“Everyone needs a coach. No matter what you do, you need feedback. That’s how you grow” says Bill Gates. Leveraging outside consultants has become a standard operating procedure in Fortune 500 companies. How important is getting outside help for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs)? Aren’t leaders of those organizations capable of running their own show?
Maybe, but: “It’s not how good you are now. It’s how good you’re going to be that really matters” (Atul Gawande). To reach their full potential, any business leader needs to be challenged on crucial decisions and questioned on assumptions along their journey. Outside coaches bring an independent sounding board and augment the spectrum of experience available in SMBs.
What is coaching in SMB?
In many SMBs, everything that is happening within the company is connected to the founders or business owners. The culture, and the way of doing things, is shaped by the origin of the company and the journey so far. That is a strength, as it brought them where they are today. At the same time, it is a challenge, as it may not bring them to their full potential. Coaching brings in tremendous value with a fresh and unbiased perspective, be it in challenging planned business changes, assessing operational efficiencies, developing leadership strength or simply by keeping leaders accountable.
Commonly used coaching practices include the following main roles:
- Business coaches, who will leverage leadership strengths, support in developing a vision, help in overcoming limiting beliefs, help explore options to face business issues and hold leaders accountable in executing a developed action plan.
- Business mentors, who have first-hand and deep experience of the mentee’s line of work, develop business models based on previous experience, teach relevant business skills and analyze business data to resolve business issues.
- Life coaches, or wellness professionals, help people reach their full potential. They aid their clients in improving their relationships, careers, and day-to-day lives.
The ideal SMB coach brings a broad spectrum of experience and leadership strength. It is usually better to avoid engaging a coach with deep experience in the specific line of business, to avoid blocking innovative thinking. Think of an effective SMB coach as a business coach, a sounding board and a life coach rolled into one. In other words, a holistic approach to coaching, that helps address the intertwined challenges that successful SMBs face.
Examples of leveraging this holistic approach to coaching include:
- Whether you are starting a new business or making significant changes to your business model, you will need a sounding board to validate your innovative ideas and critical changes. Your internal team may not be the best audience as they may readily fall victim to resisting change. For reaching the full potential of the company you may need to make unpopular changes. Reason the more to get an outside view. And when you have a plan, and are ready to make the change, you will need someone to hold you accountable. No internal team can give you the support you need in times of change, the way an experienced external coach can.
- Operational efficiency is a company’s ability to reduce as much waste in time, effort, and materials as possible without sacrificing on its final product. Leaders in a company need to identify, and amend, any bottlenecks in the operations process without affecting or interfering with other parts of the process that are working well. To achieve operational efficiency, three factors must come together: people, process, and technology. It is almost impossible to bring success to the organization if any of these three factors are compromised. To most founders, and many leaders of SMBs, this is the most challenging part of the business. Engaging external views can go a long way in dealing with this necessary, but not most exciting, part of the business.
- At one point or the other, the leadership team of a growing SMB will need to adapt to the new size and texture of the company. Roles may change. Soft skills, like goal setting and conflict resolution, may become more important. Stack overflow will become an issue. Leaders may need to learn how to delegate. Interpersonal communication will become more important and group communication will become more complex. Strategic resource mapping, and coaching key leaders in the organization, will help address growing pains.
- Culture is essentially the living, breathing soul of the business. In an SMB it may not have been actively defined, but it still exists and is in fact one of the things that helped bring the company the success it enjoys today. On their path to scale, SMB leadership will need to accept responsibility for clearly defining and maintaining the company culture. Identifying the culture of the company is something where a coach can assist.
When would you want to engage a coach?
Yes, a coach can help when the company is in trouble after making business changes, or after failing to make those changes, or because scaling up the business proves to be tougher than expected. Some small business owners though, seek coaching during the early stages of inception, to help get their business off the ground, or when making major business decisions, to reduce the risk of failure. Others may look for coaching to improve operations or when scaling up to the next level of growth.
Wherever you are in the lifecycle of your business, consider engaging with a coach now and invest the time to build a trusted relationship that can be of immeasurable value down the road. Engaging in a coaching relationship is a measure of strength rather than a measure of weakness.
What constitutes a great coaching relationship?
Great coaches build trust with their coachees. They maintain confidentiality, communicate clearly, and respect them as people who make themselves vulnerable. This creates a safe space for growth and change. A coaching relationship first and foremost needs to be based on openness in sharing information and providing an honest and crisp sounding board.
Knowing, and writing down, the ‘why’ of engaging a coach is a great way of making sure this investment is going to deliver, that its merits can be defended down the road and that the engagement can be focused on the anticipated results.
Be prepared to talk through forming ideas, expected challenges and draft plans, to get the most out of the engagement. In addition, engaging the coach to review progress helps to stay accountable and address setbacks. Meet often, but not too frequent. Sessions of 30-60 minutes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis works in most cases. Engaging for a fixed time, and possibly a fixed price, will provide solid stakes on both sides of the coaching relationship.