Coaching Skills Training – Additional Impact for Direct Service Providers
Originally published in Coaching for Transformation
In addition to the benefits an organization derives from creating a coaching culture, providing coaching skills training to the organization’s direct service providers changes how they work with their clients. Neighbor Works America, Annie E. Casey Foundation and LISC comprehensive services initiatives are investing in coaching to support long-term client engagement. This approach helps clients achieve significant outcomes, not just short term goals. With this “coach approach,” direct service providers integrate the skills of coaching into their existing skill set, to empower staff and clients in ways that bring out aliveness and responsibility. As an added benefit, the staff are more excited and less burned out.
Just by adding the skills of empowering questions, acknowledgment, challenges, requests and accountability, direct service providers improve their effectiveness. People who do direct-service work in a nonprofit are required to support clients to reach measurable outcomes. For example, in financial literacy work, each client is required to save “x” dollars a month, or they’re required to set up a budget by a certain date, in order to continue receiving services from the nonprofit organization. By adding coaching skills to their toolbox, financial counselors don’t replace what they already do well, but instead add coaching skills to enhance their ability to work more effectively.
In the Early Childhood Connections project in Battle Creek, Michigan, family coaches coach family leaders (heads of families could be parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or others).
Coaching becomes the service delivery model and all the staff and coaches receive coaching for themselves, and coaching training to build their skills. This builds a common delivery language and methodology for staff and a consistent service expectation for families.
Housing-based resident services coordinators, financial educators and financial coaches who attended coach training found that they work differently with clients as a result of the training. In their evaluations, they describe how they have changed the way they interact with clients. They wrote that they:
Use open-ended (empowering) questions to help clients learn about themselves and shape their own goals and action plans.
Listen differently. Use curiosity and focused listening to get the “real issues.” Listen for who clients are and what they are saying rather than focusing on who they want them to be.
Judge less, view their clients as whole and resourceful and as a result, clients don’t feel threatened. No longer try to solve clients’ problems—help them shape their own ideas about what to do.
Help clients identify their own values and take actions consistent with those values. Find clients are taking more responsibility for making plans and acting to improve their lives, and they are holding themselves accountable for their results.
As part of the evaluation, the direct service providers told stories about how they used coaching to make a difference in clients’ lives:
When reviewing credit reports, I would immediately focus on the credit score and dictate what needed to be done to correct mistakes and raise the score. This approach was often difficult for clients to hear and respond to—especially when the score was very low. Now I have conversations with clients first (values, goals in life), and relate the credit report to what the client wants to do with his/her life. By helping clients put the credit score in perspective (only one tool), and asking powerful questions about what can be done to improve the score, and other steps clients can take to reach goals (such as borrowing from family/friends or improving the business plan), I am able to help clients move closer to their goals.
A client was requesting emergency food help. I asked powerful questions to find out why she ran out of food this month. The client then revealed an unattended health problem, and I helped her find medical assistance as well as the food.
I was writing a service plan with a client. When it came to the education plan the client became lethargic. During the conversation the client mentioned cosmetology—that she had tried to take a class in the past, but it fell through. I asked what it feels like when you think about being a cosmetologist. She perked up and got excited. I fed back to her the excitement she showed about cosmetology and helped her work through her belief that she couldn’t do it. She wanted it for 10 years, but hadn’t done it. When she came back the following week she had enrolled. She said it was the first time anyone asked her what she really wanted to do—and believed that she could do it.
We learned strong listening skills—to help clients formulate their own agenda. In this training I really began to understand how to be there for my clients without imposing my opinions and judgments on them. I finally understand “client-centered listening” and it has had a tremendous impact on my conversations with clients, co-workers and partners. I have a much better understanding of their goals, hopes and concerns than I did previously.
Coach training taught us how to shift responsibility for problem-solving away from the resident services staff to the residents themselves.
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