Right here, right now

How can we be fully present for our clients when so many coaching models focus on the past – or the future, asks Vivien Whitaker, visiting research fellow, Coaching & Mentoring Research Unit, Sheffield Business School Being truly present is crucial for effective coaching. Yet many coaching models tend to take us into the past, […]


Easy decision? Think again People often assume difficult decisions are more important than easy ones, according to research published in the Journal of Consumer Research. The paper looked at why people tend to take so long choosing everyday items, such as sandwiches. The researchers from the universities of Florida and Pennsylvania, said that we confuse […]

Research matters

I see where you’re coming from Should you trust your intuition? Watch out, say Lis Merrick, senior lecturer at Sheffield Business School and Paul Stokes, deputy director of the Coaching & Mentoring Research Unit at Sheffield Hallam University At the last European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) conference in Paris, we ran a session on […]

Research Matters

Watch out for prickly clients Why are clients resisting being challenged during coaching? And what strategies do they use, asks Paul Stokes, deputy director of the Coaching & Mentoring Research Unit at Sheffield Hallam University As part of my personal doctoral research, I have been looking at the role of the client in the process […]

Research matters – Why are ethics the right thing?

Coaches face moral decisions every day, yet within these dilemmas lies the path to coaching excellence. Janet Laffin and Stephanie Sturges, senior lecturers at Sheffield Hallam Business School, explain why Coaching ethics focuses on the principles and values that affect how we conduct ourselves and make decisions in our coaching. Ethical dilemmas are an everyday […]

Research matters – What do you think you’re doing?

Research matters – does it? Really? David Wagstaff, visiting fellow at the Centre for Individual and Organisational Development, Sheffield Business School, asks some searching questions The meaning of this column’s title bothers me. Does coaching research actually matter? If so, what, and more interestingly, how, should we go about it? Some see research as a […]

Research – The art of delaying it

David Megginson, emeritus professor of HRD at Sheffield Business School, turns to the self-regulating forum, LinkedIn, for perspectives on procrastination and how to address coaching around it I decided to write this column on procrastination and, funnily enough, found I was up against time in getting it out. So, I decided to use an alternative […]

Research matters – Think outside your boxes

How should we measure performance in the current climate? By potential, not results, says Paul Stokes, deputy director of the Coaching & Mentoring Research Unit at Sheffield Hallam University

In the current economic climate, particularly in the UK public sector, we are hearing more and more about value for money, effectiveness and efficiency (see Van Doren et al, 20101). In short, many are feeling pressured to justify their own performance and that of those they manage.

People are concerned with how their performance is measured. As coaches, we are also concerned with performance. For some, however, its management has a different meaning. In his book, Coaching for Performance, Sir John Whitmore2 argues the manager “must think of his people in terms of their potential, not in terms of their performance”.

Making assumptions

He goes on: “The majority of appraisal systems are flawed for this reason. People are put in performance boxes from which it is hard for them to escape either in their own eyes or their manager’s” (Whitmore, 2009, p14).

At a recent coaching and mentoring research day at Sheffield Hallam University, a group of participants examined the idea of performance management and its relationship with coaching. Our conclusion was that, when you talk about performance management, people associate this with performance measurement and a deficit model of organisations and people.

Rightly or wrongly, we tend to associate performance management with a bundle of tools and techniques such as 360-degree feedback, competency frameworks and appraisals, which are focused on dealing with under-performance and what people are not doing well. We also debated whether the label/brand of ‘performance coaching’ tapped into the same assumptions.

Glass half empty

We concluded that there was scope for this to happen. My concern is that by deliberating using the performance coaching label and working with such performance measurement tools we, as coaches, might be colluding with a glass half empty view.

As I have pointed out, this is quite different from what many coaches, like Whitmore, intend. To borrow a phrase from the organisational theorist, Tony Watson (2006)3, such coaches would argue that people are always in “a process of becoming” rather than being fixed in terms of their competencies.

I am not saying that managers or coaches should duck the idea of managing performance. But perhaps, as so often in coaching, it comes down to the questions we ask. Hence, it may be more important to ask: “What does good performance look like here?”, rather than: “What has prevented you from delivering on this?”

My work as a coach, coaching researcher and manager-coach, has led me to believe that we can often make assumptions that people understand what good performance looks like and that the challenge is one of motivation/commitment. This is one possibility.

Another is that they do not yet understand what this looks like and that they need help in understanding good performance better. This seems to be the case, particularly with my public sector coaching clients in the current climate of cuts.

Of course, a focus on good/excellent performance is embedded in process coaching models like GROW and OSKAR, with their emphasis on success and what already works well.

Nevertheless, in our efforts to work effectively with our sponsor clients, we need to be aware of the dangers of the deficit model of performance and of being drawn into perpetuating this in our approaches to coaching.


1 W Van Doren, G Bouckaert and J Halligan, Performance Management in the Public Sector, London: Routledge, 2010

2 J Whitmore, Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose – the Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership (4th ed), London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2009

3 T Watson, Organising & Managing Work, (2nd ed), London: Prentice-Hall, 2006

Coaching at Work, Volume 6, Issue 4

Research matters – let’s keep a creative mind

Are you seeking innovative ideas to improve your practice and add value? Then get creative, says Vivien Whitaker, visiting research fellow, Coaching & Mentoring Research Centre, Sheffield Business School Coaching can involve more than one-to-one dialogue. Different insights may be gained from using creative methods of working together, as well as talking. Tapping the latent […]