Here’s How To Do Business Coaching The Right Way

It is well known that social media alters brain chemistry. It distorts reality and confuses the frameworks by which we understand concepts.

Professional coaching, as a concept, has been perverted by social media, in particular, by life coaches on LinkedIn. Rather than an objective, hard science, similar to sports coaching, it is now regarded as a mystical art at the intersection of mysticism, self-help linguism and pop psychology.

To be fair, criticism of intrinsic motivation in a complex, life-long endeavor such as one’s career is beyond debate. The science is overwhelming: In complex activities, in the long run, intrinsic motivation trumps all kinds of extrinsic rewards. However, intrinsic motivation is not the same as motivational exercise. More importantly, business coaching involves building specific skills, abilities, and behaviors to achieve defined business goals. No amount of intrinsic motivation can replace a lack of goals and abilities.

Understanding real business coaching begins with three insights: First, business coaching is similar to sports coaching – it should focus on building targeted skills and behaviors to achieve well-defined goals. Intrinsic motivation is important, but it must be directed towards the desired result. Second, coaching is not a stand-alone, human resource driven activity, but an integral part of the strategy-planning-governance process.

Third, somewhat unlike the first, trading is a wicked problem. Unlike types of problems (eg, chess), the rules of business are not always well defined; They change over time and often unexpectedly, the definition of “winning” is ambiguous and the results of actions taken are often delayed and poorly correlated. Therefore business coaching should enable high potential leaders to thrive in such a dynamic environment.

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Once these three insights are internalized, business coaching can be leveraged through five steps: The first step is strategic alignment: Define the meaning of “win” within a manageable span, such as three years. Sure, the goalpost may move due to business realities, but it will define the general direction.

The second step is critical: Define the future organization that will enable win-win (for example, if the goal is to double revenue in three years, what will the organization look like?) This needs to be done in four dimensions: Organization design ( The important building blocks of an organization, whether functions or business units, are the organization structure (critical roles), essential processes, and capabilities. When this future organization is benchmarked with the present, the gaps will become apparent, and the way forward will emerge .

The third step is identifying the coaching candidates. Benchmarking in step two should identify which leaders fit into the organization of the future. Among those who are fit (and outside recruits to fill in the gaps), there will be people who are already performing potentially and who need support. Both types of business coaching benefit in different ways: first by honing and second by first learning and then practicing the skills needed.

The fourth stage is preparing the customized coaching agenda for the identified candidates. It is a detailed exercise that lists the specific skills and behaviors that need to be developed, how they should be learned, for how long and by what metrics it will be measured. The final stage is the execution of the coaching agenda. This is where the often non-glamorous hard work, often through direct intervention by the coach over the years.

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Two questions remain: Who is an ideal coach, and should it be an internal or external? The ideal business coach is an ex-business leader who has faced similar challenges and achieved similar business goals. Whether it is internal or external it depends on the extent of bandwidth and internal complexity in the company.

One thing is for sure: he is not a motivational speaker or a life coach.

Abhishek Mukherjee is the co-founder and director of Octus Advisors.

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