Got Goals?

Are you an entrepreneur excited to bring a fresh service or product into the world? Or do you work for an existing business, and worry that your progress is stalled? In either case, if you are ready for a new challenge, setting, revamping or revisiting your goals with the help of a business coach are par for the course. Even if you’re not looking for a reboot, goal-setting can be an important exercise that shows you not only where you have been but where you want to go.

But how, exactly, can a business coach help with goal-setting? And how does what a coach offers differ from the services of a consultant? Knowing  the difference is an important start, says Karen Somerville of Minnesota-based Performance Plus Group, who works as a business coach, consultant and educator.

“In a nutshell, consultants are paid to come up with the answers,” she says. “Coaching helps knowledgeable leaders come up with their own answers.” Much like the old proverb that says “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime,” business coaching is about helping an entrepreneur or executive reflect on a given situation and the ways he or she might handle it.

“If someone contacted me and wanted to talk about setting goals, I would ask them ‘Why are you thinking that goals are important to you at this stage in your business?’” Somerville says.

If, for example, a company or individual felt it needed to find new tools to support its marketing strategy or internal policies, she says “I would ask them questions like ‘What kind of tools are you already using?’ ‘How is it that they are not working?’ or ‘Who might you talk to in your network to find out what tools have worked for them?’ It’s a very different lens as a coach. You’re framing your responses as questions and not telling someone what to do…I don’t come up with the answers. I come up with powerful questions to help them find those answers.”

Challenging fixed business strategies or individual attitudes is another way that business coaches might help a client recognize new solutions, ideas or goals. Somerville sometimes coaches individuals at higher levels of management because their position can be inherently isolating, which might make a change in thinking or strategy harder to come by.  “I often get permission to probe deeper,” she says. “Like ‘You said something very interesting, may I challenge you on that?’”

For goal-setting—or most other tasks—with a business coach to be effective, it’s important to talk openly and set expectations to define the relationship, Somerville says . Because there are many individuals, like herself, who do both business coaching and consulting, she cautions that it’s important to remember which hat they were hired to wear. A consultant is likely to receive raw financial data and reports that a coach would not. Or they may be expected to fix a problem directly.

“There are people who might feel it’s a detriment to have a consultant’s background – you have to be very conscious of that as a coach,” says Somerville. “It’s important to determine whether they are looking for a consultant or a coach and be willing to say, as a coach, ‘I think you need to consider hiring a consultant instead.’”

Above all, business coaching requires developing a strong relationship with a high level of trust, because, as Somerville puts it, when an individual feels stuck, “We are helping the individual uncover some things about themselves that they haven’t looked at before.”

“My goal as a coach is to end the coaching conversation with the client having articulated an action plan,” she says. “At the end, I will ask ‘What are you getting out of this conversation?’ and ‘What are you wanting to move forward with?’ What they articulate from there is an action plan. Then, in the next conversation they’ll tell me what they want to pick up on next, and that moves them forward even further.”

Tracy Z. Turner

Tracy Zollinger Turner is an award-winning feature writer and editor with a knack for getting people to talk about things that matter to them and then telling their stories with compassion. She resides in between the hills and cornfields of the Midwest with her fiancé, son and three interrupting dogs.

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