When you’re on a coaching journey with a client, you’re looking at it through the context of the individual or the group you’re coaching. The focus remains largely on the conversations that take place in the actual coaching sessions and what comes out of it. This is done by the coach, by asking questions and creating openings for the client to reflect. Now, all of this takes place in a closed-loop, wherein the coach and client are in a vacuum, a silo. And to ensure that it doesn’t remain in a silo, the role of data and feedback in coaching becomes rather important.
Self vs Other
To bring data in the coaching journey, you can use a psychometric tool – such as the Hogan Assessment, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or EQi – which essentially asks your client to answer a set of questions following which the tool generates results or a profile which best fits the client. By getting your clients to use such a tool, you are encouraging your client to get better insights about themselves using data points. And while that is invaluable, in a coaching context it is still only providing the client a deeper look into their own view of themselves.
The reality is that you don’t know what your face truly looks like, i.e., you can either see your face as a reflection in the mirror or in a photograph of yourself. It is only a third person who can actually see your face the way it really is. So, when you ask for feedback in coaching, the idea is that you want to get closer to seeing the real you from the outside and what that view is like. So, when asking for feedback from those around you, you can ask questions such as ‘how good am I as a leader/manager/communicator?’. When you do so, you’re asking for feedback about various aspects of who you are, what you do, and how you do it. And if a sufficient number of people give you similar kinds of answers, then you get to know whether quality or an attribute is a strength or a development area.
“Data from feedback allows you to calibrate between your own self-image and what is being seen by others”
Three stages of feedback data
In a coaching journey, bringing up feedback upfront allows the client to understand how they are being perceived by their peers, seniors, subordinates, and other stakeholders (if any). You want to direct the client to ask for feedback to be able to better guide the client towards a desirable outcome.
You also want to know if your coaching is helping your client, if there is an impact, and if there is a change required. And getting feedback on your client in that regard helps answer those questions.
So, to make this into a comprehensive practice, you can spread out your feedback over three stages (the same can be extended by the client towards his peers & stakeholders in all stages) –
1) In the beginning of the coaching journey to set the direction. This initial 360 degree also helps to assess whether the client is really ready for a change or not. If they are struggling to accept the reality which they are being confronted with during the feedback process, then the coach can modify the way they work with clients accordingly.
2) Another feedback in coaching can be taken at the middle of the journey (say 3 months into a 6-month coaching contract) – this can help you see how the client has progressed so far and if there needs to be any course correction. For instance, has their anger management issue gotten worse or better or there has been no change?
3) The last feedback can be taken at the end of the coaching journey to help understand their view of the coaching journey as a whole and the progress of the client in their respective role in their organization. These mini self & stakeholder feedback rounds help calibrate the coach with the client in their unique journey.
There’s feedback, and then there’s feedforward
The Feedforward concept was pioneered by Marshall Goldsmith. Let’s say a client wants to get better at delegation; you can go ahead and look for several articles and papers on the same on Google to gain knowledge. But all of that information on the internet may not be relevant to the client’s journey or organization. If they were to ask their own peers and stakeholders, they would get specific ideas on what to change and how to do so in their daily work lives.
Feedback – looking at the past and looking for loopholes.
Feedforward – looking for ideas that are relevant to you and that work for you.
You can employ feedforward at the start of an engagement itself to see if your client can get valuable ideas to get better. By getting both feedback and feedforward, you can get a well-rounded perspective.
When coaching, by bringing the aspect of feedback, you’re essentially bringing in data into the coaching journey – which ends up adding a lot more perspective. As a coach, it can help you see how can you help your clients get better, even beyond your abilities as a coach, which is where the data becomes invaluable. By bringing in data into coaching, it helps you accelerate change for the client