You wouldn’t expect professional service to be free, but yet coaching often is?

You wouldn’t expect professional service to be free, but yet coaching often is?

Imagine ringing up your accountant or solicitor and requesting professional advice nearly daily often after hours and on any given social opportunity. I wonder how many actual accountants and solicitors would entertain this for any length of time before saying that it is time to come in for an appointment with a fee attached. Yet, when it comes to coaching the lines seem a lot more blurred and I am sure I am not the only coach that has been caught in this dilemma of where does friendly support stop and professional time start.

Maybe the training of most coaches is something to have a look at, because most diploma and degree courses in life and business coaching tend to include a pro bono element, where you have to coach a number of hours free of charge in order to gain your qualification. Isn’t that inherently setting graduates up to under-value the service they provide?

The second question is whether most coaches would have given the advice free in any case even if they had never studied to be a coach? Is this one of the reasons why so often clients expect it free especially when they come out of your circle of friends or regular business contact or even clients that have become social friends too? I wonder is it the industry itself that devalues itself more than any other in the professional service sector?

Even after 9 years in business, I sometimes fall in the trap of having given freely of my time and advice trusting that the perceived value I was offering would return in other ways, yet it doesn’t always. A recent event along these lines where I gave freely of my time, advice and encouragement over years completely left me devalued.

Actually with over 12 years of valuable experience in change management consulting around Europe, a successful and award winning business in the coaching industry, Tv-experience, published articles and e-books, an honours degree graduate and holder of an MBA and fluency in 4 languages, I felt worth very little. It was as if all I did for this person was have chats that helped him, which so not felt like he valued any of my skills.

I truly believe that coaching just like accounting or law is not for everyone and is an acquired skill and expertise is fine-tuned over time and with experience. Hence these questions…

The question of perceived value is an interesting one, I did a survey not so long ago of what my clients valued the most about my service as a business coach. The responses varied from having an objective and non-judgemental sounding board, to a trusted motivator that always believed in their ability, to even someone that kept their sanity in a difficult time. In actual fact for most clients the experience and value was different and maybe that is the hardest thing to communicate when you are selling coaching as a professional service, whereas accounting or law may be a lot more clear cut in this regard.

As a coach I would love no more than see all my clients successful and I really love hearing their success stories. When they call at strange hours to report progress and success, I often take the call, but I wonder is that making me too available and not valuing my time or is that being there for a client? I have experienced one scenario where these impromptu feedback sessions were just a decoy for free coaching and I have called a halt to it, which lead to quite a stunned response by the client, who did eventually come around to respecting my value and time. I often wonder if I was a psychotherapist would the same behaviour occur?

As a relatively new industry our value is not always understood and I believe we have a bit of a way to go in order to be fully up on the same level as some of the longer established professional services. So I guess each practitioner has a responsibility to the industry to charge a fair and reasonable price for their service, even the Bible states we were given talents for value purposes if I recall correctly.

With talking, questioning and common reframing as some of the key tools in coaching, it can often be very similar to a close friend listening and supporting you through a tough period. However what I know about some of my clients, they wouldn’t tell their best friends or partners because they have a vested interest in one outcome or other or purely because of the potential embarrassment factor. So I guess the differentiator is the value of neutrality, safety to not lose face and confidentiality, what is that worth to the client?

The recent incident really puzzled me and made me question the whole approach and I guess I also questioned what value I did offer above and beyond being a friend. So next time clients ring out of hours and looking for free advice i will be more cautious and aware and may just not take the call without a paid appointment. Considering most of my clients come from the professional services industry, they would just do the same to me if the situation was reversed.

When I deal with clients that are genuinely not able to work with me due to their financial situation, we have always come to some value trade solution. Actually my fancy mountain bike is one of these brilliant trades, that I am still grateful for even years after the trade, it brings me everywhere.

So if you are a coach, I challenge you to put value on neutrality, protection and confidentiality. If you are one of those chancers that want to share success stories as a decoy… hmmm from now on book an appointment and I will be delighted to listen, encourage, support and question.

What can a business coach do for you in a recession and some figures to back it up?

What can a business coach do for you in a recession and some figures to back it up?

