick ass business coach or agile consultant. Within Team Agility, we help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. We’ve created a model for that. And we take you through that in 32 weeks – with a guarantee. 

I’m talking about executive coaching. I introduced the general model and the steps of contact and contract. Now I want to talk about problem definition in executive coaching. 

Problem definition is a science and an art. Where should you focus your interventions? A client will tell you about all sorts of problems at all sorts of levels. It is really important in the coaching that you help them discern what problems are root causes. This influences what you do with your client first. 

I find transactional analysis really helpful as a model for problem definition. 

The way I like to think about problems is there’s a level one behavioural, level two relational or level three existential problem that a client brings.  Sometimes they bring all three at the same time. 

Level one problem definition

First, I look for what’s happening at the behavioural level. From a TA standpoint we look at what kind of functional ego states the client is using. How are they talking to me? What are the transactions that I can see? How are they talking to me? Are they being active or passive? Are they showing me behaviours like doing nothing, agitation or violence? 

I’m also looking at how and what emotions they express. Sometimes people express emotions that are secondary, that they’ve learned to express instead of their authentic feeling. For instance, lots of guys that come to me for executive coaching (90% of my clients are men in executive positions) and express anger over fear. We call that anger a racket feeling and the authentic feeling might be the fear. 

At the first level of problem definition I’m looking for patterns of behaviour. How people say things tells you something about what’s going on for them inside. For instance, an executive says, “I’m always fighting with my boss.” During the conversation with me, I can see how he might do that as a pattern. For instance, he over adapts to me, and then he starts to challenge and compete with my position, even in the first coaching conversation. 

Level two problem definition

At the second level of problem definition I look at what might be going on inside for them. We call that the structural ego state in transactional analysis. What might they have integrated for themselves, learned from their parents, about what they must do?  What patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour might they have picked up on how to be successful?  How has this person learned to survive? 

I’m also thinking, how are they relating to me? Are they relating to me as equal? Or are they relating at an unequal level, either making themselves smaller or larger? I ask  how might this person have related to friends and family in previous parts of their life? Does that inform me in any way about how they can get into trouble in their life here and now?  It’s interesting to see how people might create symbiosis in those first sessions of coaching. 

I also look to see if they are running rackets or playing psychological games. That’s usually preceded by discounting, when they blank out potentially problem solving information in the here and now. For instance, one client came back to me because he wanted to stop smoking. He’s an intelligent guy, he knows it’s unhealthy for him, so why is he still smoking? I heard him say, “Actually, I don’t smoke that much.” When I checked, he said, “I smoke two packs a day.” I thought that’s quite a lot in my world. When I asked: what’s the problem? He said, “You know, I know it’s unhealthy in general, but I don’t have a problem with it. My father also smoked till he was 92. He was never sick a day in his life.” I could now understand how he could keep on smoking despite all his information about it. We call that discounting. I wrote an article about it in the TAJ called the resistance cycle.

At this second level I look at what’s going on in the relationship with me, and in the relationship with yourself, internally. There’s a lot more to be said about that. But I’ve done that in earlier blogs. So please look those up on YouTube. 

Level three problem definition

At the third level of problem definition I look at what historic and existential factors might play a role. Is this a repeating pattern? Something they haven’t learned in their past? Is it an identity or values question?

For instance, if they come from very conflictual families, maybe that’s the pattern they’ve gotten used to, and they repeat it later in life. Does it have to do with their narrative? The story they tell themselves about their life? We call that life script. When children are very young they make up a story about how they’re going to live, how they’re going to die, what kind of person they will be in their life. We call that life script, the bass tone in life. 

I’m already thinking about what’s the smallest step I can take in a relationship with the client to change what they’re living from their past in the here and now. 

There’s lots to think about in this problem definition stage. Let me know how you get on.

Executive Coaching Step 2: Contracting — December 17, 2020

Executive Coaching Step 2: Contracting

My name is Sari van Poelje. I’m the director of Intact Academy, we train up coaches and consultants from beginners to advanced, from team coaches to consultants. In Team Agility I help businesses innovate more quickly than their products. I work with multinationals, family, businesses and startups. I’m a registered European Union startup coach. I still love my work after 35 years. So I feel very privileged and lucky to be able to contribute to better lives, better business this way. 

Last time we said that “Contact” was really important to start with in executive coaching. Today, I’m going to talk about contracting. Contracting is really important in executive coaching. In the contract the client and I agree how we’re going to work together. Obviously, in coaching, you cannot guarantee a result. But you can agree what you’re aiming for, the steps you’re going to take, and we can hold each other accountable regarding the steps. 

Eric Berne called the contract a “bilateral commitment to a well-defined course of action.” In that definition, you can see that Berne was very practical and pragmatic, he was focused on doing not on thinking or feeling, as the result of coaching. A well-defined course of action means that you agree step one, step two, step three, etc. to reach the agreed goals.

