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    Welcome to Authentic Journeys - ഓതെന്റിക് ജെർനീയ്സ് - US-India Cross-Cultural Training

August 17, 2020

ICF Competencies: Designing Actions, Goal Setting, Accountability

Written by: Jennifer Kumar (Managing Director, head Coach of Authentic Journeys) 

To round out our ICF core competency series, three more remain in the last section (Section D: Facilitating Learning and Results): Designing Actions (#9), Planning and Goal Setting (#10) and Managing Progress and Accountability (#11). There is a fourth competency in this section; Creating Awareness (#8), which we covered in a previous blog. 

One can argue it is the coach’s responsibility to help clients to not only focus on details of how to achieve their dreams (short term), but also keep in mind the bigger picture (long term). Let’s take a look at how this applies to cross-cultural coaching

ICF Competencies: Designing Actions, Goal Setting, Accountability


The Long and Short in Cross-Cultural Coaching Conversations

How can a client adapt a particular habit (for instance, accent reduction or the cultural use of English to build relationships when working with US Americans) to be successful in a new culture (short-term/shorter-term impact) without losing their identity (long-term impact). In this, a coach helps a client to explore so much more than just the doing of the action- but the multiple layers of how adapting or integrating this habit impacts their life now and into the future. This impact could be in the actual doing (how they will see themselves in their own story, and how others may interpret them), but also in how adapting this trait impacts their being, their personality, their values, their cultural and familial influence, how their direct reports will respond to them, and other aspects that encompass their entire personhood. While on the surface, it seems like it is “only changing how one sounds” or “changing the words or tones one uses,” these changes are powerful and identify a person. How can a person adapt (or switch between) these new behaviors while still remaining true to themselves? (Interestingly, this is the heart of Authentic Journeys – how to adapt to a new culture and learn to code-switch while still remaining true to who you want to be and seen -with yourself, your family and the wider society.) 

To akin this process to a common idiom or metaphor – a coach’s main role is to help a client to “see the forest from the trees” (or for our Australian and British English speaking friends, “can’t see the wood for the trees.”).

This means that the coach’s responsibility from day 1 in the discovery call through to the end of the engagement as well as during each call is to facilitate the client to understand the details of their struggles, goals, achievement, and accomplishments in each individual session (the trees) while balancing the long-term impacts of these tweaks in actions, thoughts, and changes to their entire life trajectory (the forest or wood). Put another way, it's important as the coaching journey progresses for the coach to help the client gain awareness of how what is talked about in each session relates to the bigger picture of the entire coaching engagement. While there is room to veer off track (or what seems like veering off), it's important to try to tie all the loose ends together. 

So, with that being said, let’s take a deeper look into each of the last three ICF coaching competencies. This blog will look at the competencies a little differently than the others. In this study, I will extract two or three competency markers from each competency and share examples of how these markers have been applied in our coaching interactions. 


Exploring 3 Competencies Under "Section D: Facilitating Learning and Results"


How we Follow the ICF Competency 9: Designing Actions

  • Marker 3: Engages the client to explore alternative ideas and solutions, to evaluate options, and to make related decisions.
  • Marker 8: Helps the client “Do It Now” during the coaching session, providing immediate support.
  • Marker 9: Encourages stretches and challenges but also a comfortable pace of learning.


Coaching Case Study: How "Adapting an Accent" Challenges Our Core Beliefs
To highlight these markers, I want to share a story of coaching that happened after a series of training programs. Often, at Authentic Journeys, we mix facilitated learning through direct training or in a flipped classroom with 1:1 or small group coaching to apply the concepts learned in the ‘class.’ It is in the coaching where we do more mocks or role plays and also discuss the deeper beliefs of the participant and their integration of the learning into their personal or work life.

