Is there space for Executive coaching in SMEs?

A guide to where coaching is and what it may be able to do for you.

Over the past few years coaching has gained a lot of traction throughout the business world.

Prior to the financial crisis -  say before 2007 -  coaching was perhaps seen as having two flavours: life coaching; the ‘soft’ end of the coaching scale with a focus on helping individuals to have a ‘better’ life, and executive coaching, which was probably seen as almost exclusively the domain of higher management in the corporate world.

The financial meltdown and it’s ever-expanding ripples seem to have pretty much killed off the life coach; at least for the moment, as the expenses of day-to-day living took precedence over the lifestyle extras such as coaching.

However, within the business environment coaching wasn’t killed off. Far from it; as businesses of all sizes and pedigrees struggled to make sense of the new financial order in which they found themselves, the search for ways to improve management, increase productivity and to protect and nurture the pool of talent on which a business will ultimately depend led to an increased take-up of coaching.

Perhaps coaching was still at that point seen as a tool to strengthen the skills of the upper management rather than as something that could be used throughout a business, but that attitude soon fell away as managers and directors started to see the potential for coaching to help staff throughout the organisation, and so began a shift towards the creation of coaching cultures, in which whole companies and corporations sought to encourage freedom to ask questions, and understanding of the power of really listening to the answers being given to those questions.

Which brings us to the current position:

Coaching is itself developing and growing at the same time as businesses large and small are themselves, coping with the changing world in which we find ourselves, and while we know that there will always be trade and there will always be business; we are entering - or sliding towards - a period of global uncertainty, with Brexit, the Trump effect, ongoing conflicts and so on. It’s in this environment that even smaller businesses need to be protective of their staff, their customers and their position in the marketplace; no one can afford to be complacent.

So coaching is shifting towards dealing with, and serving, a more universal acceptance and understanding of the power of the spoken word and the carefully crafted question. It’s moving into what many would regard as the mainstream; smaller enterprises and SMEs. 

So, if you run a smaller business what do you need to know about coaching that will allow you to make an informed decision as to whether or not to invest in coaching, either for yourself or for your people? What are the questions you need to ask the potential coaches, and indeed yourself, before taking the plunge?

Even before that stage, it’s important that you be clear about what coaching is…and isn’t!

Coaching in business - unlike in sport - isn’t about telling people what to do and how to fix things. Rather, it’s about defining the issue and probing the coached individual with careful and considered questioning so that the coached person seeks out the answer or answers. A strong coach may steer a conversation, but will never take it over!

Good coaching can be challenging and even a little bruising at times, but that’s mostly because we humans are good at hiding important information from ourselves; dealing with what’s in front of us, and forgetting to look behind or to the sides until someone shows us what we might be missing.

With that in mind, your conversations with a potential coach or supplier of coaches should make it clear that you are not looking for a mentor or a consultant (either of which will be inclined to tell you what to do - whether they really know or not) but a coach who will commit to a non-directive approach.

You should also keep in mind that the coach/coachee relationship can be a deep and close one, so the two individuals need to be matched in order to be effective. No one will get much from coaching if they can’t develop a rapport the coach, and no coach worthy of the name can be as effective as they would like if they can’t feel any empathy for their client.

But this still leaves one vital and as yet asked question: why should you explore coaching for your company? What benefits will you see if you decide to invest time and money into developing a coaching programme?

While it’s next to impossible to say with any degree of certainty that you will see improvements to your bottom line as a result of coaching, experience shows that most organisations, regardless of size or scale, begin to see benefits almost immediately, with those benefits continuing to accrue long after the coaching intervention has stopped.

Increased motivation, increased productivity, decreased staff churn and absenteeism, decreased disciplinary issues and conflict between individuals…

In short, your investment in coaching can and should result in a happier and more productive workplace.

Isn’t that a bottom line to strive for?


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 Caitlin has made a real difference to my confidence and to the way I approach my business on a day to day basis.
John Baker, Regional Director, The Jockey Club
 It (coaching) unearthed a depth of confidence that I was beginning to question and enabled me to make a significant change within myself and my work.
Luke Joy-Smith, Managing Director - Somerset Social Enterprise
 I connected with my coach on our very first call and I believe that made the whole difference for me. I wish I could dig deeper on some of my remaining issues but unfortunately all good things have to end. I will definitely recommend coaching and have been already doing it for while. It definitely changed my life.
Stephanie Malka, Director NOC Service Engineering – EMEA
 Great to see that there has been a positive outcome from this.
Simon Gosney, Head of Learning and Development
 Tim has provided some high quality coaching support to me through a time of transition both in terms of job, career and organisational changes. He is a skilled and experienced executive coach who facilitated just the right mix of reflection, future visioning, challenge, compassion and stretch. I’d strongly recommend working with him if you are going through a career or organisation transition. Fun to work with, I always left my sessions with him feeling significantly clearer and more content with my overall direction of travel and next steps.
Neil Savage, Director of Organisational Development 2gether NHS Foundation Trust
 “I selected my coach on the basis that she had a completely different approach to my structured way of thinking. Katherine challenged me and took me way out of my comfort zone – scary and uncomfortable at times but eye-opening. These coaching sessions enabled me to see things from a very different perspective, gave me the time and space to reflect on my practice and provided practical tips and approaches as to how I can develop my performance.”
Zenobia Daar, Head of People, Governance & Performance
 Please continue with the programme. For a guy, like Paul, who does not use the word 'fantastic', who then uses must be really good!
Marissa Bartlett, Head of Organisational Development - Mid Sussex District Council
 Everyone learnt a lot about themselves and others. It was the first training in English that one of my mentors had done and it was really successful for him. We have all come away feeling more confident. I have been on many development programmes and I have to say it has been one of the best I have ever attended.
Radka Lankasova, HR Manager, DENSO MANUFACTURING CZECH s. r. o.
 Steve Delivered a professional, relaxed and engaging session. Relevance, interest and clarity of delivering allowed for a very productive outcome.
Andy Castle, VP of Network Operations and Engineering, EMEA
 I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with Steve. He encouraged me to look at how I view myself and my actions, to actively seek positive outcomes to every day situations. My perception of myself has certainly changed due to my conversations with Steve and I would highly recommend coaching sessions with Unlimited Potential.
Rik Roberts, Team Leader