A Guide to Client Potential Vs. Readiness

As coaches and champions of people, those that support individuals and organizations to grow have a unique opportunity. We have the privilege of motivating and inspiring people to take action which impacts groups, teams and communities. There is nothing greater than watching a direct report, client or organization SOAR.

[For the purposes of this article, the words “client” and “coachee” will be interchangeable.]

One of the things I have been pondering is separating two important concepts: coachee potential vs. readiness.

When I engage with a coachee I represent change. For an individual this may mean change of career or mindset. For organizations, it may mean change in process or culture.  Regardless of what the change or goal is, something is going to get INTERRUPTED. Old patterns, perspectives, systems and processes are about to get put under a microscope.

As practitioners we love this! We get (and sometimes excessively) excited about the possibility that lies from supporting the transformation of the current reality to a new one. In this potential excitement, we may skip over a critical step: gauging client readiness.

Clients may even say they are ready for change; that they want it or crave it.

They may even be as excited as we are at the thought of positive change; and it still doesn’t gauge readiness.

The trap as a coach and change agent, is that we are trained to believe that a client can achieve limitless potential. We want people to win. We are the die-hards that believe a game can be won in the last 10 seconds; that transformation can happen on a dime. This belief is why many of us do what we do.

How we get caught in this trap is mistaking client potential for readiness. Yes, every person or organization we work with has the potential to change. If we don’t believe that, then I fear we have chosen the wrong profession.

When we do not make  a distinction between coachee potential and readiness, we launch into goal setting and action plans without some necessary reflection.

A readiness inventory is critical at the early stages of any engagement to shed light on next steps.

This doesn’t mean you are limiting the potential of the client. It means you are in favor of creating goals that are just enough of a stretch, but actually achievable.

Your readiness inventory is merely a series of questions that can give you great information to help the client move forward. You can use a common coaching technique called scaling to rate coaching readiness.

On a scale of 1-10 (10 being stronger in this area)

  1. How important is this change/goal to you?
  2. How important is this change/goal to your team?
  3. How confident do you feel that you will be able to overcome obstacles to achieving success with this change/goal?
  4. How ready are YOU today to work towards this change/goal?
  5. How ready do you think those around you are to work towards the change/ goal?
  6. How would you rate the support you currently have to achieve the change/goal?

As you get the answers to these questions, the lower ratings will help you zero in, as a coach, on where to start. Once we can gauge this readiness before we impose our vision and limitless enthusiasm, we are able to truly meet the coachee and organization where they are at.

Change and goal accomplishment often takes much longer for people than we can see. This is sometimes because we are thinking about how we would make the change or meet the goal. It’s such a subtle thing, but we have to find the balance between gently pushing a client forward and stepping over something that is going to wind up backfiring.

When a client can act from increased readiness, you can help them move mountains. If they are less ready, you can choose coaching approaches to set some smaller goals to increase readiness.

The key here is to truly disengage from our own aspirations and get completely into the world of the coach or client. When we do this, we may learn things that would have otherwise been overlooked, and this is where the gold is.