Firms guided towards goals

JERRY MILLER
Sunday News Correspondent
September 14, 2003

AS BUSINESS buzzwords go, coaching tops the list.

Simply put, the idea behind a coach -- whether for the CEO, middle management or line employees -- is to increase profitability by better understanding the company, its problems as well as its strengths, and to capitalize on those strengths and minimize the problems.

Coaching is not a new concept in sports, but it is relatively new in business. Golfing great Tiger Woods has three coaches and they don't all work on his swing. CEOs of much of corporate America can pick up the telephone and be in instant contact with a coach, who knows both the CEO and the operation well enough to give immediate feedback on the handling of a business problems or a career question.

But coaching does not have to be reserved for the head of a conglomerate. In fact, coaching may be even more important to the president of a small business, whose days may be non-ending and who must deal with both major issues and an inordinate amount of trivia.

Coaching vs. training

Coaching is not training. In fact, if done well, it's intended to take a person beyond training.

For those who do it, coaching is seen as a way of closing the gap from where a person or company is now, to where the company or person wants to be. But first, the individual being coached must be able to articulate the gap.

Coaching is not therapy, even though it may, at times, seem like that's exactly what's going on.

Coaching is typically done one on one, although it can be done in a group. Why hire a coach?

During a Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce seminar held in June, Paul McAskill, the owner of Compass Point Training in Elliot, Maine, offered several reasons why a coach might be retained:

* Management sees value in engaging a sounding board, not only for itself, but for other employees.

* Management is looking for a forum where employees can be "totally honest."

* A person needs a partner to help one's business career thrive.

* A company or CEO wants to improve its image and is ready to make the needed investment in time and dollars.

* The business owner wants to take the company to "the next level."

McAskill contends a businesspeople should retain a coach, not when they're filled with doubts and insecurities, but when they're at a point where they truly believe in themselves and understand there's a gap between where they are now and where they want to be.

A great coach

The characteristics that make for a great coach was the topic of a roundtable discussion last week at the Portsmouth Coaching Collaborative, an association of coaches, would-be coaches and the curious.

These are characteristics to be considered by a business owner, perhaps you, who is contemplating the possibility of retaining a coach.

* A coach must be focused and have the ability to hone in on what is really important.

* A coach must have "the guts to be direct," even when to do so is certain to anger the client.

* The coach must be unattached to the outcome of his work.

* A coach must not be an "enabler," which would only make it possible for the business owner to continue to do what, in his head and heart, he already knows is not working.

* And the coach must be able to "let go" when letting go is needed. A great coach understands that the client is under no obligation to implement anything the coach suggests.

* The coach must be able to keep his ego in check.

* A coach must be a "committed listener" who can ask "the right questions."

* The coach must also be committed to respecting an employee's need for confidentiality, otherwise, it's unlikely employees will speak honestly.

* Finally, a coach can't afford to "get sucked in to one point of view," and, in dealing with a client and the workforce, the coach must not take sides.

A journey together

"You must also be able to say, 'I don't have the answer,'" said Ruth Mott of Mott Coaching in Portsmouth. "A really good coach is someone who is on a journey with the client. A really good coach doesn't go in with answers. We go into a business with a way of thinking about issues."

Ron Donovan of Impact Consulting in Durham, echoed Mott, adding, "A coach is someone from the outside can look at what is happening in a business and speak the truth, in ways employees likely fear doing."

Who needs one?

So, who should hire a coach? The answer, according to Donovan and others, is simple: Anyone who believes a benefit will result and is ready and willing to make changes.

"Is there a professional anywhere, who is successful and doesn't have a coach," Donovan asked rhetorically. "In a small company, employees often coach each other."

John Bayliss, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist from Hampton Falls, said a coach can be, and often is, a "catalyst" in helping a company address issues.

Perhaps more important, Bayliss said, "The coach gets to leave," a reality that makes a coach even more effective.

Bayliss said a truly good coach is often able to get employees to coalesce, even if they coalesce against the coach.

And, if management decides to retain a coach, it's important to prepare the workforce, letting them know the coach is "not a spy" but is there to "help you discover things together," he added.

A sense of trust

A coach also gives the business owner and the employees a "sanctuary of safety," according to Rob Kanzer of Rob Kanzer Seminars in Kittery Point, Maine, who also serves as president of the Portsmouth Coaching Collaborative. "People can let their guard down in what is a confidential setting."

Kanzer contends a good coach can provide "a sense of freedom, trust and safety," affording employees the opportunity to "get to the issues facing the company."

Debra LeClair is a small-business owner who both is a coach and employs a coach to work with her business. She said small-business owners should consider hiring coaching assistance.

"Coaching is an invaluable resource for small business. Many small-business owners are forced to do everything in their company. They often need help organizing and clarifying their vision. They need resource contacts that a coach can provide, in order to keep their confidence and gain and maintain momentum."

LeClair said a good coach can be especially helpful in working with a small-business owner who understands the importance of adapting to change and is interested in knowing "what is getting in the way of me not being able to change."

Assessing the problems

LeClair contends a coach can impact profitability by helping a CEO look at problem areas.

"You are the expert when it comes to your business. The coach needs to ask you the right questions."

Are there those who should not use a coach?

LeClair said retaining a coach is a waste of money if the business owner "is not looking to change" and if management "can't stand the thought of being accountable."

People who don't have the motivation to follow through also should not use a coach because, LeClair added, "They're not ready to take the leap."

Bayliss said don't bother, "If you are not interested in making changes or if you're looking for some one to blame" or if management has "a secret agenda."

"Some people fear change and some people are comfortable with the way things and people around them are. In some cases, people don't want to be exposed," he added, so in all of those situations, a coach would have a tough time being heard, let alone successful.

-- Coaching resources:

If you're looking for a coach or are interested in becoming one, check out www.coachu.com. Additional information is available at www.coachville.com, a worldwide coaching network, with nearly 34,000 members in 120 countries.