I was working with a team of UK-facing team members in India who wanted to be more clearly understood by their UK based customers. All their conversations were over the phone or internet, so we worked on a wide variety of culturally competent customer relationship building skills, the cultural use of English, and accent reduction. During one of the 1:1 coaching sessions, one of the participants noted that one of the successes they noted is that since they started applying some of all of the varied techniques [for the last month], they have noticed a few areas where communication was improved. The major change was in the area of repeating. Overall, repeating from both sides of the call significantly decreased. As this was something the participant was tracking, the participant noted that during a 5 minute call a month ago, there was an average of 5 requested repeats. These repeats could be the UK customer asking the participant to repeat or the participant asking the UK customer to repeat. However, now, a month later after applying some of the techniques (including how to effectively repeat so the UK customer would understand – this would be practiced in the ‘Do it now’ fashion during the call – Marker 8) , they were getting asked to repeat only 2 times in a 5 minute call. Interestingly, the participant noticed that most of the repeats had nothing to do with accent, but connection or a use of the wrong word in a sentence. Also, the other thing the participant noted was that actually, the call was not lasting 5 minutes anymore, but only about 3.5 minutes due to not having to repeat. This was a great accomplishment because another part of their job required them to complete a particular number of calls in an hour, and now this participant met that goal, where as a month ago they were not. While all of these successes were fantastic milestones for the participant, team and company, the participant was worried about one more BIG thing. The participant was still worried they were ‘faking an accent’ and did not actually sound natural. This bothered the participant because they felt they were not being authentic to themselves and realized they sounded different when talking to customers, different with talking with colleagues, and [obviously] different when talking with friends and family outside of work. There was a clear conflict here, which we then started to discuss. While I won’t divulge what the participant shared with me, I will say that over a few more coaching sessions (about another few months), this participant was able to find peace with this through finding comfort with a new speaking voice that the participant could use in most situations and still be understood in each setting with ease (Marker 9). This participant also noted a concern about comparing themselves with other colleagues that were ‘perceived’ as ideal or better when interacting with foreign stakeholders. The participant and I had many discussions about this, where we dived into these areas, helping to uncover some thoughts, beliefs and impressions, and alternative viewpoints (Marker 3) around this that helped this participant to design some actions (speaking exercises, awareness exercises -noting how people really responded during certain situations rather than the assumption, and meditation exercises). All of these actions- which included doing, being and learning in the moment helped this participant to really dive deep to identify what was really valued in the moment (current job role, how others perceived or responded to the participant) and in the long term (how will changing how I talk help me not only in my current job, but in my long term career or relationships with my friends/family). This participant was able to find peace and resolution with these and so many other aspects of “accent reduction” while remaining true to herself. Ironically, this participant (and many others I coach) struggle with these cultural adjustment issues without even stepping foot outside of their native place/home country (India).


How we Follow the ICF Competency 10: Planning and Goal Setting

  • Marker 1: Consolidates collected information and establishes a coaching plan and development goals with the client that address concerns and major areas for learning and development.
  • Marker 5: Identifies and targets early successes that are important to the client.

Coaching Case Study: Building Confidence in Offshore Talent to Speak Up in Client Meetings 
In order to illustrate these markers, I want to share an example of a corporate coaching engagement. Typically, when we start off with any coaching engagement, I, as the coach, meets with the stakeholders (managers, clients, colleagues) and of course the person identified to be coached. We create a goal matrix/ rubric based on their learning and development areas (marker 1). In many cases, we have two or three learning areas. As these are typically broad (For example: Be able to hold a meeting with a client, without manager present) and include many steps, we list the broad statement as a goal, and break it down into 3-5 goals/steps that need to be accomplished to make this goal come to fruition. We start with identifying one of those steps (For example, “I will sit and prepare for what I will say in the meeting by spending 10 minutes before the meeting practicing some of the talking points.”) and rate it on a scale (usually, 1 to 5 with 1 being “can’t do this” to 5 “master”). As we go through coaching sessions, brainstorm how this will take place, and maybe practice it in each session, we may adjust the rating. However, typically, we don’t change the rating in each coaching session. If an entire engagement includes 5 sessions, we would rate at the start, mid engagement (session 3 – with or without stakeholder input) and at the end (with stakeholder input). In many cases, with small gains, it is often hard for the client him or herself to see that change as the client often wants to achieve the overarching goal. So, I spend time with the client during sessions to break down how they are not only doing the actions, but how it’s helping them overall (in actual speaking during the meetings, in confidence building, in creating an engaging conversation with the client, in building the relationship with the client, or any other marker that the client has identified). As I have actually coached many offshore professionals on this very goal (“I will sit and prepare for what I will say in the meeting by spending 10 minutes before the meeting practicing some of the talking points.”), I know that this statement actually means different things to different people. Each person – based on their learning style, awareness, insight generation, English language fluency (a need to translate from the mother tongue into English or not), conversational comfort (it’s not only about business talk, small talk is also important, and how to connect various part of the conversation together), personality, cultural fluency, and other factors will achieve this goal in a variety of ways. (Not to be religious, but this reminds me of a quote from Sri Ramakrishna:
“Different people call on [God] by different names: some as Allah, some as God, and others as Krishna, Siva, and Brahman. It is like the water in a lake. Some drink it at one place and call it ‘jal’, others at another place and call it ‘pani’, and still others at a third place and call it ‘water’. The Hindus call it ‘jal’, the Christians ‘water’, and the Moslems ‘pani’. But it is one and the same thing.”

I always loved this quote because it can demonstrate so many more things than just religion, or even instead of religion. In coaching, and in this example, while so many of my clients have the same goal, the way each client phrases it and takes steps to realizing this goal are different. No phraseology is wrong, because it resonates with that person. No path or awareness strategies are wrong as long as they are identified by that client and help that client realize their goal. It’s amazing how many paths, ways of thinking and approaches there can be to achieving the same goal! A coach’s role is to help facilitate this learning in the client, not to impose their methodology (or what may have worked for another client) on to the (current) client.

