What are the traits of our most successful business coaching clients?
Here’s an interesting truth in our experience: companies that most benefit from working with a business coach are typically run by very talented people. They have remarkable reserves of energy, incredible resilience and the strength of personality to back themselves and persuade others to do the same. They usually have particular skills or knowledge to a very high level, and yet despite all these attributes, they remain willing and ready to work with an external coach in pursuit of new insights, resources and methods. So what are the signs that suggest this relationship might be successful?
The trait of openness is perhaps the most important determinant of whether a business coaching or executive coaching relationship will prove successful - the owner or leader is genuinely open to the thoughts and ideas of others with regard to themselves or their business, and is prepared to take a qualified risk to explore and apply them. Hence our first stop/go signal for a potential business- or executive coaching relationship is the mindset of the business owner or leader.
Negative feelings often mask an otherwise healthy business in need of some ‘TLC’
Another common feature of our experience is that businesses considering a coaching partnership are often in more robust health than they would have us believe. The feelings in the business at the present time may or may not be good, however the fundamentals for survival and even success are often present.
Consider this analogy. I once signed up for a training course to qualify as a life-guard in a public swimming pool. The trainer explained that if someone in distress is waving their arms and flailing around in the pool, it is often the case that their head and shoulders are actually well clear of the water. In other words, they have all the energy and know-how they need to stay at the surface and survive, they have just lost sight of that fact. All that is required is to coach them to direct that energy more productively and they can, and usually will, propel themselves to the side.
Let’s return to our businesses and replace the flailing arms with ‘the three f’s’: widespread feelings of frustration, of running ‘flat out’ or of fear. We often find that such feelings arise in businesses with plenty of customers who are willing to pay for their services at a reasonable margin - the challenge is that their ways of working have not kept pace with the growing and often relentless demands placed on them. Systems, structures and processes that were perfectly designed to get the business ‘up and running’ are no longer fit for the challenge of sustaining performance through the next phase of growth. People are understandably frustrated, annoyed, even unnerved by the resulting inefficiencies that are eroding otherwise healthy margins, and contributing to a sense that things no longer work as they used to. The business needs some ‘TLC’.
Passion, solid fundamentals and an open mind suggest the potential for success
Our second sign then is that there is plenty of energy and passion on the surface, even if some (or even a lot) of it feels negative, while the fundamentals underneath are sufficient to sustain a healthy business. This, combined with the open-mindedness to try something different, creates the potential for change and sustainable success. What is required is some sort of intervention to understand why this has come about, what needs remedying and how best to do this in order to respond to the challenges and opportunities that the business is now facing.
Far more worrying, and less amenable to coaching, is a business that appears lifeless, where there is no energy or passion and customers have sensed this and begun to look elsewhere. In this case, there is little to work with and the prospects are typically not as good.
Absent a business plan, fear can take hold and inhibit decision-making
We mentioned fear, above. A common fear amongst us human beings is a fear of the unknown, which is perhaps more prevalent than ever as we ponder the unprecedented pace of change taking place around the businesses we either own or work for, or both.
Our brains are predisposed to respond to fear in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze. We often encounter the latter in businesses that are yet to define and regularly review a business plan. Absent a clear sense of what the owners want to achieve with the asset they have created, or clarity about the choices they continue to make regarding what to do, and what not to do in pursuit of these aims, business leadership teams can literally be ‘frozen’ when presented with unexpected choices. Sometimes these might be opportunities, such as an approach from a potential acquirer or joint-venture partner. Or they might be threats; from a new market entrant or technology that seemingly renders their business model nul and void.
A third sign that a company may benefit from business coaching then, is the absence of a clearly defined, and documented, plan. Not a dusty book-end, rather a practical management tool that the leadership team uses to periodically review its interpretation of both internal and external developments, and its resulting objectives, strategies, plans and projections. It is often the case that the owners and leaders claim to have a shared sense of where they are headed - albeit we typically find that the claimed degree of alignment is greater than the reality when we probe a little. Perhaps because it is more reassuring to live in the belief that everyone agrees and understands the direction of travel, than to face the reality that they might not. Writing a plan down tends to focus minds and surface truths.
Three signs that your business may benefit from coaching
In summary, the circumstances in which a business might benefit from working with a business coach are as many and varied as the businesses and owners themselves, as we might expect. Three signs to look out for are:
- The mindset of the owner(s): the degree to which they are open-minded and willing to pool their experience, skills and knowledge with those of a coach to create new insights and better outcomes.
- Evident energy and passion in a business, even if these show up negatively in an ongoing (and seemingly ever-harder) battle to meet and exceed customer expectations profitably.
- A business which may be either struggling to take important decisions, or is being driven by others’ agendas for want of a clear and documented plan.