What Can You Gain from Business Coaching?

Business coaching is a process in which a professional coach guides an entrepreneur in the pursuit of their work objectives. It is a way for entrepreneurs to develop their leadership skills, create business strategies, and improve their thinking. To understand what coaches do to earn their money, Harvard Business Review (HBR) conducted a survey of 140 outstanding coaches and invited five experts to comment on the findings. The commentators had conflicting views on the direction the field is taking and where it should go, reflecting the contradictions that emerged among the respondents. Both commentators and coaches agreed that it is necessary to raise the level in several areas for the industry to mature, but there was no consensus on how to do so.

However, they generally agreed that the reasons why companies hire coaches have changed. Ten years ago, most companies hired a coach to help them correct toxic behavior at the top. Nowadays, most training consists of developing the capacities of high-potential actors. As a result of this broader mission, there is much more confusion surrounding issues such as how coaches define the scope of hiring, how they measure and report on progress, and the credentials that a company should use to select a coach. Clearly, this is not a description of what most coaches do today, as demonstrated by the survey results.

What we consider coaching is generally a service to middle management provided by entrepreneurs with experience in consulting, psychology or human resources. This type of training became popular in the last five years because companies faced a shortage of talent and were concerned about the turnover of key employees. Companies wanted to demonstrate their commitment to developing their high-potential executives, so they hired coaches. At the same time, entrepreneurs needed to develop not only quantitative capabilities but also people-oriented skills, and many coaches are useful for this. As coaching has become more common, any stigma associated with receiving it on an individual level has disappeared. Now, it's often considered a badge of honor.

The coaching industry will remain fragmented until a few associations build a brand, bring together outstanding people, eliminate those who aren't so good, and build a reputation for their excellent work. Some coaching groups are evolving in this direction, but most are still boutique firms that specialize in managing and interpreting 360-degree evaluations. To overcome this level, the industry urgently needs a leader who can define the profession and create a serious company, as did Marvin Bower when he invented modern professional management consulting in the form of McKinsey & Company. A big problem that the professional coaching firm of tomorrow must solve is the difficulty of measuring performance, as the coaches themselves point out in the survey. I'm not aware of any research that has followed trained executives for extended periods; most of the evidence on effectiveness remains anecdotal. I have the impression that positive stories outnumber negative stories, but as the industry matures, coaching firms should be able to demonstrate how they generate change as well as offer a clear methodology for measuring results. Despite the recession, I agree with most of the respondents that the demand for coaching will not decrease in the long term.

The big developing economies (Brazil, China, India and Russia) are going to have an enormous appetite for it because their administration is so young. University graduates start working at 23 and realize that their bosses are all 25 with experience to match. Forty years ago nobody talked about executive coaching. Twenty years ago coaching was primarily aimed at talented but aggressive executives who would likely be fired if something didn't change. Nowadays coaching is a popular and powerful solution for ensuring maximum performance from an organization's most important talent. Nearly half of the coaches surveyed in this study reported that they are hired primarily to work with executives as they have positive sides of training; developing high-potential talent and facilitating transition to or from top positions.

Another 26% said that most of the time they are called upon to act as sounding boards on organizational dynamics or strategic issues. Relatively few coaches said that organizations hire them more frequently to address derailing behavior. The problem is when organizations ask for one thing and get another. Often companies have no idea what coaches are actually doing. All coaches recognize that they should make you more competent and self-sufficient.

If the coaching relationship isn't doing that it's very likely you're becoming too dependent. Dependency isn't always bad; having friends depend on each other for example is a good thing. But we all know people who can't make a decision without talking to their psychotherapists first and some executives turn to their coaches in same way; having conversations with coach which should be had with other senior management executives or with teams. The data from this survey shows that more than half of respondents think their customers are not too dependent on them. Coaches have economic incentive to ignore problem of dependency which creates potential conflict of interest; it's natural they want to expand business but best coaches like best therapists put interests of clients first. Harry Levinson father of coaching worked with top executives of his time he said if coach wasn't aware dynamics of dependency then he didn't have right to be coach; what this means for you is before hiring coach you should ask him how he handles dependency in relationships. However there are two particular types of change approach which are dangerous and should be avoided; one is when behavioral coach (my term for someone who monitors your behavior) seduces you with form psychotherapy without making it explicit; for example he or she may say he or she now ready to...

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