Within coaching, we’re really co-creating the process. The client has as much to say about that, as I do. They know their own life course much better than I do. I’m the guide along the way, who’s asking the powerful questions, and giving the feedback and helping them along with bits of theory, that will help them conceptualise their experience. The client is autonomous and equal, in terms of. In that coaching moment, of course, there is a difference in position because I am guiding someone through the process this time, but maybe next time the client will be my guide.

The importance of a contract is also that we shift the focus from problems to action. As long as people are focused on how bad their situation is, it’s really difficult to think about what you’re going to do about fixing it. Some people are really dedicated to “being in trouble”. Contracting gives them hope and direction. 

Truthfully, contracting is what makes the coaching! If you don’t have a contract, you’ll probably have a good conversation, but it’s not coaching. Without a contract it is not coaching. You’ll have a great conversation in a bar, you’ll probably help your friend, but a contract really distinguishes professional coaching from having a good conversation. 

Different Levels of Contracting

Contracting has different levels:

  1. Administrative: You have an administrative contract with your client, which means that you agree together the fees, the timing, the duration, the legal side, the copyright if you use any materials. Anything that’s more legal and administrative is in this separate contract. A coach can standardise that part. Do check it with your legal advisor.
  1. Professional: The second layer of a contract is called the professional contract. In that contract, we agree on the method, the action steps. This is your added value as a professional. The client comes with a problem, you translate and conceptualise it.

Clients will come with anything to coaching, that’s their prerogative. They tell you what’s going on in their life, and as coaches we observe, we interpret, we conceptualise. Then we think about what the smallest step could be to change. That’s the professional contract – the problem we’re going to work on and the steps. 

  1. Psychological: There’s a third level of contracting, the psychological contract. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about it. Eric Berne used to come into a room with a client and say, “What am I doing here? Why me? Why now?” Those are really good questions to ask, because it focuses on why your clients pick you. The client picks you, obviously, on the basis of reputation, or the zero line of competency, but they’re also picking you on the psychological level. They’re hoping that you can help them. They’re thinking you’re bigger than their problems.

It’s interesting to figure out this counter-transference part of the contract: Why me? Why now? Why you Why now? Why are we working together? Do we fit into each other’s stories? And can we do something to make that explicit? That way you can turn the transferential relationship into a working alliance. 

At the psychological level I have a metaphor that I’m working in someone’s Coliseum, maybe the dungeons of the Colosseum of their psyche. The client invites me in, that’s already a humongous privilege. And then at that psychological level, if they trust me enough, they open the door to their Colosseum, we go down the steps together, and there are tigers and dragons and lions, and where they keep caged their own little monsters. In that psychological part we’re looking to see if I can deal with their monsters together with the client.

An executive might come to me to work on organisational change, to help lead people through it. That’s a quite common question in my case. I make an administrative contract that is usually for 10 sessions, we evaluate at the fifth session, but I need some sessions to really figure out what’s me, what’s them and how can we work together. Usually after about 10 sessions, people reach their goals in my executive coaching and come out transformed at the other end. 

At the professional contract level, coaching is both professional and personal development. Professionally, he might want to analyse the situation in the organisation, understand the priorities and test the plans of action. Personally, he might say he’s been tasked to do this change, but he feels really alone, there’s nobody around to help. That might be true or not. His personal development contract might include how he can find allies as the antidote to his feeling alone. 

At the psychological level of that contract, this feeling of loneliness might have been with him for a much longer time, it might have been archaic, one of the monsters in his Colosseum. 

And I have to ask myself: what does it touch in me? Does it resonate with me? And how can I work with him without confusing my own story with his story? And how can we deal with this explicitly in the professional contract? 

I believe that vulnerability is a strength when you do executive coaching. It’s not you as a kind of avatar, going through steps that you already know. It’s always made to measure. It’s always a vulnerable process where you both co-create what’s happening in the coaching. 

For those of you who are starting coaching these are the kind of questions to ask when you’re contracting, so you have some form of a guideline:

  1. What is the problem? Your client will tell you a multitude of things that are the problem, your task is to listen for the patterns and the silences, so you understand if it’s an incident, the problem you have to hold them in until they can think for themselves? Or if it’s something that’s recurring, a pattern and how to interact.
  2. What have you done till now?
  3. What worked? What didn’t work?
  4. What still needs to be resolved?
  5. What options do you have?
  6. What do you think you need?
  7. What do you think you need from me?
  8. How could we translate that into professional development goals and personal development goals?

At the deeper level, your task is to realise what story are they really telling you? How can you help them take the smallest step to transform their quality of life and quality of work? Try it out. Let me know.