A blank page approach to coaching

There are many misconceptions about what a business coach is and can do for your business: I am convinced that this is mainly because coaching is still an unregulated profession and literally any cowboy can call himself coach and start trading.

Business owners that have been exposed to these lesser professional coaches often report very different experiences to the basic underlying concept that coaching (business or otherwise) should be about.  Coaching is a self reflecting learning experience where the coach brings a structure and helps you to think better and facilitate your decision process while, at the same time, keeping you accountable for the actions you are committing to.

I was recently having a conversation with a business owner in the Cambridge area: in the past he worked with a business coach that belongs to an international franchise and he was trying to understand how I work, compared to them.  The best analogy I could use in explaining my totally different coaching technique was to define it as a blank page approach to coaching.

So I first listed what I don’t do:

  • Supply reading material;
  • Use predefined strategies for sales, marketing, customer services and other business management activities;
  • Suggest what to do;
  • Consult in any way;

Then I listed what I can do for you as a business owner:

  • Ask questions like: “how can I help you” and “what would you like to achieve”;
  • Helping you to define and refine important goals for your business;
  • Bring a well proven structure to help your thinking and decision process;
  • Being an objective sounding board that while understands how to run a business helps you with questions that are allowing you to get to your own solutions;
  • Keep you accountable toward your goals and the actions that you define from time to time.

The blank page approach to coaching is about arriving in front of you with nothing more than a notepad and a pen, asking questions, taking notes and helping you to move from a current situation of uncertainty, dilemma, lack or clarity or direction into a constructive process that culminates with a concise, specific and clear list of actions that tackle essential activities for you to move toward your business goals and achieving them.

Posted under Articles, Coaching in Action

This post was written by massimo on 30 January 2010

Tags: , , , , ,

Procrastination: a few coaching questions to help you moving on

Procrastination is a common issue that I encounter when working with solopreneurs and people running small businesses.  Procrastination can be defined as “putting off a pending task because of laziness, lack of interest” or different prioritization about what should be done.  Without a precise and well defined mechanism of accountability we choose tasks we like and keep delaying the ones we like less, and this can become a dangerous habit.  The effects of procrastination on many of my clients to date was initially to affect their performance at work then, increasingly, it was producing stress and other related diseases that eventually affected the physical health of some of them.

When clients are complaining to me about how procrastination is affecting their performance and ultimately their well being I am some times attempted to tell them to just get on with the pending tasks they are procrastinating.  That would be logical and easy but then, as a coach, I must (and I do) use a questioning methodology that is helping the clients’ thinking process and it helps them to see a way forward and commit toward the necessary actions.

Here are some of the questions that I use in these situations:

  • Is the completion of this pending task affecting other activities?
  • How often do you think about this pending task?
  • Is the completion of this pending task affecting other people?
  • How would you feel if you could tick this pending task off your list?
  • Do you feel guilty when you think about this pending task?
  • Is something stopping you from completing this pending task?
  • How much time per day/week do you spend thinking about this pending task?
  • Would you behave differently if you promised to complete this pending task to a colleague, client or supplier?
  • How can I help your thinking toward the best outcome for you?

The questions above are not in random order: there is no logical priority in using one before the other and I never needed to use more than 2 or 3 of them to move the client toward a commitment of completion by the following session.  I would usually choose the questions following the content of the conversation that led to the procrastination topic.

Next time you are procrastinating try reading the above questions and see whether they can help you complete your pending task(s) by tackling procrastination head on.

Posted under Articles

This post was written by massimo on 8 January 2010

Tags: , , , ,

What is the real cause behind that delayed task?

While working with a client this week I helped her to identify the real reason for her to delay a very important action and putting it off for more than a month.

Two sessions before the client, that I will call AB to protect her privacy, decided that it was pivotal for her business to hire a VA (virtual assistant) to help her concentrating on her main job and becoming more effective.  Having a list of three well known VA in the area she committed to ring all of them and evaluate which one would best suit her needs.  AB stated that the whole operation would have taken about one hour that it would have been completed by the next session.

Two session and a month later the action was still pending so I decided to be investigate a little the thinking process about an action that:

  1. it a was a necessary step toward the achievement of the goal we are working on
  2. it required short time to be completed

I therefore tackled the conversation as follows:

Massimo: I see this action is still incomplete: can I ask you what is getting in the way?

AB (a bit embarrassed): oh, well other things got in the way.

Massimo: if I may, I would say you are somehow avoiding this action.  Do you think it is still important for the achievement of your goal?

AB (trying to hide her deeper emotions): yes of course but…

Massimo: I have a feeling that you have a deeper reason for avoiding this action.  Is it something you could share with me?

