Dorothy Larios continues our coaching series with a look at how she worked with a hospital-based commissioner

JP is a senior NHS manager in a commissioning team based in a hospital setting and had been in post for almost a year when we started our coaching sessions. He had an in-house mentor and was keen to experience the differences between mentoring and coaching.

JP outlined his role handling business development cases, working with multi-organisational negotiations, budgets and primary care trust contracts. It was clear that he enjoyed innovation and projects offering direct patient feedback. There were several areas for consideration in our initial sessions.

First steps

Email organisation JP tended to file documents electronically and rely on his inbox as a record, but this meant spending time finding things.

Confidence He felt that having more confidence in his work would be helpful: "I tend to over-analyse and in high-profile meetings hold back with contributions," he said.

Study JP was studying for two degree modules. Although his results were consistent, he felt he could achieve more if he could fit in the study time.

In exploring these areas, it became clear that in fact the client needed no more than a space to clarify his thoughts and by the end of our first session he was ready to take steps.

The routine chore of managing email was a major part of his job. He was overloaded, with about 2,000 emails clogging up his inbox.

Sadly, the assumption that we have all mystically acquired necessary electronic organisational skills is misguided, but by being willing to ask an administrator for help, JP got a tailor-made induction. He is now down to 900 emails and winning.

JP had one resounding strength that came through in that he was liked and respected by his peers. Overly concerned about his time-consuming need to check details in his reports, he was assisted by the questions, "How do you relate to details?" and "How does this serve your department?"

He was contributing to a team that had a noteworthy reputation for accuracy and as part of that team, his precision did a huge service to its standards. He was an amenable, conscientious and highly respected member of the team.

Future opportunities

Self-doubt had also fuelled his concerns around not taking an active role in meetings, but he did realise that he was considered knowledgeable in certain fields and in fact contributed without reserve in these areas. Remembering that he had spent a short time in his job allowed him to view the opportunities that time and experience would bring.

The final issue was the challenge of working, commuting and studying for a degree. In reviewing his study regime, his learning style and other out-of-work commitments, by our second session he had begun to study on his daily commute, booked some time off and started researching his official study day allocation.

With JP's annual appraisal due, our attention switched to his possible career path. Looking at his areas of strength and where he found most fulfilment, we came up with the type of projects he would like to work on and the skills and knowledge base he wanted to develop. To prepare him I asked, "What are you assuming that your boss knows about you?" and "What do you think he should know about you?"

JP's self-awareness was now sharper as he listed all his areas of growth in the first year in post. The outcome was a great review and an invitation to become involved in projects that ticked all the boxes and a boss who knew his strengths.

In conclusion, JP was now much clearer on the difference between mentoring and coaching. Mentoring allowed resource exchange, discussion on operational issues and time to learn from a person in the organisation. Coaching helped put things in context, stimulated timely action and threw up extraordinarily powerful questions that offered much deeper thinking.

  • If you would like to take part in the coaching series, email The next coaching column will appear on 24 April.