Before I start this blog post I have to admit that I dislike blowing my own trumpet, hence it is only because I found some very interesting statistical data that I have decided to post this information all the same. As a business coach in practice for close to 10 years, I have seen ups and downs in both my business as well as that of my clients and most pertinent of all the change in the economy here in Ireland as well as globally. What I find fascinating that in a time of economic downturn, services like training, coaching, marketing, advertising etc, become some of the first to be cut, usually I hate to say it on advice from the accountants in this world. Now I don’t for one minute want to tell you that you shouldn’t look at your cost base, because when I coach small businesses it is also on the agenda, but often it involves looking at production processes, staff productivity and similar internal issues first before touching lead generating and business development related functions.

One thing a recession does is force businesses to look at themselves critically and they have to become more successful and competitive from the inside out. I remember an interesting conversation I had with a fellow entrepreneur in the boom times in Ireland and he maintained that anybody could run a business in a booming economy, but only competitive and well-structured businesses would survive a recession. I have to say at the rate that small and medium sized businesses are closing down, this statement came up in my mind and I tend to agree that survival of the fittest will once again prevail all the way from the animal world into business.

Research suggests that by using a business coach you can on average increase your profit margin by 46%, but close to 50% of businesses will never look for that external sounding board for their business. Often the business coach will assist the owner in looking at alternative courses of action for increasing the business and navigating through the pitfalls of a falling economy.

The international coach federation (ICF) surveyed 210 coaching clients about the values and use of coaching, below are some of the key findings of the study, which fascinated me and just compelled me to share them. Participants found
62.4% better goal-setting
60.5% more work/life balance
57.1% decrease in stress levels
52.4% increase in self-confidence
43.3% improvement in general quality of life
25.7% more income
33.8% better health and fitness
33.3% improved family relationships
25.7% stopped a bad habit
My clients tell me about their success stories all of the time and we do have a great track record in our business with clients, but when it is confirmed by an independent study I just wonder what will the business owners amongst you have to say the next time your accountant questions business coaching expenditure. I have employed a number of coaches over the course of my business life and continue to do so and I can happily concur with some of these findings from personal experience.

So the real question is, what are you doing to navigate through this recession?
Where is your support team?
What benchmarks and yardsticks do you use to stop the panic decisions?

If someone gave you between a 25% and 46% chance of increasing your income, by having a business coach, would it actually persuade you to have one or would you just muddle on regardless?

I have to say I have had some very interesting conversations with potential clients in the last number of months and the willingness to invest money in development of the owner and their team is often left to the last minute and I will admit I very subjectively with a vested interest question this! Business coahcing is not a quick fix or a panic solution and really works best when implemented sooner rather than later. Ironically all our clients that have continued coaching despite the economic climate change are hitting fantastic results accross the spectrum, but then I would say that I am their coach.

For good health the doctor recommends a minimum of 5-portions a day of fruit and vegetables, well I challenge you to a 5 a day business development actions for your business every single working day and if you work in sales this will work for you too. What 5 things are you doing every day to generate new income, new leads, new clients? What have you done today?

I also very strongly suggest whether you are a business owner, manager or employee in need of more income, better goals, less stress and increased quality of life and work/life balance, to bite the bullet and hire a coach. Oh, and don’t just take my biaised word for it, the ICF found these statistics. In any case, we are open for business and ready to take on more clients, are you?

Drawing the line

Drawing the line

Making decisions is not always easy and clear cut, but sometimes it really is just a case of drawing a line and stepping over it to move forward or even drawing a line for others to know that they have reached the boundary of your toleration or patience. My coach tells me sometimes that when you reach a point of dissatisfaction in whatever scenario in life or business that this is an ideal point to examine the boundaries and maybe look at whether they need to be reset and adapted.

In the last couple of weeks I have had to make a few important decisions, which definitely stretched my comfort zone in terms of boundaries. So whether you have business decisions, personal choices or even staffing questions to answer, this may well be relevant to you and useful processing or questioning.

In this economy a lot of small business owners are facing important decisions regarding staff, investments etc. What was acceptable behaviour or at the most tolerated from staff in a boom economy, now has become obvious as non-constructive or even unhelpful. Because there is more management time for observation and analysis, clarity is coming forward often like a blinding flash of light. More and more frequently these days, I have conversations with clients regarding toleration levels and at what point to draw the line.

Here is a good yardstick: we assume you are unhappy with a situation…

Ask yourself, what effect is this having on me, on my business, on my clients, on my time, on my health, etc.

Then establish your boundary line or the point at which you say ‘I have had enough’.

When you know at what point the line is reached, all you need to work out is how to deal with the changes that inevitably will have to be made. From the line forward you need a plan of action, whether this is parting company, giving up a business, a client, a supplier or letting go of a staff member. Once you know your options, the best course of action often jumps out very clearly in your research process. On rare occasions inaction is the correct approach.

