How To Apply the Theory of Change To Coaching
Imagine a prospective client comes to you hoping to change careers. They’re miserable in their current job, but aren’t sure what they’d like to do instead. This person has been swirling in a mental sea of possibilities for months (if not years), but can’t decide what path to follow.
The client tells you:
- Maybe I should go back to school?
- When I was a kid, I loved to write. Could I do something with that?
- I don’t like sitting at a desk all day, but have no idea what jobs I’m qualified for that would get me out of a traditional office environment
- I’m really good with numbers - maybe I could do something in finance?
At this point, everything’s on the table.
For newer coaches, the temptation in this moment might be to go into “problem solving mode.” And while there may be benefit in following all those trails to see exactly where they might lead, your job isn’t to “find the right answer” for your client.
One of the tenets of coaching is that your client has the wisdom inside to figure this out - they just may not know it yet! It’s also true that right now, all your client may know for sure is that living in a state of indecision or uncertainty is excruciating.
As a coach, it’s helpful to meet these moments with a firm grasp of how the process of growth and change actually works. (Spoiler alert: confusion, frustration, and discomfort are often a part of it!) Your role is to be a steady hand at the wheel as your client navigates the sometimes stormy seas of transformation.
There are a number of theoretical frameworks that can be useful as you consider how to chart a course toward clarity with your client. In coaching, we draw from these models along with principles of positive psychology to understand human behavior and how the process of change and transformation actually works.
Here at Lumia Coaching, one framework that we teach our students is DiClemente and Prochaska's Transtheoretical Model of Change (commonly called "Stages of Change").
The transtheoretical model change proposes that whenever we’re making a change, we move through five stages: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.
Let’s take a look at what each of these are, and how you can relate each stage to the coaching process.
Prochaska and DiClemente Stages of Change
In the example above, the prospective client crossed into the precontemplation stage when they realized something wasn’t working. They knew they were miserable in their job, but weren’t ready to do anything about it.
Precontemplation is characterized by an unwillingness or inability to take action on a desired change within the near future. People can stay in this stage for a long period of time - knowing the present circumstances aren’t working, but not yet committed to making a shift in the status quo.
In this stage, a person may have compiled many reasons NOT to make the desired change. You'll know a person is likely still in precontemplation if their list of “cons” outweighs the “pros.”
At this point, a person is feeling an increasing readiness to act. They’re really thinking about it now, and building some mental momentum. The pros and cons of making the desired change begin to take equal weight in their mind.
The intention is there, and they know that they want to take action in the near future.
In the example above, our prospective client has been circling the contemplation stage for a while now - coming up with lots of ideas and possibilities, but still uncertain. The sheer discomfort of not knowing the answer is starting to tip their scales in favor of action in the hopes of finding relief!
As a coach, this is often where you’ll first encounter a prospective client. They’ve reached the point where something’s gotta give. They’ve thought about things long enough, and are ready now to do something about it.
At this stage, a person is committed to moving forward. They begin to take small steps toward their desired future outcome. Hiring a coach is often one of those steps, along with a growing belief that the change they’re seeking is possible.
If a prospective client is still in the precontemplation or contemplation stage of change without a clear commitment to action, this is where you’ll need to assess whether they are a candidate for coaching right now.
- One way to do this is to ask them to scale their own readiness to act. In the example above, you could ask the client: On a scale of 1-10, how committed are you to embarking on a new career?
- If their answer is less than a 7 or 8, you’ll want to dig deeper on that. You’re ideally looking for a motivation level of 8 or higher.
If the client isn’t committed, coaching is unlikely to produce the desired results.
Coaching in and of itself doesn’t offer a magic solution - the process requires effort, experimentation and commitment. The action a client takes as a result of the coaching process - not the insights and "a-ha's" - is what leads to the changes they are seeking.
Once the client has made a decision to move forward, it’s time to prepare for change by exploring solutions or techniques that they can implement to help them reach their goals.
THIS is the heart of coaching, and what makes it such a powerful process.
In a coaching relationship, we set ourselves first to the task of setting a clearly defined goal, and then taking a series of tangible steps toward achieving it. As the plan takes shape, we move fully into the action stage. This is where the client begins to modify their thoughts, behaviors and routines.
For change to take hold, it’s often necessary to examine and shift daily habits, test new ways of being, and learn from those experiments. Coaching supports the client every step of the way, with opportunities for exploration, self-reflection, modification, and accountability.
Behavioral modification is what leads to personal transformation. This most often looks like small, daily actions that over time set their course in a new direction.
Once new thoughts and behaviors take hold, the work ahead is to maintain that momentum. This is often where the work of coaching is complete, and your relationship with the client comes to a successful conclusion.
Follow-up can be helpful in this stage. Consider touching base a few months after the coaching engagement ends to see how things are going for your former client! Celebrate their wins, and offer encouragement or further support as needed.
PRO TIP: Coaching is a word of mouth and referral based business!
Maintaining a connection to your former clients and demonstrating an ongoing interest in their lives reinforces your network of authentic relationships. This in turn keeps you top of mind, which can lead to future referrals.
- Podcast: The Importance of Learning and Change as an Adult
- Blog: The 11 Steps Of The Hero's Journey Explained
- Blog: Using Broaden-and-Build Theory In Your Coaching Practice
Ready to Become A Coach?
One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our life coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power and you’d like a partner in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training. Grounded in science, our ICF accredited program features authentic instructors, a robust curriculum, and business instruction to prepare you for liftoff.