AB (looking more relieved): you know… I have been thinking for a long time about these three VA and I don’t like any of them so I don’t thing I would like to work with any of them.

Massimo: that’s interesting and what could you do about this?

AB (more relieved): I guess I could look for others available in the area.

Massimo: do you think you could do this over the next two weeks?

AB (smiling and full of motivation): yes absolutely.

Massimo: great! I’ll add it an action and we’ll discuss it during the next session if that’s ok.

Five days later AB sent me an Email stating that this action was complete: she found the right VA, she hired her and in 2 days her work was already showing great progress for AB’s business.  What I did in this case was checking the emotions around her decision process: procrastination in this case was caused by her not liking the people she was supposed to ring and an entire month went by before we managed to acknowledge these emotions and help AB to move forward.

Next time you are procrastinating on a particular action try having a good look around what emotions are linked to it:  you may find yourself thinking quite intensely about something completely different from what you are supposed to be doing.

Posted under Coaching in Action

This post was written by massimo on 11 December 2009

Tags: , , , ,

11 questions to ask before hiring a business coach

More and more people are nowadays becoming accustomed to the idea that businesses can be coached and effectively helped to enhance their performance, in a broad range of business management areas.  As the market is still totally unregulated many people are defining themselves coaches overnight without feeling the need of proper training.  This could have serious consequences for you and your business if you happen to hire one of these cowboys.  So if you are considering using the skills of a business coach to help you and your business to be more successful I am listing here are some questions to assess his/her experience and credibility:

  1. what coaching qualifications do you hold?
  2. what can I get from my business while being coached by you?
  3. on what topics can you advise me about my business?
  4. what areas of my business can you coach?
  5. will I be coached on one area at a time?
  6. in what areas do you specialise?
  7. how long have you been coaching for?
  8. how many clients have you coached to date?
  9. have you coached a similar business before?
  10. what is your background before you started coaching?
  11. do you offer packages or do you charge on a on going basis?

Listed below are some acceptable answers you could be getting; your personal expectations will have a key role in deciding what is acceptable for you:

  1. I hold a Business Coaching Training Certificate from Results Coaching System” or “I qualified as a coach from the Coaching Academy”.  Anybody can start selling his/her services without really being a qualified coach: unfortunately many people are currently doing it.  Having a qualification from a recognised and respectable coaching training institution will guarantee you to be dealing with a real coach not just somebody who defines himself/herself a coach.
  2. anything realistically achievable that you are willing to commit time and resources to” or “it will depend on what you would like to achieve”: coaching will help you to move from a current situation to an expected, measurable and tangible  outcome.  In any case the coach cannot know, before hand, what your business needs; you are the only person that should be taking the decision about where your business should be going.  Feel sound suspicious if the coach speculates on the expected outcome.
  3. as a coach I don’t advise, I ask questions and help you to find your own answers”: coaching is all about asking questions and not advising.  A person that advises is not a coach but perhaps a mentor, consultant or trainer.
  4. business  coaching can help businesses owners to work on a broad range of areas, such as sales, marketing, operations, customer care, soft skills, conflict resolution, motivation, personal performance of individuals and teams: the question is… what areas would you like to be coached on?”: the main role for the coach is to inspire you on your decisions about what to do and ensuring that it gets done, ensuring accountability.
  5. I usually help my clients to set 2-3 goals in different areas to ensure of keeping them  fully engaged in the business coaching process: it can happen that certain weeks there will be more progress on one goal than another;  in any case you will be involved, nearly on a daily basis, in some activities that are about your progress toward your goals”: working on a single goal can be prone to times when no progress in being made and it can cause a drop in motivation.
  6. I work primarily with owners and senior managers of small and medium businesses that would like to boost their performance and take their business to the next level”: it’s always advisable dealing with somebody that has clear idea of a specific positioning for his job.
  7. “I have been coaching for 3 and half years, full time for the last 2”: coaching is a relatively new profession and the few top qualified coaches in the UK have been coaching for just a bit more that ten years.  Therefore 2-3 years experience can be considered a substantial and reliable level of expertise, particularly if supported by a serious business management background.
  8. I worked to date with 13 businesses and on average they increased their profits by 23% in 6 months
  9. yes, a company operating in the same field and with similar size and turnover” or “I have never worked specifically with companies similar to yours: nonetheless the fundamental of coaching and business management are the same”: while most people would expect the first answer to be ideal the second one fits perfectly a  coaching scenario.  If you consider that coaching is all about you and your business, without suggestions or advises, the hands on experience with a similar company is not as relevant as you might expect.
  10. I have over 15 years of management experience in junior, senior and board positions in small to large enterprises”: It is essential for a business coach to have some solid hands-on experience in running businesses in a senior role.  Ideally a mix of experience in different sectors and sizes of companies will help the coach to have a richer background that will enable him/her to be more adaptable to your business.  This kind of experience helps the coach to bond quickly and naturally with the client because they can speak the same business jargon.
  11. I offer several packages like business, executive and personal coaching based on 12 sessions developed over 3 to 6 months”: open ended contracts, where you start one day and don’t know when you finish, are reflecting the working methodology of therapists: they are also encouraging the coach to keep you engaged as long as possible in order to make more money off you.

