The single most important variable for action steps is commitment, or buy-in. Change is a function of motivation, not information. The higher the buy-in, the more likely it will be that the action steps get done. You can do everything else right when helping the client develop action steps, but if you settle for low buy-in the client is likely to fail. Here are six principles that foster high commitment for client action steps:
1. Client-Generated Steps
Any step that the client thinks up will automatically possess higher buy-in than one the coach suggests. People are most committed to their own ideas. Whenever possible, help the client generate the options instead of offering them yourself.
2. Verbalize the Action
Asking, “Is that a step you want to take?” is a direct, closed question that forces the client to make and verbalize a decision: “Yes, I will take that step!” Verbalization fosters high commitment.
3. Eliminate Equivocation
Don’t settle for a step your client “ought to” do, “could” do, or “thinks she might” do. Equivocation indicates the decision has yet to be made. When clients prevaricate, ask, “What will you do?” to nail them down.
4. Quantify Commitment
A great way to ensure high commitment is to ask clients to quantify where they stand. Here’s a favorite question: “On a scale of one to ten, how certain are you that this step will get done?” You’re looking for an answer of eight or higher—high certainty. If the client gives a lower number, change the goal to raise the number: “What would it take to make that “six” into an “eight” or a “nine”?”
5. Expect Accountability
A vital part of high commitment is building a pattern where clients know they’ll be held accountable for every step they set. If you know you are going to be asked whether you did something, you are much more serious about agreeing to it in the first place.
6. Write it Down
If steps don’t get written down, they aren’t taken seriously, and they don’t get done. The coach should note every goal and action step and require the client to write these down as well. If your clients aren’t consistently recording steps, ask them to e-mail you their action step list within 24 hours after your appointment. That will provide some accountability for having the steps recorded.
Tony Stoltzfus is a best-selling author, leadership coach and master coach trainer and director of the Leadership Metaformation Institute. Additional information on the role of effective action steps in the coaching relationship can be found in Tony’s book, Leadership Coaching.