Real Coaching

Apr 15, 2002

In the nineties, executive coaching became a popular management fad, particularly outside of the A/E/P and environmental industry. So while budget cutbacks in Fortune 500 and high-tech companies have eliminated a lot of these expenditures, our industry is just now discovering the benefits that executive coaching can bring. And to tell you the truth, we probably need some of this coaching more so than many other types of businesses. Architects, engineers, and scientists are not always known to be the greatest communicators. Nor are they known to be confrontational when performance problems crop up! We find that many firm owners really don’t know much about what executive coaching could do for their firms. Here are some of the ways coaches can be used to your benefit: Setting goals and monitoring individual managers. We say we want accountability, but accountability starts by having goals that you can hold someone accountable for achieving. And let’s face it— goal setting is not something that we do particularly well. Many times, having someone outside the firm to help you do that for your second tier can be invaluable. One caveat— this outside coach may be better off having some degree of familiarity with our business so they know what kinds of goals to set! Providing feedback to the manager on how he or she is doing. As a group of professionals and business owners, we aren’t real great in this department, either. It’s no fun telling people what they are doing that you don’t like. It often makes us uncomfortable to be so judgmental, and we may fear that the person we are criticizing will take it personally and leave even though we are counting on them. And sometimes we are also self-conscious about telling our people what they are doing well. Maybe we don’t get those kinds of strokes. Or maybe we are afraid that we will raise their expectations too high. Either way, feedback— good and bad— needs to be given by someone who is skilled at gathering the input from appropriate sources in the firm and who knows how to deliver that message. The coach can help. Serving as a sounding board to managers and providing them with advice. Let’s face it. The real nagging problems that keep any of us awake at night typically center on interpersonal relationship/communication issues with others inside and outside of the firm. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had someone you trusted that you could count on for good advice on how to deal with some of these things? The right coach can really help here. Talking people through these things helps the individuals better understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes (not always) they have breakthroughs and make changes that radically increase their own effectiveness. People can and do change over time! Providing input to top management on promotion or who stays/who goes decision-making. Executive coaching, done firm wide and with the right kinds of resources, is a big investment for a firm to make. And as a result, firms that make this investment often find themselves in a position where they have to make a decision about who is worth continuing to invest in and who isn’t. If everyone “gets it” but one person doesn’t, despite repeated attempts to bring the message home, the coaching process may help force this necessary tough call. Or, if business conditions mandate some personnel changes, the coach or coaches can be good objective resources for top management to call on when promotion or firing calls need to be made. Acting as intermediaries for dispute resolution. Many times the coach or coaches can help get individual managers who aren’t communicating or aren’t getting along to do so. Or at least they can help them peacefully coexist. The reason why is they know the whole cast of characters involved and also understand the strengths and weaknesses of these people. Getting everyone in alignment. Getting all managers on a similar program at the same time can have a huge benefit in the form of more consistent philosophy, strategy, and direction. The resulting alignment makes everything better and the firm becomes more effective, and as a result, more profitable. I’m not saying any of this stuff is a panacea. It’s not. But I do believe many firms in our business could really benefit from a comprehensive, firm-wide attempt to deal with this issue. E-mail if you have any thoughts you’d like to share. Originally published 4/15/2002.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.