In my practice, the Four Constants are Relationships, Time, Money, and Space. When I work with a client to reflect a 360 Degree view of their world, I use these constants as a check list to make sure we have the big stuff covered.
In SMB Success Factor: Don’t Screw Up These Fundamentals (PT. 2) I looked at each of the four constants in turn, starting with Relationships. What is one of the biggest ways I see small businesses commit a serious mistake at the relationship level? Here's what I said:
“Easy. The absence of a coaching relationship. Not just coaches like me (who get paid for the role), but anyone who will tell you the truth and hold you accountable. If you don’t have someone in your life whom you have given permission to give you the unvarnished truth about your behaviours and decisions, you are in trouble. If you don’t have someone who will hold you accountable for the commitments you make, you are going to get lost. This is one of the toughest things to put into place (shy of hiring a pro), but the most damaging if it is missing. If you don’t have someone who will tell you you are about to drive your business off the cliff, even when you don’t want to hear it, you’re done.”
The Coaching Relationship
What should you look for in a coaching relationship?
This list is adapted from The Difference Between Getting Lost & Getting There
- Honesty. Consistent, unflinchingly honest feedback about your behaviours and your progress.
- The ability to mentor. The best coaching relationships are with someone who understands your world, whether that is your business, your industry, or your market.
- Commitment.The coaching relationship is a formal one, with a clear commitment to a particular process. If you have hired a professional coach, the commitment is built in. That same commitment can be made between friends, colleagues, mentors at work, or other team members.
- Accountability. A coach will help you be accountable for your commitments. A coach will monitor your progress and encourage you to complete the tasks you have committed to.
- Outside perspective. We all have blind spots. The best coaching relationships allow the perceptions of another person to help us avoid old patterns or existing prejudices. This is where you have to balance working with someone who gets your world, yet still retains some of that outsider perspective. To paraphrase: if we both see only the same thing, one of us is redundant.
- Unconditional support. Owning a small business is hard on almost every aspect of your life. There are always moments where everything feels like it is going backward. In those moments, a coach provides support, encouragement, comfort, and the confidence that you need to refocus on your journey. Coaching support is unconditional and without judgment.
Where can you find that relationship? These are given in order of ease and simplicity, starting from most straightforward to most challenging.
- Hire a professional. A good professional coach will cover all of the bases listed above. The one challenge can be the mentoring aspect. There are coaches who specialize in specific industries (manufacturing, retail, sales), but most, like me, are generalists. If the mentoring component is a top priority, I suggest you go to number 2 below, and check out the work of Henry Mintzberg, the author of Managing, and other books. The home of Mintzberg’s fantastic project, on training managers within the same organization to coach each other is here: www.coachingourselves.com.
- Work with a peer. Following on Mintzberg’s work, your best coaches are your peers: other employees of your organization who are of similar experience and share similar levels of responsibility.
- A friend. This gets a bit tougher than working with a pro or a peer, but if you have one of those invaluable friendships that is truly rooted in honesty and unconditional support, something can be done here. The secret to making this kind of coaching relationship work is absolutely clear objectives, with clear steps and success markers. Your friend probably won’t know your industry, or even have much opportunity to spend any time with you at work, so clarity and honesty will be paramount.
- A direct report. Sometimes someone like a junior manager, an administrative assistant with a great deal of experience, or a superior, with an above-average working relationship can provide coaching. Obviously two things are critical success factors: a level of trust and confidentiality that goes far beyond whatever you have written on paper, and the willingness to set aside completely the traditional power hierarchy. You should also agree that the moment the process looks like it is not working for whatever reason, there is a mandatory conversation and a no-fault escape clause.
- Keep it in the family. This one is the hardest of all, and I don’t recommend it. In the dozens of businesses I have coached that were owned or managed by spouses, siblings, or parent and children, fewer than 1% or 2% could have sustained a coaching relationship. It is not that the six hallmarks of good coaching listed above didn’t exist in the relationships, in fact they had it more than most. The stumbling points are the emotional histories and cultural conditioning that come with most family relationships. You can be honest in the moment, but it is hard to keep it out of later conversations. It all gets woven together. That said, the few times I have seen these relationships work, they have worked brilliantly.
I work with business owners to redesign the future of their businesses. Want more out of your business? Contact me. From my home base on Vancouver Island, I provide planning and coaching support to businesses across Canada.
There’s more! Want to improve your communication with employees, partners, and customers? I help organizations improve communication through social media strategies and management-level workshops. Read my Communications & Management blog.