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The benefits of coaching

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01 July 2011, at 1:00am

CHRIS WHIPP discusses various aspects of coaching, explaining what it is about and which groups in the veterinary profession are likely to benefit most from it

THE recent decision to make “clinical coaching” a central component of the new veterinary nurse training scheme has both brought the subject to centre stage and raised concerns regarding the training of these clinical coaches if they are to fulfil their role properly. 

Training clinical coaches just for the VN scheme may not be viable but taking the opportunity to introduce coaching to other groups within the practice may offer significant advantages to the practice. 

One of the most significant benefits is that it offers the opportunity for “double development” in that being involved in a coaching relationship is often of as great or greater benefit to the coach than the coachee. 

The decisions about our training and CPD should, wherever possible, be evidence-based and, through the Best Evidence Veterinary Medical Education (BEVME) initiative, questionnaires have been completed by both clinical coaches and their trainers at the VN colleges with a view to identifying and addressing the concerns that currently exist. 

The RCVS has been supportive of this independent review and will be supplied with a copy of the findings. The results of the questionnaires will be published next month but, because coaching is not well understood within the profession, this article will look at what coaching is and what are the benefits to practices of getting involved. 

There are various definitions of coaching; my two favourites are shown in the panel. 

Coaching has been around since the time of Socrates when his followers used questioning as a way of building and strengthening new knowledge. Coaching in its modern form really started in the early 1970s with the likes of the entrepreneur Sir John Whitmore and Harvard Professor Timothy Gallwey, who recognised, modified and transferred sports coaching into the business arena. 

Central to this transfer was the recognition that a person’s performance was not just defined by external factors but also by their own way of thinking and being. 

As the years have gone by and the world has become faster moving and more complex, this has become ever more true and as we progress into the 21st century, coaching has become central to the challenges faced by both individuals and organisations. 

Coaching is not difficult: it is about asking questions to help another person find his or her own answers to problems and challenges. It is simple but not easy in that a new set of skills is needed, skills that are often counterintuitive in the early days. 

Coaching works best with intelligent high-achievers (Zenner et al, 2005) but intelligent high-achievers often have problems with learning in the workplace (Agyris, 1991): coaching provides the bridge to assist that journey. 

Coaching is not mentoring, training, assessing, remedial or another form of psychotherapy. It is an adult learning opportunity that costs relatively little to implement in a practice, is relatively easy to learn with proper training, encourages relevant workplace learning and builds a range of skills and attributes in the coachee, the coach and potentially the practice. 

Equally, poor training or inappropriate choice of coach can lead to damaging and ethically inappropriate outcomes. 

Whilst many businesses are now seeking to embed coaching as an element of their organisational culture, it is generally best to start small and the relevance of coaching with regard to three target groups will be mentioned. The needs of each group are quite different but the process of coaching is the same, which means that experience developed by the coaches can be used flexibly in the other areas.

Veterinary nurse trainees 

The most important thing here is not to panic; most of the skills required are the same as with the old VN scheme and relate to mentoring, teaching, training, assessing and guiding. 

The coaching here is a relatively limited, but potentially important, component that helps VN trainees make the transition to adult learning and encourages them to take responsibility for their own development, developing the skills and attributes (Diagram 1) which will encourage them to become responsible, useful members of the practice. 

Many will not be sufficiently mature for true coaching and this should be recognised and respected with more of a mentoring approach adopted.

New graduates 

This is possibly the group that will most justify the introduction of coaching in that the potential benefits to the practice, the coach and the graduate are the greatest. 

Transition into practice is frequently a profound transformational learning experience (Mezirow, 1985) for which the graduate is frequently unprepared and largely unsupported through the PDP. 

Because levels of readiness for self-directed learning tend to fall through the undergraduate course (Kell and Van Deursen, 2000), these need to be developed and a coaching relationship is an ideal vehicle for this, being a significant development opportunity for both the coach and the coachee. 

It is to be expected that the proper development of the skills and attributes referred to in Diagram 1 will mean the graduate will break even quicker and may stay longer in the practice. 

For the coach, this can prove to be a valuable and fulfilling development opportunity.

EMS students 

Coaching is an ideal methodology to encourage the development of the self-directed learning skills that the student is going to need after graduation; it can also provide a way to allow them to become more engaged with their practice experience whilst providing their coach with a deeper, more fulfilling experience as well. 

Practice owners and partners also have much to gain from being coached but this really relates to the use of external coaches and is therefore outside the remit of this article.

References 

Argyris, C. (1991) Teaching Smart People How to Learn. Harvard Business Review May-June: 99-109. 

Kell, C. and Van Deursen, R. (2000) Medical Teacher 22 (2): 160-163. Mezirow, J. (1985) Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: a guide to transformative and emancipatory learning. Jossey Bass: pp1-20. 

Starr, J. (2003) The Coaching Manual. London: Pearson Education. Stober, D.R. and Grant, A. M. (2006) Evidence Based Coaching Handbook. Hoboken, New Jersey. John Wiley & Sons. 

Whitmore, J. (1992) Coaching for Performance. London: Nicholas 

Brearley. Zenner, D., Burns, G. A., Ruby, K. L., DeBowes, R. M. and Stoll, S. K. (2005) Veterinary Students as Elite Performers – Preliminary Insights JVME 32 (2): 242248.