The Goldilocks Test In Coaching And Mentoring

Are you working “on” yourself and your business enough?

One of the challenges of being a busy executive, business owners or independent professional is that you are often time poor. Ironically though, if you don’t change where you are headed you are likely to end up where you are going. That is, unless you regularly take time out to diagnose, assess and upgrade your management and leadership style, it becomes increasingly difficult to cultivate high-performance habits. Like all forms of investing, taking time out of your business to work on your business / career / lifestyle design is an upfront investment required to produce a positive ROI (return on investment).

In the children’s story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the little girl Goldilocks ends up choosing the porridge (then the chair and then the bed) that is “…not too hot, not too cold, but just right.” Shopping for a coaching and mentoring program can be similar – it’s not always easy to find the provider or program that feels just right.

One of the obstacles you face in designing an executive coaching or business mentoring program for yourself or your team (or someone on your team if you are sponsoring his/her/their development) is matching the program format to your needs.

Applying The Goldilocks Test

Form follows function is a principle originally associated with modernist architecture and industrial design in the 20th century. The principle is that the shape of a building or object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.

The form follows function principle equally applies to the design of a coaching or mentoring program. Your program goals and objectives should drive your program format. For example, a professional development and change management program designed to address transformational goals like a merger or acquisition (addressing big issues or big opportunities) versus one intended to nurture continuous growth and improvement (for further developing a star performer, for example) should be constructed differently. Likewise, if you find yourself in a difficult or reactive situation, you may need more intensive, frequent and sustained support with limited breaks between sessions compared to someone proactively coming to coaching or mentoring, looking to elevate their performance from good to great.

Tailoring Your Program To Meet Your Most Important Development Priorities

In essence, the design of a professional coaching or mentoring program format is driven by five dimensions. Considering (and eventually answering) the following five questions with assistance from your preferred coach / mentor will help your program take a customised shape:

  1. Frequency: How many sessions you will have with your coach per month?
    Normal formats are 2-3 sessions per month, particularly when you are getting started with a new coach or mentor. However, if you (or your team or business) are going through a period of rapid change or need to respond to an unexpected challenge or opportunity, you may want to have 4-12 sessions per month. Subsequent programs with the same coach may be less frequent, e.g. 1 session per month or quarter, to help keep you on-track once solid foundations have been laid until you encounter another period of concentrated change or evolution.
  2. Intensity: How long your sessions will last?
    Popular lengths of time for coaching and mentoring sessions are 45-50-60 minutes or 75-80-90 minutes. However, some people prefer 20-30 minute meetings or 110-120 minute meetings, for example. I’ve also conducted sessions with clients before that go for half a day, an entire day or several days (board retreats, strategic advances, vision quests, etc).
  3. Duration: How long will your program last?
    The most common terms for coaching and mentoring programs are 3 months, 6 months and 12 months?
  4. Breaks: Are there any breaks built into the program?
    Some longer-term programs; like the 12-month Professional Partnership Program offered by nLIVEn, also include programmed break months. nLIVEn schedules program breaks during July-December-January each year, based on an “on-season” and “off-season” metaphor from the world of professional sport. Therefore, a 12-month program might include 9 active months and 3 less active months, in terms of accelerating your personal and professional development. Likewise, if your program is comprised of 4 sessions per month, you’ll automatically have a 1-week break every third month, during the thirteenth week of each quarter. If you think you would like to meet with you professional coach or mentor intensively (e.g. a session every week for 26 weeks in a row), make sure you discuss this with them to see whether they can accommodate your preference.
  5. Support: Are ad-hoc phone and email support between sessions available and included in the program fees or charged separately?
    Some practitioners encourage their clients to contact them for assistance between sessions and see this as a natural part of the coaching / mentoring process. Some practitioners confine their support to the formal sessions that comprise a program. Other coaches / mentors (including nLIVEn) offer a combination of the two: free ad-hoc support for 5-10 minute discussion items and additional fees for assistance troubleshooting obstacles and opportunities that require more extensive consideration.

Ready, Fire, Aim

Having said that, a coaching or mentoring program can adapt to your changing needs over the duration of your program. Here are some scenarios we’ve seen over the past decades of assisting clients across a broad cross-section of industries:

  • 3 months into his 12-month Professional Partnership Program with nLIVEn, Tony unexpectedly found himself having to navigate the exit of his two founding business partners from a well-established professional service firm. He increased the frequency of his sessions to support him successfully lead the remaining team through a turbulent period of change.
  • 6 months into her 12-month Professional Partnership Program with nLIVEn, the misfortunate death of Donna’s mother lead Donna to request a three-month deferral of her program to grieve her loss.
  • 7 months into her 12-month Professional Partnership Program with nLIVEn, Amy received a promotion to the position of CEO. Once the jubilation of her new career opportunity wore off, Amy started to feel overwhelmed with the competing demands and stress of her new role. An obvious opportunity to reduce her commitments and reclaim some valuable time might be to decrease the frequency of her coaching sessions. However, when Amy had the chance to discuss this in her next session and consider more clearly the leverage that her program with nLIVEn provided – in terms of fast-tracking the resolution of issues and the making of strategic decisions – Amy concluded that it was prudent to maintain the original program design.
  • 1 month into his 12-month Professional Partnership Program with nLIVEn, Luke realised that he was under-investing into his personal and professional development program. Having worked his way up to the position of CEO of a family business, he quickly determined through his initial sessions that his program could provide a practical way to fast-track his decision making. He subsequently increased the frequency of his sessions (from 2 to 4 sessions per month) as well as the intensity of his program design (from 50 to 80-minute sessions).

As we work with clients through their first 3-4 sessions to establish detailed project objectives (both qualitative and quantitative) to be achieved over the course of their 12-month program with nLIVEn, it is common that clients develop both an augmented understanding and enlarged vision of the opportunities that lie before them.

Therefore, don’t try and overly perfect the design of your coaching or mentoring program before you get started. Remember the words of wisdom of young Goldilocks and apply them herein: find a coach or mentor that feels just right and then entrust your development to them.

It is simply the smartest, easiest and most enjoyable way to ensure you are consistently working “on” yourself and your business enough.

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