Coaching or Consulting?

A realization came to me one day that I spent a noticeable amount of time coaching people, even long after I placed them. A few years ago I decided to make it official and put some real credentials to it in order to expand my professional offerings. Now, I work with individuals and companies all over North America on leadership development, organizational planning and development, efficiency strategies, and sales growth.

Whenever I start with a new group wanting to increase their efficiency to boost their sales, I get a lot of the same questions from the business managers and owners:

  • How can I get more productivity with the same people?
  • How can you turn bad habits into good ones?
  • Can you get Suzie Q to pick up the phone and make a decent marketing call?
  • Where can I get some higher margin business?
  • Can you get Tom Jones to work normal hours again? He’s been here a long time and comes and goes as he pleases because he’s the top producer.
  • Where can I find a rainmaker without a non-compete?
  • What do you think of my pay plan?

The answers to these questions are clearly not that easy or simple, and they vary widely based upon location, industry focus, line of business, available technology, and most importantly, the management philosophy of the company.

The solutions to all of these require a hard look at the infrastructure and process flow of the organization coupled with an introspective analysis of how they got into these patterns in the first place.

Many of us have organizational structures that mirror how we first learned the business. We do it that way because it’s worked in the past and we see no real reason to change it now. We have pay plans designed to reward high sales because we believe one of the highest and most rewarding motivators is that everyone wants to make more money.

But here you are, the manager of a complacent group that is organized around how you’ve always done business, but sales revenue is down, efficiency has dropped, and motivation seems to be lacking. They’re comfortable with what they are earning on the pay plan they’ve become accustomed to. You as the owner or manager would hope your generously lucrative bonus/commission plan would incentivize them to work even harder so they could make more money; but instead, they don’t take much work home with them and don’t attend events that could expand their network. You are a frustrated sales leader that needs some help, so you look for a trainer, or a consultant, to help you energize your team.

After some research and calls to former bosses and co-workers to see who they know who does this type of work, you finally find someone that is available and fits your budget. After several hours on the phone planning, the consultant comes in a few weeks later and gets everyone moving in the right direction and things are exactly as you’d imagined they could be. Paradise found! Placements are going up on the board faster than they ever have. But a month or two after the consultant leaves, you notice the planner you invested in for Suzie Q is in the drawer, not on her desk, and Tom Jones is coming and going as he pleases again. What’s gone wrong?

At a recent event in Las Vegas, I was discussing a project like this with one of my fellow Pinnacle Society members. My colleague was working with the owner of a small boutique placement firm on the west coast who had hired my colleague to “coach” him on how to increase his sales. For a fee of several thousand dollars, she shared her secret sauce with him. She made sales and recruiting calls with him and on behalf of his company over a couple of weeks showing him exactly how she had achieved Pinnacle status and his sales rose steadily over this period.

By the time she and I sat down, her client, the owner, was driving her crazy calling her and asking her questions almost daily. As we talked, she told me exactly what she had done and how she coached him…which was when I pointed out,

You haven’t coached him, you consulted with him.

She looked at me, a little perplexed, “Sure, coaching, consulting, I use those terms interchangeably.”

“But they are two very different skill sets.”

“What do you mean? What’s the difference?”

“Coaches are trained to ask powerful questions and help guide people to their own answers. Consultants are hired for their specific expertise. They come in and show you how to do it, but the learning process is different.”

She thought about it for a minute. “You’re right; he’s calling me constantly looking for help on individual deals because my work with him didn’t empower him to arrive at his own answers.”

Exactly.

So, you need some help. What should you choose? A Coach or a Consultant? How do decide what’s right for you?

What is Coaching?

Wikipedia seems to have the right idea: “Coaching tends to focus on an existing issue (from which to move away) or a specific outcome that the individual wishes to achieve (move towards). In both cases, the coach aims to stimulate the coachee to uncover innate knowledge so they can achieve a sustainable result. Coaches will normally check that the specific learning can be successfully re-applied by the coachee, to deal with other issues in the future. The structure and methodologies of coaching are very numerous with one unifying feature, coaching approaches are predominantly facilitating in style, that is to say that the coach is mainly asking questions and challenging the coachee to learn from their own resources.”

In general, coaching involves extending traditional training methods to include focus on (1) an individual’s needs and accomplishments, (2) close observation, and (3) impartial and non-judgmental feedback on performance.

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What is a Consultant?

Wikipedia to the rescue: “a professional who provides professional or expert advice in a particular area of expertise. A consultant is usually an expert or a professional in a specific field and has a wide knowledge of the subject matter. A consultant usually works for a consultancy firm or is self-employed, and engages with multiple and changing clients. Thus, clients have access to deeper levels of expertise than would be feasible for them to retain in-house, and may purchase only as much service from the outside consultant as desired.”

I’ve been an International Coaching Federation certified coach for many years now and I also professionally consult with clients on specific topics such as organizational development, social media strategy, pipelining and other global recruiting, employment, and sales strategies. If you are looking for someone to help energize your group, before you make the investment, consider your organization’s needs:

  • A coach will work with you one on one or in teams, getting to know people specifically, and will help lead people toward mutual understanding of goals.
  • A consultant will work with management on setting goals based on industry trends and break down how those metrics should look in an organization based on competitive knowledge.
  • A coach will create specific facilitated discussions and exercises geared towards a specific learning outcome.
  • A consultant will gather data, perform analysis and present results against industry standards.

Before you decide, give yourself an idea of your unique needs:

  • Find out what your averages are over a year so that you can evaluate your metrics.
  • Identify your opportunities for efficiency.
  • Create a strategy that boils down to daily or weekly targeted activities.
  • Develop a monitoring device to track your progress.
  • Implement your strategy in the office, considering who is best at what work and who wants to learn something new.
  • Follow up and be diligent.
  • Fine tune your strategy as your business demands, but don’t allow special projects to veer completely off course even in the short term.

Where some situations may require a coach and others a consultant, you might need both for different areas and either one is a valuable resource if used properly.

Most employees fear change but you as the manager/owner have to evolve with your market. Sometimes, this can mean parting ways with certain people. Everyone’s replaceable. You don’t want them to go to a competitor, but can you find ways to make the same job new again for them? This is a repetitive business — how can you keep it fresh?

Find ways to motivate yourself — not just everyone else. Any new strategy will take a few months to start seeing results but if you stick with it, it will work. And there’s nothing wrong with altering your activities based on market trends or client needs. Remember: fail to plan, plan to fail. Don’t just plan your actual calls, plan your overarching strategy and break that down into calls. You’re only as strong as your weakest employee so lead by example. Employing a coach or consultant to help you find answers to your own questions is a great start.

About the Author

Carolyn Thompson resides in the Washington, D.C. area and has been an executive recruiter since 1988. She is Director of Human Resource Services Dixon Hughes Goodman, one of the largest CPA firms in the US. A creative entrepreneur and a certified career coach, she is frequently called upon by national news organizations such as The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and AOL Jobs among others to contribute content on a variety of topics. Her articles on career development and the employment industry have been published in various national magazines, trade journals, and on the Internet. An enthusiastic motivational speaker, she is a member of the National Speakers Association, The Pinnacle Society, and The International Coach Federation. She is certified by both the National Association of Personnel Services (NAPS) and the American Staffing Association (ASA) as a continuing education provider. Carolyn is an alumnus of Kansas State University and author of TEN EASY STEPS TO A PERFECT RESUME and TEN STEPS TO FINDING THE PERFECT JOB, and TEN SECRETS TO GETTING PROMOTED available in select bookstores and on Amazon.com. Her blog can be found at www.JobSearchJungle.com.