I find that a lot of clients and friends are blaming the economy for not making decisions, because the impact it may have on other people, but they forget they are only ever neglecting their own boundaries. Crisis can lead to indecision and sometimes time and distance will lead to perspective. But let’s face it, the recession is going to be around for some time and it is very much a case of let’s draw the line of moaning about it and stepping over it and designing a plan of action for yourself as to what you will do from here on in.

Energy wasted on what-if scenario’s isn’t always helpful and if you are born with the analysis gene, be aware you could be affected by analysis paralysis just as easily. In actual fact the time for lining up ducks and crossing t’s is not a time of crisis, where really only decisive action is the way forwards.

It does mean gathering the courage to hold difficult conversations with people that have really stepped over the boundary for long enough and have gotten away with it for far too long. It also means sometimes embarking on scary new actions, when your confidence may be screaming out for the opposite to action. It may mean becoming a portfolio worker with more than one job or string to your bow. It may even mean moving to a different location, job, etc.

Only you can decide when you need to draw that line and enforce the boundary. Tolerating people pushing the boundary consistently is ultimately bad for you, your sanity and definitely long-term also your good health. It is perfectly justified to explain to someone that enough has been reached, just say it with calm diplomacy and a smile, even if in your heart you feel like punching or screaming their head off. It takes a bit of practice, but even I master calm diplomacy on occasion even when my blunt and direct approach is edging to come out. In my mind I try to see it from their point of view, which on occasion is hard to do.

When you are going through a particularly difficult time, you may find a lot of people come along who will offer advice willingly and with positive intentions or if like me you have quite a few coaching acquaintances you may find yourself in a full-blown coaching interrogation without an invite on your part. Drawing the line in this kind of scenario is vital. If you invite the advice, then take it for what it is worth, but never forget to process it under your own value filter. Trust your own ability to make decisions you will know what is right by you in the end of the day.

The fear of upsetting other people in the process of enforcing your boundaries is far outweighed by the freedom and sense of relief you experience once you actually go ahead with those difficult communications. Honesty may not always be the most comfortable approach, but it is way more liberating and healthy than tolerating things that shouldn’t be tolerated.

So for all of those caught in economic crisis one way or another, I dare you to draw the line and step over it. Accept it will be around for another while, accept that some bad things may have happened to you as a result, also accept that dwelling on them is not helpful forever, do your best to learn the lessons, but above all draw the line and focus on actions that will lead to a happier future.

A close friend of mine recently put it absolutely accurately ‘I don’t want to know the past shit, we are in the present now.’

I dare you to draw that line and claim your power back.

Are you the village gossip in your workplace?

Are you the village gossip in your workplace?

Large organisations and small towns have one thing in common, namely the village gossip. We have all met them, that one person that is constantly going around trying to find out the dirt about other people or the latest on updates on whatever topic takes their fancy whether it is a company restructuring, internal relationships, bullying, promotions, you name it… they will know or find out about it.

I have often wondered what drives these people: is it low self-esteem, jealousy or begrudgery or even just an inate nosyness or curiosity about things that are quite frankly none of their business most of the time. They just can’t seem to help themselves, it’s as if it nearly a compulsion or something larger than them. They don’t tend to spare anyone, not even their closest friends as long as it serves in the pursuit of more (mostly useless) information. And guys, if you are reading this, the most damaging village gossips I have seen in action have been men, but the ladies tend to be more devious and cover their tracks better, but neither gender is immune to gossip mongering.

The scary part is that some company cultures thrive on gossip and deceit and they make for very stressful places to work in. I have seen people reduced to tears, confidence and all perspective of self-worth eroded purely down to office gossips being let damage reputations of great individuals. When you don’t know the source of the venom it is hard to counteract and manage your reputation and if then management buys into the rumours often not based on any fact, you become less and less trusting and in most cases you will start questioning yourself and your abilities for no reason.

What the village gossip doesn’t realise is that people around the office soon or eventually find out who was the rumour starter and they become branded as someone that cannot be trusted. I always hope that at some level they have a conscience that balks at the horror of spreading lies and that when they get caught out badly enough they will actually change their ways. However if it is a compulsive mental disorder, there is only professional help and not just management that needs to intervene.