Posted under Articles

This post was written by massimo on 3 October 2009

Tags: , , , , ,

Accountability and clarity of distance: where self coaching fails

I was recently at an event where David Hyner, a well known and respected coach, was explaining his model for self coaching for which he defined the Massive Goal Principle.   David has interviewed in his life a number of top achievers from all walks of life and he derived from them this methodology.

Within an hour of intense and interesting explanation he highlighted a well organized technique that involved a pyramidal structure of concepts and metrics about planning and execution for the achievement of your own big goal.

While I was fascinated by the good structure and the level of charisma that David managed to establish in a venue filled with nearly 50 business people I started thinking about a few simple concepts, mostly biased by my experience and training:

  • Given a large number of people, for each great achiever in that group there are hundreds or thousand that in spite of motivation, inspiration, luck and a number of other factors did not achieve what they planned.  Dan Brown had one of the characters of his novel “The Da Vinci Code” stating that: “history is written by winners”: by the same metric I would say that great achievers are well known or become famous but who tried equally hard with poorer results won’t be mentioned too much.
  • If we look around we’ll notice that many people are not trying to achieve anything great and they are happy to “survive”: having a relatively easy life, a job to pay bills, never challenging themselves and drift along.
  • Most people fail at achieving something because of a number of factors and accountability to themselves and motivation tend to be low or inexistent, even when the initial purpose was good.

In business as well as in life people tend to think in terms of goals: what to do (I want to run a marathon), learn (I want a degree or a new qualification), achieve (I want to raise my turnover by 30% or having a £100K job) and so on.  In reality how many times did you hear somebody saying that she will start dieting, exercising or wasting less time on meaning less tasks at work and so on and so on?

I have even encountered last year an online product that offers, for a fee, a structured coaching program that supposedly helps a pair of friend to set up a mutual coaching programme, establishing goals for each other and coaching each other toward their achievement.  The only experience I have is of two friends of mine who decided to try this and within a few weeks their goals, although if reasonably well defined collapsed for lack of consistency from both parts: committing to a close friend was not felt strong enough and the so-called coaching sections were merely friendly chats without a structure and a time frame.

Self coaching, following a personal commitment or written instructions from a book or online, fails because of the lack of two main factors:

  1. accountability: we tend to promise to ourselves, often in good faith, that we’ll do this and the other.  Many people tend to over commit themselves about their “to do” list: frequently this can cause stress, anxiety or apathy toward the particular task.  Ultimately these are just promises we do to ourselves.  Let’s see 2 examples:
    1. I tell to myself that I will get up at 7AM and go for a run.  I can be the kind of person who does it or, as it can happen, when the alarm clock goes off I might simply ignore it.
    2. I agree with my friend Mark to meet at 7 and go for a run: it becomes an appointment with somebody else and makes me accountable toward him; as I do not want to let Mark down and I will be there at 7.
  2. clarity of distance: when I am involved in a decision about myself it is usually difficult to be objective about the direction to take: think at examples like changing job, deciding upon an important purchase or committing on a business strategy.  An external, detached, person can often see very objectively your situation and come out with a decision that, perhaps, you would not like and take that easily.  The clarity of distance is natural if you are completely extraneous to a person rather than a friend or a relative.  In fact who knows you very well and has exposure to a historical knowledge of what brought you to the decision, might be as biased as you are about it.

The above reasons are offering the perfect case for using a professional coach to help one’s decision process: the coach has (really, should have) qualification and experience to help your decision process and help you to:

  • commit yourself to challenging, realistic and measurable goals
  • ensure that you are accountable toward yourself and the coach
  • when you stuck in an important decision the coach will have the clarity of distance to facilitate your decision by helping your thinking process

Professional Coaching offers structured and time framed sessions that, like short business meetings, are designed to take decision and plan actions.  Coaching is based on questions, powerful questions that help you deciding and committing on what to do: whether you are ponderating the options about the next acquisition for your company, how to plan for a new start-up or what to do next in your career a coach can ensure your thinking process is always at its best.

Posted under Articles

This post was written by massimo on 25 June 2009

Tags: , , , ,