How is Business Coaching Different from Other Types of Coaching?
You can find many niche areas of business coaching, and the profession is constantly developing. Niches even exist within niches. Whatever your bag, understand that a significant difference exists between personal coaching and business coaching.
Working with business requires a whole different level of relationship management, particularly if you’re working in corporate organizations rather than with small, founder-led businesses. Managing triangulation becomes an art form as you navigate your way through dialogue with the client and sponsor (the manager or person responsible for talent management) and sometimes a fourth player if the manager and talent manager are both involved in contracting and monitoring. The operations director or finance director (FD) may want to get involved in the contractual monitoring, too, if the budget is significant.
This situation is fine as long as everyone remembers what his role is and can maintain his boundary. As the coach, you not only have to manage the complexity of those relationships, you also need to act like a member of the CIA or MI5 in terms of confidentiality.
Be prepared to be questioned relentlessly by people who want to know the details of what’s happening in the conversations with your client. Develop the art of answering a question without answering the question, of being really clear that you will report back to the organization on the process of coaching and the delivery of the contract outcomes but not the content of coaching.
Empowering your client includes ensuring that your client disclosures belong to your client, subject of course to the usual rules that apply if he’s a danger to himself or others or has committed an illegal act or intends to.
Business coaching requires an understanding of business
If you don’t know about how business operates and the language of business, get educated. This education doesn’t have to be an MBA-level commitment; it may be reading business news in quality papers online, taking short seminars, or joining a business club or a business institute.
Learn as much as you can about how to run your own practice. Work on your own coaching business. Determine what you need to discover and find a way of learning that works for you. Get a mentor who can help you by sharing his experience and providing some challenge and stretch for you.
Defining expectations and determining fit
Clients want someone with knowledge of business — how it works, the language of business, the reality of running one. Specifying whether someone needs experience of a particular business process, discipline, or business structure can be important. A sponsor looking for a coach or mentor to support a CEO or team in planning a merger likely wants that experience or knowledge to maximize impact.
A coach with years of experience in auditing and accounting may be great in supporting a new finance director on professional issues, but if she has inherited a staffing problem requiring team performance management due to poor customer service and attitude, a coach with experience in a people-oriented discipline may be best. Equally, someone who has 20 years’ experience of coaching within the global corporate environment may not be the best choice for a small family business looking to retain its small family business identity.
Holding pre-contract conversations
Be prepared for exploratory conversations, not just sales conversations, in business. Accept that sometimes you aren’t the right fit and that you may be able to refer someone else who may do a better job of it than you. Sometimes it may be a partial fit but not right for now. Occasionally, you may not be able to see the problem because you’re looking through the wrong lens.
If you don’t know what you don’t know, identify a coach or mentor you would like to emulate and ask her how she developed her business knowledge.
Coaching leaders to be difference-makers
Leaders in organizations are managing performance: business performance, key objectives, deliverables, key performance indicators (KPIs) — whatever terminology is used, it’s about performance. Executives, leaders, managers, and chief (fill in the blank) are resource managers driving results.
Senior people are expected to be self-directed, self-reflective, and future focused. Often, they seek the support of a coach or mentor (sometimes both) to help them meet those expectations. Organizations in effect provide one-to-one learning support for their senior staff and high performers to help them keep on track.
From time to time, organizations also use coaches and mentors to help when a specific skill or knowledge gap needs honing or when an organization anticipates that an executive may find work challenging due to organizational changes or because of a change in his personal circumstances outside of work. Organizations are effective when their leaders are emotionally intelligent, have self-mastery, and are cognizant of their own well-being and the well-being of those around them.
If you’re working in organizations managing major change or looking to shift culture, teach the leaders how to use the coaching skill set. It shifts accountability and delegation, increases creativity and innovation, and keeps people focused to deliver the changing vision as that evolves.