If you open up your business and yourself to change, the results can be surprising and hugely rewarding – both personally and professionally.

When people ask me what I do, I answer with some variation on the following: ‘I run a business that works with people who want to grow their business’. I don’t say, ‘I’m a coach’, because people have pre-conceived impressions when they hear the words coaching or consulting. You may still find the occasional person who thinks you’re an old-style life coach who is going to make them hug a tree!

The businesses we work with vary across all sectors and are often stuck, or they might be highly energised but unsure of what to do next, or alternatively, they are planning an exit and need to know how to drive valuation. It’s our job to help them work out what they need to do. We do that with a mix of coaching and consulting – they’re not dirty words! And the process is so much more than those two intervention styles. Here’s why.

It starts with a conversation

There are any number of reasons why a business might call us in. Something isn’t working, culturally or commercially, sometimes it’s not clear what it is – and therefore they’re not sure how to resolve it. So the very first thing to do is have a conversation, to start to work out what it is the business needs. It might be a conversation with the CEO or many conversations with people at all levels – and it is here we start to get a picture of what’s needed to get that business moving and growing again. The beauty of what we do is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We define what the client needs and work out best how to meet that.

What comes next is a mix of coaching and consulting

Typically, consultants come into a business to tell the client or business owner what they need to do within a certain area of expertise. A business doesn’t have that skill set, but they don’t need to learn it because they can buy it in. Conversely, a coach will help a business to learn a skill so they can come up with their own solutions and learn to implement them long after the coaching is over. My experience tells me that most people need both consultancy and coaching – but there are points in their life or their business where one is more useful than the other.

Undertaking a business review

A good example of a piece of consulting work we do is a Strategic Business Review. I  go in, take some associates with different specialities with me and take a snapshot of the business. In a recent review for an IT services provider, I spoke to the key people, ran a workshop with another group of people and gathered a lot of information. We are given data – the marketing plan, the revenue and the numbers – of course, but it is more important for me to get the energetic and specific feedback from individuals.

The idea is to ask those in the business individually and collectively what works and what doesn’t. And that is really cathartic as an exercise on its own. It also gives the leaders of the organisation data – in the form of a detailed report – that they can do something with. Sometimes that’s enough, and is valuable in its own right. More often, though, a piece of consulting work like this leads to the owners saying, ‘we need some more support in certain areas, and if we don’t get this sorted out, it is going to stop us generating more revenue and the business just won’t change’. So, it leads to a coaching and consulting programme.

A tailored approach

Whether they’ve been referred to us, come to us via the business review process outlined above or something has piqued their interest, business owners contemplating coaching are open to a conversation, feedback and learning. We’re creating a relationship with that client and unpacking what they need.

The support then clearly varies from client to client. Sometimes they need CEO coaching. I currently work with the CEO of a luxury interior design businesss, and I have two coaching sessions with her every month. This is to help her get him clear about how she’s driving the business forward, managing the team, and how she’s going to position herself and the business going forward

Sometimes it might be that the partners in the business are confused about where they want to take the business. So, that could be a couple of strategy days, off-site and away from the business to have some good conversations and work out how to align their vision. More often it then involves helping them design strategy – be that structural, commercial or cultural – and planning implementation of each strategy

The minimum engagement with a client would be a number of months. I often to say to clients when they start working with me that I’m not going to disappear very quickly! This is because, to really embed change, and do it sustainably, takes time – through executive coaching and development, training with the whole team – and ultimately helping them with implementation the changes discussed and/or agreed on in the strategy work.

So, that process might go on for several years, which I enjoy as longer-term relationships feel more authentic. The nature of the relationship changes over that time – from coaching and consulting to mentoring –  and often friendship

Driving sustainable change

Something we’re seeing increasingly in our work is the desire to learn coaching skills as a management style. So, instead of management or leadership development, owners and managers are asking us to come in and give them the coaching skills we use when we go into a business. In other words, we’re coaching them to learn how to coach their teams – rather than just telling them what to do. If a manager coaches those around them, it drives sustainability and change, it drives capability, and it drives commercial and cultural results in a business. It gives senior leaders the skill to drive the business forward themselves, and I’m personally passionate about that.