How to Keep Coaching Simple

training and coaching strategy

If coaching is to succeed, it must be simple and specific.

That's why I am a big believer in flash cards. Maybe this goes back to my childhood when my patient mother used them to help me learn phonetics, words, and arithmetic. [The latter two I mastered, but I still struggle with the former.]

Part of coaching involves giving performers information they can use to improve their behaviours in specific areas, communication, delegation, supervision, and motivation. While it is up to each and every individual undergoing coaching to devise his or her own strategies and tactics, the coach can play a helpful role by providing tips for how to do something better.

Call it a memory tool or job aid. Next time you are in a bookstore stroll over to the medical books section. There you will find rows of card-size job aides that medical practitioners use to help do their jobs as nurses and technicians. Surgeons use something similar with checklists -- action steps that help them keep to standard protocols when doing surgical procedures. [Antul Gawande M.D., a general surgeon, and best-selling author, wrote about in his book The Checklist Manifesto.]

The beauty of a flash card coaching is focus, isolate the issue and specificity, do something! Using flashcards is something I learned from fellow executive coach, Kathy Macdonald who uses them in her practice. [And yes I do print out these steps on 3x5 cards so they can be tucked unobtrusively into a notepad binder or folder.]

Here's an example of one I use to help people improve their communications:

  • Plan your message.
  • Listen more than you speak.
  • Read reactions of listeners.
  • Invite questions.
  • Check for understanding.

Or consider this approach to coaching an employee:

  • Focus on performance.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Identify motivators.
  • Have a conversation.
  • Gain agreement.
  • Follow up (and through).


Flashcard coaching can be even be used when an issue seems complicated and even overwhelming. When those occasions arise, it may be necessary to take a step back and size up its scope. And if that is the case, then you might try the following three steps:

Square the circle. Focus on the core problem and its root causes, not peripheral ones that may be clouding the picture.

Determine action steps. Be specific about what you can do as well as what you cannot do. That is, you cannot control the situation, but you can control how you react to the situation.

Move forward. Take action when called for. The wait and see approach seldom works in problem situations.

Of course, there are limitations to using flash cards in coaching. For example, when a performer is dealing with a tough boss, negotiating with a colleague, or discussing a vexing business problem, he or she needs to talk through the issue not refer to a 3x5 card.

What's more, flash cards are NOT written on stone tablets. I like to encourage people who use them to improvise, that is, use them as guidelines but feel free to come up with action steps that are better or more targeted for the issues at hand.

Flashcards do not guarantee results, but they can help you become attentive to what you need to improve and focus on specifics actions you need to take to improve, in other words, flashcards help keep coaching simple.

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