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Coaching Questions

We’re taught that to be successful in any profession, we need to train and understand our discipline well in order to be in a position to provide expert advice. Central to being an effective HR Business Partner is an ability to advise the business – a stock standard requirement in every HR position description.

Advice giving is practitioner led, where the HR expert is called upon to provide an opinion.  An influential HR BP advice giving technique often involves providing multiple solutions and options for consideration, with differing consequences. Perhaps a ‘textbook’ option, and a few alternatives that include differing degrees of risk, taking into account a range of factors influencing the business. Business leaders then participate in the evaluation process, determine the preferred approach, and in doing so this creates ownership and a strong sense of buy in.

i.e Manager has problem X they need to address, so their HR BP talks them through options A, B and C each with different associated impacts. The manager then evaluates these options with the HR BP and selects option B as their preferred. By this point, the manager is particularly invested in ensuring option B is successful, and their behaviour and action subsequent will reflect this. This approach supports the development of a strong relationship, building trust and reliance on HR.

By contrast, coaching achieves all this, with exponential benefits for both managers and HR BPs. It can feel like going ‘against the grain’ of everything known to contribute to HR success. What do you mean I shouldn’t advise the manager? I should keep quiet and ask questions instead? I should let go, and let them determine and decide the best approach? Yes!

I’m reminded of my Dutch school certificate accounting teacher, who (I thought at the time) humiliated me mid class when I asked her a simple accounting question. Instead of helping me by answering my question so I could move on, she quietened the class and asked me the question in front of everyone.  Confused, I asked her the question again hoping for her assistance, and she slowly repeated it back to me.  This went on like a mexican stand off for a few minutes, until I realised she wasn’t going to budge, and she expected me to work out how to answer the question for myself.  Pressured, I started to make suggestions on how the question might be answered, and she encouraged me to keep going.  Within minutes I’d answered the question myself, and never required assistance with these types of questions ever again.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I wanted to be spoon fed the answers, and her role was to equip me with problem solving skills of my own. I am grateful to her for taking this approach which would have been far more difficult than simply providing me the answer.

There is plenty of literature on the benefits of coaching so rather than focus on that here, I’d like to capture some practical coaching questions, so that all the coaching skeptics (I was once one!) can give it a go, and see what happens!

Coaching questions …


  1. What is happening at the moment? What’s going on?

  2. How do you know that is the case? Give me an example.

  3. What effect does this have?

  4. When does this happen? How often does this happen?

  5. So what’s the key issue for you?

  6. What’s not happening now that you think should happen?

  7. Which parts of this are within your power to change and which aren’t?

  8. Who else is involved?

  9. What do you think their perspective is?

Goal setting

  1. How would you like things to be different?

  2. What would you like to happen that is not happening now?

  3. What difference would that make?

  4. How will that be of value to you?

  5. What stops you from having that right now?

  6. What can you do to achieve that result?


  1. What could you do to get that result?

  2. What are the options?

  3. What actions are needed to overcome the ‘what stops you’ obstacles?

  4. What approaches/actions have you thought about already?

  5. Has this ever happened before? What did you do then?

  6. Which options do you like the most?

  7. What are the benefits and pitfalls of these options?

  8. What is a short term solution?  A long term solution?

  9. What resources are available to you?


  1. What will you need to do / learn / find out about?

  2. What are the next steps?

  3. When will you take them?

Feel free to share your most impactful coaching questions …

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