7 Key Considerations to Finding the Right Business Coach
In case it's not apparent, this pandemic has fundamentally shifted the landscape for all businesses, notably smaller enterprises where “doing more with less” is a daily reality. While there are new financial-aid options from federal and regional business-development agencies, these will not be accessible to all owners, and this reality brings the need for evolving one’s business into acute focus. And that's something that leveraging an external business consultant can directly support with the right vetting.
The term business coach, which has become more mainstream over the past dozen or so years, appropriately connotes an ongoing mentorship relationship that's intimate to the influence of both individual leaders and — by extension — their organizations.
Finding that partner to take your business to greater heights requires a strategy with the same due diligence that would be exerted in finding critical, long-term employees. During a search I recently undertook for “business coach” via LinkedIn, more than six million potential connections were returned (“needle in a haystack” comes to mind). But here are some criteria I apply when winnowing down such overwhelming options to an ideal match.
1. Industry Knowledge
Ensure that prospective candidates have a solid understanding of your industry, market opportunity and the subtle differentiators that define either success or failure. Even seemingly mundane skillsets (e.g. accounting, human resources, etc.) have unique attributes that are industry-segment-specific. It should be clearly known where these are critical to consulting outcomes, and prior reference work should be directly attributable to related domain challenges.
2. Expertise in Your Discipline
It can be unrealistic to assume a single individual will have deep expertise in all areas. While generalists exist with good depth and breadth of knowledge, more often coaches will have a bias to a specific discipline, like sales and marketing, operations or strategy. Depending on the size and maturity of your company, a more deeply focused advisor may be what's needed.
3. Culture and Value Alignment
Receiving input on existing process, methodology or even outcomes impacting behaviors in your organization can be met with resistance if the advisor hasn't established trust and a rapport. Personality match is a key consideration, but this must exist alongside strengths in communication traits that may help bridge gaps in your current culture (e.g. constructive confrontation of difficult truths).
4. What Superpowers They Bring
While a business coach may have multiple strengths, it is important to probe for the underlying trait they can pinpoint your organization's needs. As an example, do they have the ability to see the gap space between what is being done currently and where it should be? Can they discern what is being shared explicitly from what is unstated but needed to shape a strategy for change?
5. Proof of Results
Credible business coaches will talk in terms of concrete results from past engagements, whether quantitative or qualitative in nature (e.g. directly attributed increase in sales, improved team participation in organizational success, etc.). Also look to seek out references (more on that below) that can provide additional context for how these results were achieved, and with what level of accuracy on implementation guidance.
6. Industry References
Look for previous work and affiliations that are directly relatable to your focus (even when in a niche sub-segment) and which can found without complex discovery, such as published membership in reputable advocacy or credentialing organizations. Prioritize any information that showcases opinions and credibility, such as speaking engagements with industry groups (conferences, podcasts, etc.) or published articles (credible trade periodicals/websites, etc.).
7. Knowledge Currency
Every business domain is constantly adapting to shifting market forces and opportunities, and advisors must be up to date. Without an awareness of contemporary trends and options, guidance could simply fall flat, leading to wasted efforts. Credible coaches should understand and be able to comment handily on recent, relevant actions, whether they be legislative changes, demographic market shifts or industry sales and buying patterns.
Finding the business coach (or coaches) that will positively influence your enterprise is something we all should consider. For leaders who might be tentative about inviting such an external influence, I can confidently state that when coupled with the selection criteria, the results can be positively transformative.