The practice of coaching in a business environment is a relatively recent phenomena, tracing its origins to sports coaching and really coming into its own in the mid-90s. The essence of coaching lies in helping a business manager or an entrepreneur learn, acquire competency and set goals in a manner so that he or she is best able to maximize their potential for high performance. This is vastly different from training in the sense that coaching is not prescriptive and a coach does not provide answers but helps the entrepreneur find solutions to issues facing him through a series of collaborative conversations. In a training situation, on the other hand, a trainer employs various training models, tools and game play to impart knowledge about a specific topic.

In this context, it would also be pertinent to talk about and differentiate “Mentoring”, which is another word that made its appearance in business parlance around the same time as coaching. Mentor has its origins in Greek mythology. Odysseus while leaving to fight the Trojan War handed over the responsibility of his palace and his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor, telling him to teach his son “all that he knew”. Since then the word mentor has entered the English lexicon to mean someone who teaches skills and imparts wisdom and knowledge to a younger associate. Quite often, people use the terms coaching and mentoring interchangeably but as is evident from the above there is significant difference between the two, with mentoring being closer to training rather than coaching. Good coaching and good mentoring however can go hand in hand and contribute tremendously to helping an entrepreneur realize his potential and maximize results..

Coaching is also distinct from consulting and it is important to appreciate the difference between the two. Unlike a consultant, a coach will not provide a ready made solution. On the contrary, a coach will help the business manager find solutions through a very structured exploration of causal factors and alternatives. A consultant on the other hand will provide specific answers and is usually part of a team which works together on the project and is interchangeable. A coach will always be the same person and is not replaceable and will focus his intervention on an individual. A coach will ask the question “How” while a consultant will answer the question “How”. In doing so, the coach leverages your own experience and wisdom in the specific domain to enhance performance without being limited by his domain knowledge. A consultant, on the other hand, necessarily needs to bring specific domain knowledge to the table in order to be effective.

Coaching is normally seen and perceived as a one-on-one situation between the coach and the entrepreneur or the business manager. However, there are many opportunities within an organization when coaching may be utilized in a team situation, as a tool to enhance performance. Before that, though, some questions to ask are: Is yours a learning organization? Are there processes in place which institutionalize learning in the organization? Do you judge and appraise for potential or only for performance? Coaching is a powerful tool to use when you make the move to a performing to potential culture in your company but you need to be clear about the organization’s maturity level to manage the coaching interventions. As an example, let us say one of your managers whom you had assigned the responsibility of creating and submitting an client proposal informs you that while he did everything that you asked for, the RFP has been rejected by the client. Do you respond by saying: a/ you must have missed something or done something wrong and go off upset? or b/ telling the manager to recheck the proposal to see what has gone wrong and what he has missed out, and you will shortly work with him to find a solution? He comes back a couple of hours later, after discovering where he went wrong and having sent the corrected proposal to the client. The latter approach exemplifies the 3 strong tenets of coaching at the workplace; awareness, responsibility and self-belief. The empowering culture created by your response enables the manager to be aware of his potential, feel responsible for his work and build self-belief in his ability to perform to high standards.

Situations in which coaching may be appropriate and most effective for you and your organization.

Coaching for Performance: In a SME, more often than not, there is just the entrepreneur who is responsible for strategy and execution all by himself without the benefit of a diverse management team. While in some family run businesses, he may have the safety net of turning to family elders for advise and direction, there are innumerable business situations where the safety net may not be adequate. Despite the safety net, he may feel the need to talk to someone to help him navigate his way around the complexities of running an enterprise in a competitive environment and enhance his and the company’s performance.

Coaching to Innovate: Innovate or perish! Whether you are running your own business, large or small, or you are part of a big company, given the complex and increasingly competitive business environment today, it is becoming more and more imperative to create a culture of innovation in your company to stay one step ahead. Innovation is not just about the process of creating new products which meet the consumer needs better than ever, but also innovating in terms of processes and people to create initiatives that lead to greater efficiencies in the company. Efficiencies that allow you to assume cost leadership or create a compelling value proposition that enables high consumer traction and high performance organization.

Coaching at the Workplace: Some typical situations in an organization where coaching as a tool for performance enhancement may be employed are:

a. Building vision and business strategy
b. Team and relationship building
c. Problem solving and conflict management
d. Planning & reviewing and performance appraisals
e. Staff development & motivation

These are but a few examples of the type of situations where coaching has helped improve performance at the workplace. One of the more common instances is a situation where a high potential executive has been earmarked for growth and undergoes a structured coaching program in preparation for taking on higher responsibility.

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