What can a career coach do for you?
Fred Horowitz remembers the typical response he used to get back in the mid1990s when he told people he was a coach. “They’d ask me what sports team I was coaching,” he recalled.
Actually, Horowitz was and still is a business coach. But at that time, workplace coaching was hardly common. In the decade since, however, employers and individuals have discovered how valuable coaching can be for their organizations and for career development.
“The coach’s job is to see things about you that you may be blind to yourself,” Horowitz said.
In the 12 years since Horowitz became a certified business coach through the U.S.-based Coach University, coaching for business development has become commonplace. But there is still confusion about what it is and how it works.
“Coaching is an ongoing feedback process,” explained Michel Daigle, a business coach and workplace consultant with Communic.aide. “It’s between two people. One gives feedback to the other. Coaching has three aims: to improve a person’s performance, to improve relationships and to improve communications.”
What distinguishes business coaches from life coaches, he says, is the fact that they’re work-focused.
“A life coach will help you develop your self-esteem and confidence, and business coaches will do that to a degree,” he said.
“For instance, you may have a vice-president of a company who is uncomfortable about the changes that are coming to his organization. He might not be buying in. I would work with him on the personal side by asking hard questions: ‘What do you want to do, and do you think you’re up to the challenge?’ But ultimately, we’re focusing on business issues.”
Often, it can be difficult for individuals to separate the personal from the professional, Horowitz said. He recalls coaching one man who hired him to improve the effectiveness of his team at work and to develop his own leadership qualities.
“He was a CEO and major shareholder of a company and he wanted to communicate better with his people. But I was surprised that for the first few sessions, he talked about the fact that he wanted to have children, while his partner didn’t. Personal stuff does have an impact on our work lives. It’s the background noise, like the hum of an air conditioner.”
However, coaching is not synonymous with psychotherapy, which Horowitz describes as “past-oriented.”
“Psychotherapy is about unblocking emotional areas where people are stuck,” he said. “Coaching is more future-oriented. I assist my clients to change their future.”
So does Daigle. He says successful coaching takes between three and six months and is done at regular intervals, once or twice a week. Some coaches meet their clients in person; others coach by phone. He says coaches are hired in one of two ways. “An organization may identify an individual for development and the coach is brought in to assist in that. Or, a person may decide for himself that he needs a coach,” he said.
The process enables an individual to look inwardly in search of answers.
“Coaching is not directorial,” Daigle said. “A coach will ask the person questions that will make him ponder. These are called discovery questions.” Coaches can also guide their clients. “Sometimes a coach will suggest something, but that comes after there’s been a lot of coaching. It would not happen at the outset,” Daigle said. “A coach helps you make the transition to understanding your potential to perform.”
The popularity of coaching has grown apace with radical changes that have swept the workplace in the past two decades. As organizations have become compressed with fewer layers of management, individuals’ workloads have increased.
“People aren’t doing just one thing at work any more,” Daigle said. “They have to do many things and the workload can become very heavy. So much responsibility has been downloaded on people that they don’t have all he skills they need and the time to find solutions. Coaching is a process that slows you down. During the hourand-a-half you’re working with your coach, you’re slowing down enough to be able to find solutions.”
Some coaches specialize in a particular sector of the market. Nathalie Laforest, a business coach with JPL Communications in Candiac, works with new entrepreneurs and self-employed people.
“These are people who tend to be good at what they do but often don’t know how to expand their businesses or to organize management,” she said.
“This is why many businesses fail within the first five years. As a coach, I help my clients decide what their priorities are and I help them get organized.”
Laforest says she and her clients work together once a month at a threehour meeting. “Within four to six sessions, you can see improvement,” she said. “We create concrete action plans for people’s businesses and I follow up to see where they’ve gone with their plans.”
One entrepreneur who hired Laforest wanted a marketing plan.
“She needed a script for the cold calls she was making to potential customers,” she said. “We created the script together. She’ll try it for awhile, get feedback from customers and we can revise it together if she wants.”
Because people have questions for their coaches between meetings, Daigle said, he stays in touch with his clients by phone.
How do people determine that they no longer need coaching?
“They know when they’re behaving differently, they’re getting results and they’re taking charge,” Daigle said. “And the coaching usually finishes when the person acknowledges this.”