We are often in a social situation where we meet people, who will eventually ask us, what we do. When we reply that part of our practice is business coaching they often reply, “OH that’s nice.” They say that in a way which indicates that they are unsure of what that means and are fearful of finding out more about the subject. They assume that they are well equipped to handle their business issues or that this is a “touchy feely” subject that makes them uncomfortable.
In your career development, much like mine, you matured in a structured environment where you learned how to succeed through the observation of others and possibly the help of a trusted adviser. Although that development method continues to exist today, it definitely exists to less of an extent. In the past, you might be able to seek the advice of a specialist, such as a human resource professional. Today your organization may not have such a person. This is particularly true in smaller businesses and nonprofits.
The need for that discussion with someone who can help provide an insight on an existing business situation continues to exist and is part of the role that a coach can play. They are not necessarily an expert in a given field, but can help you better understand the current situation. They don’t have the answers, but do provide the questions which need to be considered. The questions that are asked are often the questions which you would like to ignore, because they are uncomfortable to answer.
So often, those who need some coaching conclude that their only path to increased success is working harder. One cannot minimize the need for hard work, but too often it does not lead to the success expected. Working smarter along with working harder is the true key to success. A professional golfer doesn’t achieve increased success only by spending more time on the practice range hitting balls. They achieve success by matching that effort with the learning of new skills and methods to improve their game.
Beware of Those with the Silver Bullet
We are often approached by those you are seeking the answer to all their business issues. It is also important to understand that there are those who are selling the answers to those issues. They offer programs with titles such as “90 Days to Success”. It is not to say that these programs do not have some value, but there is no one method to address the wide variety of issues faced by companies and nonprofits.
Coaching involves first understanding the situation. Steven Covey once said, “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Every business is to a great degree unique and the issue which needs to be addressed in one situation are not the same as those in another. Coaches need to spend time with a client understanding the situation. Early in our practice, it was discovered that much time and energy can be wasted working on the wrong problem. It is also common that the client has already attempted to define the issues and already concluded the solution. Their conclusions may be correct, but on occasion, they are not. In one case, a CEO concluded that the staff was the issues and concluded that they needed a development program. It was later discover that the staff was not the primary source of the problem, it was the CEO’s leadership style. Halfway through the staff development program, the CEO was relieved of his duties.
Coaches are not consultants. Consultants are very smart people. They help you define the problem, provide a solution and move on to another client. Coaches expect the client to know their business. Coaches help the client better understand the issues involved and work with the client to find a path forward. Once that process is determined, they do not move on. They stay with the client through the implementation of the solution. Having knowledge is important, but applying that knowledge is the key to success.
Mentoring is an important part of staff development. Coaches are available to help mentor key employees and set them on a path to greater success. Sometimes the organizational budget makes individual mentoring by non-employee impractical. As a result, the leadership decides to develop a program, which is the mentored by current staff members. This is a noble idea but mentoring is much like coaching and that may require a different set of skills. I was told that my company had a mentoring program and someone was assigned to be my mentor. To this day, I can only guess as to who that mentor was. I did have several dinners with one of the executives, but the relation never went beyond that.
One approach to a mentoring program may be what might be called “training the mentors”. Simply select several leaders in the organization to be mentors and provide each with a coaching program. The techniques and skills learned during these programs will greatly improve their ability to mentor others. They may not be as skilled as a fulltime professional coach, but will be better prepared to work with developing the staff.
The Lone Wolf
There are large consulting firms that can provide coaching services to clients. The advantage is that they can draw upon the collective knowledge of others within the firm. The disadvantage is that they are expensive. There are individuals who can provide coaching who are less expensive. Their disadvantage is that they rely on their personal experience or the last book they read. The best situation is to find a coach who is part of a network with whom they can share experiences and find counsel. An example of such a network is Resource Associates Corporation with over 600 individual members located throughout North America.