When I used to work in an office, I used to have great fun setting the village gossip up with outrageous things, to see how long it would take before it would come back to you, usually completely distorted and out of proportion. I don’t suggest it as an approach to use as a rule, especially not if it can potentially hurt other people, but if the village gossip is the only one out of the information loop, they may actually learn the lesson.

Gossiping in general is bad for office morale, it encourages negative and political game playing and tends to only serve only those who start the rumours and it damages people’s reputations and careers sometimes beyond belief. At the same time there is a distinction between gossip and genuine concern or frustration with situations and people, which is always the case in offices where a group of people work together.

So how do you avoid it?

As a personal policy, only ever go on facts as opposed to hearsay and ask the gossip distributor whether it is fact or fiction, they usually have no answer for it if it isn’t fact. There is no better way to shut them up than to point out the facts objectively and calmly or just to question them whether they have it from a reputable source.

If you are the individual that is prone to gossip, my suggestion is a count to 10 silence policy and only when you have factual evidence to back up your communication do you allow yourself to talk. It may take a bit of lip biting and shortened sentences, but in the end of the day it is better for your personal reputation. Gossip tends to be seen as a sign of weakness and lack of backbone, so I guess it is a choice whether you want to be trustworthy or to be avoided as a person in your career.

As an office policy encourage 0 tolerance to gossiping and when and where you can intervene by calling the village gossip into your office and explaining that you don’t tolerate rumours and ask upfront if they have an issue with you or in the office they care to share or vent about. Equally nip rumours in the bud by holding communication meetings both formally and informally to put an end to speculation. As a manager keep an open door policy for people to ask question regarding changes etc and answer them with facts. It may take a bit of effort to eradicate a gossip culture, but be proactive and reactive at the same time and stick to the factual evidence either way.

Actions speak louder than words

Actions speak louder than words by An Coppens

How many times have you promised in words that you would do something for a friend or client or even someone you don’t really know all that well, but when it came to the delivery you forgot, something else got in the way or worse again your promise was just a hollow empty one, which you never intended to follow up on. When you are on the receiving end of this promise, you can only take it at face value and hope the other party will deliver, in my case I usually expect people to do as they promise.

Call me naieve if you like, but when someone promises I do believe them unless there is clear evidence of a track record that they can’t be trusted or they are known to make empty promises.When you can deliver on promises in one area of your life, it shows you have the skills to deliver, when you then deliver only in the areas of your choice, it can tell quite a different story: from where you really care, to intentionally hurting or neglecting other areas.

The same thing in life is recommendable as is in business namely underpromise and overdeliver, always!!!

Sometimes we are afraid to take action for fear that it may upset or it may not actually make a difference, my experience tells me that usually honesty in action is the best approach and even a small difference is good enough. Even if all it did was a make a difference to one person. If you can give people a time expectation by which you will deliver, especially with this financial crisis continuing on promises to pay are hard to keep up when you have nothing to give or there just is plain nothing to work with. Best approach again is honesty.

Where you can let your actions do the talking, if you care about someone show them with actions. Especially with those special people in your life whether they are a partner, a friend or family, most disputes come from empty promises. If you know you will have trouble delivering, then at least set the expectation correctly as opposed to promising something, because you know or think that this is what your friend may want to hear. 

If you are passionate about something, show us how and demonstrate your skill. Nobody will knock someone that at least will go for what they believe in. If you are unsure what actions to take, let your heart rule your head on this one, it tends to choose right or at least come from the best intended vantage point.

Below is my favourite story, which I always go back to especially when I get a bit disillusioned that my actions are not making any difference. I would love to make a big difference and make this planet a little bit of a better place than it was when I arrived, but at best I can only affect those immediately around me and vice versa. Occassionally we have a further reach through our work, writing, speaking and that is great, but often we don’t know that we are effectively making a difference to anyone at any given time. Best we can do is hope that it does to one. Not even trying in my view is equal to failure beyond proportion.

“While walking along a beach a man saw someone in the distance leaning down, picking something up and throwing it into the ocean.
As he came closer he saw thousands of starfish the tide had thrown onto the beach. Unable to return to the ocean during low tide, the starfish were dying. He observed a young man picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean.

After watching the seemingly futile effort, the observer said ‘ There must be thousands of starfish on this beach, it would be impossible for you to get all of them, there are simply to many. You can’t possibly save enough to make a difference.’

The young man smiled as he continued to pick up another starfish and toss it back into the ocean.

‘It made a difference to this one’ he replied. ”

Next time you think your actions are futile, maybe all you are required to do is make a difference to one person, don’t let them down with an empty promise…