Sunday 22 January 2012

2012: Where is business coaching going?

Market conditions demand us all to examine how to deliver greater value for less cost. The wonderful thing about recessions is that they offer us the stark choice: do what is most valuable, or perish. Coaching is no different – it must adapt to the times, or be crushed under the tightening belts of its clients.

I’m a leadership coach because I know how much value coaching can bring to leaders – both in developing strategy and in leading people, as well as strengthening their personal foundations. I also understand why it is costly – if you want to be coached by someone at a high enough level, you have to pay the price to make it worth the coach’s while. And there is enormous value in the deep, personal crucible of high-end one-on-one executive coaching which can’t be replicated in larger groups, lectures, reading or videos.

The big demand I see is for more direct routes to business impact. For business coaching to make it in 2012, clients can rightly expect it to:
  • Address both the needs of the individual and the organisation
  • Focus directly on the needs of the team and business relationships
  • Consciously address business strategy
  • Implement sustainable lower-cost, higher-value delivery methods.

Addressing the needs of the individual and the organisation is pretty much standard practice already. If you aren’t getting all of the following from your business coach, ask yourself and your coach why not:
  • Three-way meetings with coach, coachee, and coachee’s manager – near the beginning and  end of the process, at least – in which coaching goals, business relevance, and measures of success are directly addressed in an open and collaborative way.
  • Examination of each individual’s coaching goals in the light of explicit organisational strategy, with a search for alignment and mutual support.
  • Where several people in the organisation are being coached at the same time, the coaching team should regularly analyse, synthesise and report in depth on emerging themes that matter to the organisation as a whole. Your executive sponsor of coaching, your coach team leader and your top management team should get together and discuss these themes at least quarterly.
  • Of course all this organisational integration mustn't stop coaching from being a powerful source of personal transformation. This means the internal process and content of coaching remains firmly confidential.

Focusing directly on team development is often a weak point in standard business coaching. Typical coaching practice focuses on individuals –the coachee and his or her boss and direct reports usually get the most attention. But so often the issues are stake are actually the relationships between coachee and manager and direct reports, as well as the atmosphere and dynamics of the teams they comprise.

I see a need and an opportunity for coaches to work directly with what Marita Fridjohn and Faith Fuller call Relationship Systems Intelligence. For me it also hooks up with the African wisdom of ubuntu. After all, most of what is done in the world today is done in teams, and a huge proportion of any leader’s task is to motivate, align, support and guide the teams they lead.

How much do you discuss business strategy in and around your coaching work? How safe and supported do you feel in tackling the biggest picture of your work with your coach? Business leadership coaching is designed as the place for you to pause, reflect and grow. The process should challenge you to address the way your values align with those of your business, and the way your business strategy aligns with your best vision of the way the world in general - and your markets in particular - are moving.

Sustainable lower cost, higher value coaching
Where is the cost in the system of coaching? Clearly one key cost is in the individual coaches, and there is no question that more can be done to ensure quality and qualifications are commensurate with price. I see the growing trend towards formal international certification as one of the ways of systematically stacking up qualifications to help clients compare apples with apples.

Three places I see value boosting, cost cutting opportunities that also benefit the environment are
  • Sandwich large-group training between one-on-one coaching sessions. I’ve seen extraordinary value generated by adding a single coaching session onto the front and back of a well designed training programme.
  • Mix in phone or Skype with face to face sessions, or go virtual all the way. Mixing it up saves huge amounts of travel cost and time, preserves the environment. Perhaps surprisingly, in my experience it also often deepens the quality of the coaching work.
  • Cut costs by up to 40%, particularly in larger organisations, by booking coaches for a whole day at a time and then lining up several coachees one after the other in a block booking approach. By eliminating repeated to-and-fro travel time and unproductive gaps in the coach's day, you avoid having these built into a coach's session fees.