Disappointment or frustration on the way to an important goal is almost inevitable. Making changes requires no less than the laying of new neural pathways in the brain. Implementing the best of plans is trial and error, a learning loop. The assuring presence of a coach in that loop can rekindle commitment to the goal when the going gets tough.
As with every Coachable Moment, first acknowledge this opening by rephrasing what you heard, checking for understanding, and asking for more information. Here are a few examples of questions to ask:
"What you're saying is that you expected x to happen when you took action, and instead, y was the result. Do I have that right?"
"I'm hearing that the plan you put together isn't getting you to the goal, is that the nut-nut?"
"You say it is 'sort of' working. I am getting the sense that 'sort of' isn't good or fast enough for you. Is that what you meant?"
After you acknowledge, backtrack a bit to anchor the coachee in their goal. Ask your version of this "anchoring" question: "Could you give me a quick refresh on your goal...tell me what you are committed to, by when, and how it supports your life?"
Then, assess specifically what steps are working and what actions didn't bear fruit, in that order. Be prepared for your coachee to focus on what isn't happening, despite all the energy they've expended. Be assured, however, that some part of that plan is working. At the very least, the plan moved the coachee to action. Start with the positive, and when appropriate, reframe "failures" as "discoveries." Here are a few "assess" questions to try:
"Would you share the actions you have taken so far, beginning with anything that worked or moved you forward?"
"Can you say more about what happened that was different from what you expected? What did you learn?"
"How did you reach the conclusion that your plan isn't workable? Is it working, but just more slowly than you'd like?"
Then, "aim" them at a plan refresh/reboot by asking questions like:
"What aspect of your plan most needs rethinking? The goal? The activities? The time frame?"
"What other ideas could you experiment with in Plan 2.0?"
"How can I support you differently than I have been? What could I do more of, less of, or start doing?
"What 'calibration conversations' do you need to have with others in your support circle? Might someone need to be in your circle who isn't yet?"
Sometimes an action plan is a slam-dunk. Other times--most times--action plans must be pencil sketched, not cast in concrete, and refined in the arena. A good plan can focus a coachee in the right direction, and direct those first steps, but the next steps are forged from the information gained through "failure." As your coachee is in the arena, stretching and suffering the discomfort of change, you are on the sidelines, ready to help them channel those "discoveries" into a better action plan. Simply moving a participant from discouragement to recovery, with a renewed willingness to tweak the plan and try again, is a coaching moment well-spent.