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Coach or consultant? Helping change in work

Time to change

Jo barely made eye contact. Even over the video call, she came across as downtrodden, disempowered and hopeless; an engineering manager in name only. She’d been the same in previous meetings – I’d been doing business improvement consulting with the SAAS company for long enough to have met most of the senior team a few times.

But this time it was different. This was a coaching session, not consulting – and that made all the difference. Instead of interrogating her with a set of questions, and giving my opinions, consultant-style – I was there specifically to help her work out her own best way forward.  

Coaching is largely about listening, with a few key questions to help the client clarify their thinking. It’s a practical approach to help people who are struggling, or who would value help in achieving their full potential – and tends to be particularly useful at times of organisational change. As a consultant working in business improvement – and therefore change – being able to occasionally change over wholeheartedly to ‘coaching’ instead of ‘consultant’ mode, can prove invaluable. Every company has few key folks who could have a huge positive business impact with the help of some coaching to tweak their approach. 

So it proved with Jo. She shared issues that had been burning away at her – for several years. By the end of the first meeting, her phrasing had changed spontaneously from “What do they want from me?” to “What do I want?”. 

That’s huge – she’d managed to shift her mentality away from reacting to others’ demands, to realising that she had her own value to add to the company – and herself.

Second meeting – she was on fire to tell me everything that had happened. She’d stepped forward: she was telling people what she believed the best course of action was, instead of accepting the constant request to do it quickly (and badly). She had spent a lot more time with her team and said thoughtfully of a junior, “You know, I really gotta bring him out of his shell”. Nice.

Then there was Sam. He was pretty much the opposite to Jo – he was full of energy and ideas for ways to help the company. That was also his downfall – his time was spent helping others and doing everything but his own work; he was his own lowest priority. And with the changes I had introduced, this gap was getting very visible – as it had with Jo. So, time for coaching. 

We looked into what he got from helping others; what he’d get if he focused on his own work; what would happen if he said ‘No’ occasionally; his discomfort with prioritising his own work. Again – two weeks later, he’d achieved far more than he’d planned. Once he started, he discovered that breaking the lifetime habit was less difficult than he’d thought; people didn’t hate him for saying ‘No’ – and it felt good to focus on himself, at last.

These are just two examples of how coaching can help in a work context. I’ve been a consultant working in  company operations for decades; I’ve helped a wide range of companies define and improve their tools and processes – so I introduce change, a lot. When companies change, people can struggle – things that had been ‘ok’ for years, now become problematic Stepping away from consultancy and advice-giving, to instead listen and ask coaching powerful questions, helps hugely in the success of the changes are introduced, and the business improvement. And, most importantly, in people’s happiness and pride in their job.

Lir Cowman

Lir Cowman

Business and Personal Coach / Delivery Consultant

25+ years experience in the corporate world at a senior level. Pragmatic, calm and positive approach. A coach who's been there and done that. I love coaching as a way to help folks achieve practical - even transformational - change; it's even more useful than consulting background. Executive, Business, Life and Career coaching are my primary areas, with occasional Agile and Team coaching. I'm generally holistic, though - there's too much overlap between personal and business to exclude either realm. Much as I love NLP and TA and many of the other focus areas of coaching, I take a cross disciplinary approach, adapting techniques as needed.

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