UKBA logo dark

How coaching can support leadership change in a small business

By Stephen Cowburn

Coaching might be seen as the new buzzword of the age. It has come to cover a multitude of interventions – consulting, training, educating, advising, mentoring, therapy, counselling and so on. For me coaching is about engaging with the whole person to achieve the outcomes the business is looking for in a sustainable way.

This first blog is to unpick that last sentence and explore how that fits in to succession planning in an SME environment.

“Engaging with the whole person” means working with the rational and emotional sides of the brain. My client may or may not know what to do. Any knowledge gaps can be identified through coaching and a plan developed for further training and education outside the coaching relationship. That is relatively straightforward particularly if the person is motivated to succeed. The emotional aspect is just as important. I would be asking such questions as: How does the person really feel about the new opportunity (in the context of succession)? What hopes and fears are there? Can the hopes be met? Are they realistic? What assumptions are being made? What barriers are being put in place? Experience suggests that business founders/owners are more concerned about whether the person is capable of making the step up.

“To achieve the outcomes the business is looking for” means identifying the context the business is operating in and what expectations the business has for the person being coached. I am very clear that the business sponsor needs to brief me and the person being coached together so that outcomes are clear and we both hear the same things. Any confusing messages are clarified at the time. This is not always straightforward to do and often l need to coach the sponsor as to what messages and outcomes they are looking for. This is not to say that the individual being coached does not also have outcomes. However, these need to be seen in the context of what the organisation is looking for too.

“In a sustainable way” means, from my perspective, that the person being coached goes through active learning, in real time, and between sessions practises and reflects on current behaviours, assumptions, thoughts and new approaches. By having space to think during coaching sessions, and specific questions to reflect on, or actions to undertake, between sessions enables new behaviours or perspectives to be gained. It’s not about me giving advice or saying what should happen. This isn’t sustainable. For the person to be working out their own solutions, re-framing situations, experimenting, trying out new things, learning through experience and reflection is sustainable because it comes from them.

Does that make sense?

To complete the other element of what is in the blog title – succession.

Succession, for me, is a planned approach for moving a person from their current role to a new, bigger one in the business. Sometimes the person is ready for that move but some rough edges need to be sanded down or there may be gaps in knowledge or style that need to be developed before the person is ready for the new role. Alternatively the gap between current and future capability is large and will take a number of months, possibly years, to bridge. This is no bad thing, but requires planning, in the context of the business need and personal start point, and appetite, to start matters moving. There can be no guarantees – business needs and the marketplace may change. There does need to be a willingness to invest and take things a step at a time with on-going reviews of both progress and any changes in context.

This can be challenging for the MD, who is probably faced with a number of questions: How do l start a process of succession planning when l may not be sure about which individual may be best suited for a bigger role. Even if l do start a process, what if the business position changes or what happens if the person doesn’t develop into the person l had hoped they would become?

To a large extent, the risks are managed by the discussions between the MD and coach and then what is said in the first meeting between the MD, coach and individual being coached. It may be that the time is not yet right, or the individual is not the right person (for whatever reason) but it starts the process and begins to create clarity in what the right decision is (for all parties)

So what might happen next?

For a confidential discussion about what might be relevant for you and your business, contact Stephen Cowburn for a free confidential discussion on your situation and what steps might next be taken. Stephen is a Professional Certified Coach, accredited by the International Coach Federation.

Need advice & guidance?

We have advisors all over the UK. Get in touch today for expert guidance and support.