For instance, when we look at the goal: “I will sit and prepare for what I will say in the meeting by spending 10 minutes before the meeting practicing some of the talking points.” – here are a few different ways different clients have achieved this:

  1. I will write out what I want to say, then say it out loud. I need to see it written down to really be able to say it.
  2. I will just practice it out loud. Maybe I will record myself and listen back to see if I sound good. For me, writing slows me down, and I’d be more worried if my grammar is good. So, I will not write it down to practice.
  3. I will find a colleague who has a similar project and practice with him or her. I need a person to practice with to get their feedback.
  4. I can’t practice with my colleague, I don’t want him or her to think I am not competent. Plus, I don’t want to inconvenience them.
  5. Rather than just spend the ten minutes before the meeting practicing, I will meditate on it everyday for 5-10 minutes. I only have one meeting a week with my client, and I have a long commute, so I will think about it in the car or during the bus ride.
  6. Now that I only work from home, and must be on the video with the client, I will try to practice on a video. Record it and watch and listen back. I also want to know that my body language looks confident.


These are just six of probably hundreds of ways the professionals I have worked with have achieved their goal. 

Keep in mind that these solutions were NOT prescribed by me, the coach, they were the brainchild of the client him or herself! 

...And, you know what? It worked for them! 

...If it works for them, it works for me, and I am happy that each person can find their own creative way to apply their learning and see progress! 

However, that being said, there are still cases where many clients find a gap between how they want to see themselves doing something and how they are actually doing it. Some clients are worried about the overarching goal and find it hard to “identify and targets early successes that are important to [achieving the goal and to the client] (marker 5). It is then my job as a coach to help the client identify what is going better than it used to be. 

Sometimes, or many times in such cases, the gap is not in the DOING part (the client realizes they are speaking more clearly or having a better rapport with their counterpart as evidenced by self-identified markers, client or managerial feedback), but the BEING part. Something inside them- something about their values or beliefs hasn’t aligned with the new action. And, again, this is different for different clients. But, with many I have coached from India, they continue to worry if they are somehow offending their US client as the US client is perceived to have a higher status, and if they as the “lower ranked” or “younger” counterpart is “taking charge,” won’t this offend the US counterpart, their local manager or their colleagues or others? In such cases, we then dive deeper into their personal, cultural, corporate and team values to find their answer.



How we Follow the ICF Competency 11: Managing Progress and Accountability

  • Marker 3: Acknowledges the client for what they have done, not done, learned or become aware of since the previous coaching session(s).
  • Marker 6: Focuses on the coaching plan but is also open to adjusting behaviors and actions based on the coaching process and shifts in direction during sessions.


I have chosen these two markers (there are 10 in this section) for two reasons. One is I have already commented on a few of the other markers in this post, but more than that, generally these two markers seem to happen simultaneously for many that I coach.

When we look at marker 3, “Acknowledges the client for what they have done, not done, learned or become aware of since the previous coaching session(s).” I am highlighting “not done” because helping the client to keep accountable to what was not done helps us to distinguish several key things:

  • What reasons was this not done (though in the last session, the client clearly stated this was important to him or her)?
  • Were there any road blocks to doing this?
  • Does this remain relevant? (Sometimes when some clients start to work toward something, it is then realized that actually this action was not needed, so we must change the course of action, which leads seamlessly into Marker 6.)


In a majority of cases, with those I coach, something is not done for that reason – it is no longer relevant. There are a few cases where the thing that hasn’t been done still needs to be done, and in such cases, the client is open about the reasons for not doing it. This can become sticky when it’s a corporate sponsored coaching engagement. Regardless if the engagement is self or other sponsored, as a coach, my goal is to help the client accept personal responsibility for their non-action. In some cases, in corporate settings, it may be easy to blame someone else for something else not getting done. So, in such cases, when setting the goal itself, it’s important for the coach to explore roadblocks at this time, coupled with actionable steps the client can take personal responsibility for. This helps to empower the client. There are many cases where it may be hard for the client to distinguish where he or she can take personal responsibility in a matrix organization or even in a “traditional” corporate leadership structure, but with the coach’s skill in helping the client to break down the goal into manageable steps and steps that not only include doing (doing in the sense of assigning someone else to do something), but learning, being and awareness building, the client can start to see areas where he or she can start taking steps on their own to achieve their own successes.


Jennifer Kumar is a PCC Certified CoachTo sum up, it is important to add that with all these competencies, it is not just that the coach helps the client to look at the short and long term impacts of their coaching journey, but that the entire coaching journey from day one with the discovery session starts by looking at the long and short term successes that can be realistically obtained during the entire engagement (and during each call). This is how all the coaching competencies are interrelated and overlap. The coach’s responsibility is to keep the client on track throughout the entire engagement AND during each coaching meeting. It’s important to continue to check in, bottom line, keep the client focused and moving toward their goals. That is what a client pays a coach to do. As, many of us know how easy it can be to veer off the path! If you're interested to discuss the competencies or schedule a coaching session, get in touch with me (Jennifer Kumar, a PCC certified coach) 



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Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.