In the dynamic field of human resources, the ability to coach effectively is becoming increasingly essential. As HR leaders and professionals, shifting from relying on rigid coaching frameworks to adopting more fluid and adaptable methods can significantly enhance your effectiveness in developing talent within your organisation.

This blog delves into how HR professionals can evolve from structured coaching methodologies to a more intuitive and responsive coaching style. Such a transition not only improves the coaching interactions but also deepens the impact on employees by focusing more on relationships and the dynamic needs of the individual, aligning with the strategic goals of HR management.

When I first started coaching, like many people new to the practice, I loved a model or a framework! Maybe more than loving them, in truth, I probably relied on them. Having something concrete to hang your conversation on was more for my benefit than for that of the client, but it helped give structure to the sessions and remind me of what to do next.

The Transition from Structure to Intuition

I liken the experience to learning to drive. As a learner, you go through your pre-start checklist in your head, as though preparing for your driving exam. Ensure your seat is in the right place, get the mirrors in the right place, get your hands in the right place. Start the engine. Mirror, signal manoeuvre. Just like driving, however, as time goes by and our confidence and competence grow, we’re able to leave the rigidity of the frameworks behind and focus much more on the content and the relationship.

Behind the wheel, we no longer think about mirror, signal, manoeuvre – our thoughts and eyes are on what’s going on outside the car, with the other road users, pedestrians and driving conditions.

Much like this, in coaching, I’m attentive to the client, listening to what they’ve said – maybe even what they haven’t said – and how they’ve said it.

What does their facial expression tell me? What does their body language draw me to?

What am I sensing or feeling in myself, and what does that say about the situation?

The ebb and flow of a coaching conversation becomes so organic and so immersive that it’s easy to think that models and frameworks no longer have a place as you grow.

That, of course, is naive.

Sustaining Growth with Strategic Tools

Any tool is only as good as its usage, and any model can be powerful and engaging if used in the right way and at the right time. I regularly share models and ideas with my clients as we work so that they can develop their own capabilities and add to their own toolkit so that when they face challenges or opportunities and we’re not working together, they are better equipped to work through this on their own.

Exploring the 4-Box Matrix

One such tool is a really simple but powerful 4-box matrix, which I have used countless times. It is invaluable when facing a challenge and feeling a bit stuck.

I definitely didn’t come up with this one myself – like most of my wisdom, I share it on here as (at least) secondhand – and I don’t know where I got it from.

I’ve done some extensive (ten seconds worth of) Googling and come up blank, so if you know of the source, I’d love to hear! The matrix looks a little bit like this (no expense spared on yet more high-quality graphics!)

Goal Target Success Aspiration Aim Conquering Concept

Practical Application: A Real-World Scenario

To bring it to life, let me give you a scenario. Imagine you’re a leader dealing with a difficult team member.

This employee is constantly late, has poor productivity and doesn’t seem to care about improving. You’re at a loss regarding how to proceed, so your coach digs out the tool above.

As you can see, there are two axes: the X axis features self and others and the Y axis features past and future. Combining these gives you four boxes, and within each box, you can formulate any number of questions in order to provide you with some starting points.

The boxes are as follows:

Past Self: As the name suggests, we’re looking at things we’ve done ourselves in the past, as inspiration for a way forward. A coach might ask a question like:

When you’ve overcome challenges like this in your past, what have you done which might be effective here?

Past Others: This involves taking the lived experience of people you know or maybe even those you’ve read about and mining this to find gems that might help you progress.

Who do you know who has faced similar challenges to this in the past? What did they do that you might like to try?

Future Self: Perhaps you’re in new territory, and you have no relevant experience to lean on to overcome this challenge. Where can you look next?

  • Future self questions encourage you to project yourself forward in time and look back at the problem from a point at which it’s been resolved. Depending on the audience, you can use these in a practical way, or maybe in a more ‘blue sky thinking’ way, depending on the audience, but questions might look like this:

Picture yourself 6 months from now when this problem is solved. What does the situation look like now?

In an ideal world, what would your first step be?

Future Others: The final box, and probably the one I least frequently lean on, involves solving the problem through the eyes of someone else, perhaps someone you really respect but who hasn’t solved this specific problem in the past. Your coach might approach it like:

You’ve told me that you really respected your old manager, Mags. How might she have approached this situation?

We’ve spoken a lot about your admiration for Ghandi. What might he do in your shoes, right now?

Like most coaching tools, this is very straightforward to use, but its simplicity is its greatest strength. Any of us can pause for a minute or two in the middle of a challenge or crisis, lift our heads up out of the weeds and ask a few questions to get our thinking going.

Sometimes it just takes the spark of an idea to help us pull our feet out of the treacle and take the first steps in the right direction. Give it a try the next time you’re stuck!

Key Takeaways

  1. Sustaining Growth with Strategic Tools: Effective coaching transcends the mere use of tools—it involves understanding when and how to apply them to specific situations. Regularly integrating models like the 4-box matrix into coaching sessions helps HR professionals and their teams build a robust set of skills that remain useful long after the coaching session has ended. This proactive approach ensures that individuals are well-prepared to handle future challenges independently.
  2. Exploring the 4-Box Matrix: This tool is straightforward yet profoundly impactful in unlocking new perspectives and solutions. Segmenting challenges into four quadrants—Past Self, Past Others, Future Self, and Future Others—encourages a comprehensive exploration of potential strategies drawn from personal experience and external inspiration. This matrix serves as a powerful reminder that sometimes, the simplest tools can offer the most significant insights.
  3. Versatility and Simplicity of Coaching Tools: The blog emphasises that the beauty of tools like the 4-box matrix lies in their simplicity and versatility.

These tools are not only easy to understand and apply but also powerful enough to transform typical responses into innovative solutions. They prompt HR leaders to lift their perspective above the immediate crises, fostering a more strategic and thoughtful approach to problem-solving.

HR leaders and professionals are encouraged to integrate adaptable coaching tools like the 4-box matrix into their daily interactions to foster a culture of growth and innovation. Our team at Co-Creation is experienced in deploying a myriad of coaching frameworks and models, tailored specifically to meet the unique needs of HR professionals and their organisational goals.

For more guidance on implementing these techniques or to explore further training opportunities, along with a tailored recommendation of models that might work best for your team, please contact us at or call 0161 969 2512.