Help for business management: consultant or coach?

Many businesses, from sole traders to medium and large organizations, are taking measures against the recession facing us. Some of them will thrive, others will carry on business as usual and others, perhaps a percentage larger than average, will eventually close down.

Those directors and business owners who are analysing their businesses to formulate a strategic plan are often encountering some recurring, well known problems:

  • Inadequate organization that sometimes duplicates tasks, costs and generates inefficiency
  • Malfunctioning communication that causes information overflow for certain people and lack of information for others
  • Inefficient management that often lacks on focus and correct prioritization of tasks
  • Personal conflicts that cause friction and further lowers the already strained morale.

In many cases hiring an external professional (EP) to help with current management issues has its advantages:

  • The EP can offer a detached view to problems and the daily routine that most employees and managers usually have
  • The EP will be unaffected by the “we always did this way” kind of mentality
  • The EP will be willing to solve problems and sort out the causes involved in them irrespectively of historical events within the organization

For many years the a business consultant was synonymous with the above indicated EP. More recently a growing number of professionals moved toward a different way of helping companies and their business: becoming a business coach.  A business coach can help identifying, addressing and solving company problems. This is done by supporting the business owner or the management team to implement a solution that suits their company, management style and available resources in terms of people and capital.

A consultant, whether an independent freelance or part of a consultancy firm, tends to be highly specialized and specific in the tasks to be carried out. Nonetheless many people that used a consultant for their organization have complained about one main aspect of consultancy practice: consultants are in fact analyzing problems very well, with tools and methodologies that are not necessarily obvious or well known, but then they deliver a report that states what wrong and eventually how to address it. Another aspect of consultancy that can be often overlooked is the quality of people found in the organization they are consulting. Not every manager or entrepreneur has the same business school preparation that most consultants have. The suggested solutions might be difficult if not impossible to implement with the available resources and so the whole plan falls apart.

In a coaching approach problems are truly solved by the manager or the executive being coached. The coach will not simply suggest a solution expecting an automatic implementation. In fact suggesting is definitely the last thing that coaching offers: it supports the client to reach the solution with a structured and properly organized conversation, guiding the client to take action and ensuring these actions deliver the expected results.

While consultants are an excellent way of addressing business issues and problems providing specialized help in very specific sectors the business coach will help focussing on existing, perhaps under utilized skills and talent pulling the solution from the inside, in a very cost effective way.

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This post was written by massimo on 27 Nov 2008

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