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Brilliant coaching questions to deliver real results!

Brilliant coaching questions to deliver real results!

by Judith Hirst, Greenbank’s Head of Leadership Development

In the current flexible working environment, we are finding that many leaders and professionals are finding 1-1 coaching absolutely vital.  Teams and Zoom both work  for coaching conversations and  it fits into a busy, multi-processing flexible working environment.

Similarly, we are finding that 360o feedback also works for the same reason – particularly if it includes significant qualitative free-text feedback, not just numbers & graphs.

So – put the two together and you have a great basis for a solid development plan – but how can you make sure that the feedback is actually used to drive individual development and performance – and not just be ‘aspirational’…

As a coach, my heart sinks when I see action plans with statements such as:

  • ‘Increase communication with my team’
  • ‘Become a better listener’
  • ‘Delegate more’
  • ‘Develop my internal and external network’

Don’t get me wrong, all of these are admirable aspirations but frankly without some work, the chances of a successful outcome are fairly slim.

Good coaching can help to turn these broad aims into SMART Goals – so here are some ideas and specific coaching questions you might use – especially if you are remotely coaching your team

Make success tangible by focusing on outcomes

The problem with goals like ‘Delegate more’ is that they focus on activity rather than outcomes. Delegation is not valuable in its own right but because of what it helps us to achieve; such as developing team members, increasing accountability, reducing firefighting and giving more time for other strategic activities.

The ‘goals’ above are a great starting point – they just need to be refined so that they focus on an outcome that can be used to track, monitor progress and measure success.

Coaching questions which can help this process…

  • Why is this goal important to you/others? What tangible difference will it make?
  • How will you know that you have been successful/what will success look like?
  • What will be the benefits to you/others when you are successful?
  • How will you measure your progress along the way?
  • How specifically will you measure how successful you have been?

Get them to consider what could get in the way

Optimism and positive thinking can be a great source of energy.  At the same time, it’s useful for a coachee to think about the potential blocks to success at an early stage in action planning.

These blocks might be lack of time, information or their own comfort zones – all of which might get in the way.  As a coach it is important to help individuals understand that changing behaviour is not easy – there will be things that can frustrate even the best of intentions and it is better they are aware of those blocks and have a plan right from the start on how to overcome them.

Coaching questions which can help this process…

  • What could get in the way & stop you being successful?
  • How might you block yourself?
  • Based on your past experience, what has previously got in the way of you making these sorts of changes?
  • How could you increase your likelihood of success?

Keep it positive – build on strengths

It is far more motivating to move towards something we want to achieve rather than focussing on fixing a fault. This is backed up by research from organisations such as Zenger & Folkman which shows a clear link between building exceptional strengths (rather than just focusing on neutralising weaknesses) and tangible performance.

So the first step is to pin down their key strengths (eg those identified in the 360o feedback)  How could they be strengthened to make them ‘World Class’?

Coaching questions to help do this…

  • What do you see as the top 3 strengths emerging from your feedback?
  • Which of these strengths is key to your current and future success?
  • How could you make this strength more visible to others?
  • How could you apply this strength…
    1. in more – possibly more complex situations?
    2. with different groups or individuals?
    3. to coach or mentor someone else?

Big Bang versus Baby Steps

Even in a normal work environment, personal change is tough. It’s hard work and takes time and considerable energy. New approaches don’t usually work perfectly first time around and when they don’t it can be all too easy to become dispirited and return to our normal, habitual ways of working.

So we need to keep action plans both relevant and realistic.

For instance; I worked recently with someone who was working every evening and most weekends and they felt really stressed at the impact it was having on their work, their health and their relationships.  This pattern had developed over many years so any big change felt far too risky for him to make. The first step he finally decided on was that just ONE evening a week he would stop working by 6 o’clock and that he would not keep his phone by the side of his bed at night!  Small baby steps – but working in the right direction. Even these felt quite risky and uncomfortable –they were a stretch but a stretch that he felt able to do and be successful. After a few weeks he had built the confidence to take the next step towards his overall goal.

Coaching questions that could help…

  • Are there any quick wins that would make an immediate impact for you and others?
  • What one change would make the biggest, positive difference to your reputation?
  • What one small change would make the biggest positive difference to you personally?
  • On a scale of 1-10 where would you rate your current performance? What has helped you achieve that level so far? How could you use that experience to move that rating up just one point?

Share goals and plans with others

If we fail to put our private plans into action by letting our goals slip off our ‘to do’ list, it can be easy to forget about them. After all, who will be any the wiser?  But if we have made our plans more public it is a very different matter. Recent neuroscience studies (eg Cialdini) have shown us how this works – if we promise to do something and then don’t follow through it creates discomfort – the technical term being cognitive dissonance. It is the reason that at the end of all of our training we ask participants to share a key commitment to action with their colleagues. Speaking it out loud increases the chances of the words turning into action.

So sharing development goals and action plans with others – whether with a selected, trusted few or more widely – can be a vital element in assuring success.

Coaching questions which can support this are…:

  • Who could help you in achieving this goal?
  • Whose support and advice would you value/find useful?
  • Who will you ask for feedback to track how you are progressing with your goal?
  • How will you involve your manager/others in your development action planning?

Development Options for the Time Poor

At the moment, there just never seems to be enough hours in the day to do everything – both in terms of work and the demands on our time that we have outside of work. All too often personal development (important but seemingly not urgent) is the first thing to be squeezed out of the schedule. So we need to be realistic about what can be achieved.

So how do we fit development plans into an already crammed schedule? How can development be linked so closely to our day job that it compliments rather than competes for our attention? And how can we find development activities that fit into a busy home schedule more easily.

Coaching questions which can help develop these ideas…:

  • How can you build your development actions into your day-to-day work schedule?
  • How and when will you review your progress? When can you realistically take 10-15 minutes each week to review your personal development goals and track your progress and what has worked well or not so well?
  • When successful, what action on your plan will actually save you time and energy in the future?


No doubt there are many other ideas that can help avoid those ‘New Year Resolution’ action plans and help turn the energy stimulated by 360 degree feedback into an actionable plan which will encourage on-going development and help people to grow and succeed.

This is a topic dear to my own heart and I would love to hear from others about their experience of how to help build motivating and sustainable action plans for development. So how do you make sure that the learning from 360 degree feedback is translated into action?

About Greenbank, Coaching & 360° Feedback

Greenbank are a global consultancy specialising in Leadership Development and Driving Sales Growth. 

Our Leadership Practice includes 1-1 coaching as well as training programmes and we are now working with clients to deliver both coaching and training virtually as well as face-to-face. We also have over 30 years’ experience of running 360-degree surveys and have developed our own industry-leading 360 platform, Navigator360 which we also make available both for clients to use internally and to other training organisations.

If you would like to know more about our Leadership work or Navigator360, then please drop us a note and we would be delighted to help! 


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About Greenbank

Greenbank are an innovative, ‘boutique’ consultancy delivering completely tailored leadership, negotiation and sales development programmes to clients ranging from top 5 global firms to tech start-ups.

We are now delighted to be running truly blended programmes, which make the most of both virtual platforms and interactive face-to-face workshops, to deliver motivational, cost-effective development.

We also have our own industry-leading, multi-lingual, 360° assessment platform, Navigator360 which provides our clients and other training providers with a completely flexible approach to gathering powerful confidential feedback.

If you would like to discuss how we can help your own sales or leadership teams, then we would be delighted to have a relaxed conversation – please contact Ian Hirst or (+44) 7812 074359.