Training and Development: Coaching


A straw poll of FTSE 100 FDs would find that most either have or are thinking about hiring a coach. Paul Denvir examines the benefits.

Time. It’s what everyone seems to want these days. We have devices to help us manage it more effectively and with their help we fill every minute we have.

Sometimes the parameters between our different time demands work, family, social — get blurred. We say we want more time in which to prise even more things. We question the value of what we choose to invest our time in.  And the very idea of not being busy and filling our days seems to be both attractive and unnerving.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why coaching is becoming so popular as a development tool. Not so content to sit on development programmes with others, many professionals (practice accountants and financial directors included) are opting for personal coaching and mentoring.

In this they seek a 100% focus on their world. The content of the coaching programme is completely tailored to the areas that they need to cover and that scores 10 out of 10 in the time versus value dilemma.

But there are so many forms of coaching around life coaches, business coaches, mentors to name but a few. Each represents a different approach. At one end of the spectrum, you can gain very specific one to one training on a particular issue. At the other end, you may be searching for something more like counselling. If you think coaching might be for you, where should you begin?

Clear aims
The first step is to consider what you are hoping to gain from the experience. How do you want it to help you exactly? Sometimes that isn’t so easy to define, but if you can start to think how you want the coaching to benefit you, you will become clear about those areas where you need help. The clearer you are, the easier finding the right coaching will be.

Your answers will lead you in the direction of a particular type of coaching. If your reasons are more personal, for example family, career or socially-related you might be looking to a life coach. If you are seeking help in improving your business performance then business coaching is more likely to hold the answers. Business coaching is being used increasingly in the accounting world. It is a professional management tool that, when done well, can make a massive difference to a business, its turnover or fee-income and its profitability.

From an FD or practice accountant’s point of view, business coaching can help improve and develop a particular skill or focus. It can help manage change or personal challenges and enable an individual to be more successful and effective in their work and with those they manage or lead. It can build confidence and self-awareness and increase motivation and discipline. For those businesses investing in it, business coaching can improve the level, focus and quality of an individual’s activities and bring better results.

The coaching approach will vary according to coach, coachee and their goals. Generally, it takes place through conversation face to face, on the phone or even by email. This, however, is different from social conversation. It is dynamic and focuses on what the coachee wants to achieve. Sometimes a more directive approach is appropriate with the coach sharing specific expertise or knowledge. In other instances, a more collaborative approach is better with the coach helping the coachee to find answers through reflection and increased self-awareness.

Setting goals
Whatever the format, it should be action-driven with specific objectives, ideally with you completing tasks and trying out particular skills and capabilities along the way. This will help you improve those areas necessary for the achievement of your personal objectives. Pinpointing specific goals or results you want to achieve (and by when) will help you both focus your time and energy. These outcomes will also help you review the coaching programme’s progress and assess its success.

Your coach’s role is to motivate and inspire, ask searching questions, challenge and help you to achieve your potential. A good business coach is often a problem solver, a teacher or even an expert. They are someone to talk to about work problems and challenges and they are certainly someone who is not going to interrupt, make judgements or criticise.

The best coaches are committed to delivering results and have a genuine interest in their coachee’s goals. They are adaptable in their style and provide the right balance of directive or collaborative input for each situation. They are sensitive to the highly confidential nature of their work and have the credibility to challenge effectively. They should be able to break down what might seem like an overwhelming goal into manageable bite-size chunks and help you to achieve results more quickly than other forms of personal development.

Business coaches help clients look at the present and realise their future, rather than looking at the past. A coach helps people focus on their own solutions. As a result, they become better equipped to solve their own problems long after the coaching has stopped. Most of us try to get others to think more highly of us, great coaches get others to think more highly of themselves.

‘Coaching helps me do my job better’
Chris Stooke, chief financial officer, Catlin Group

Chris joined FTSE 350 insurance group Catlin in March 2003 after a 24-year career with Price Waterhouse and PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he’d been a partner since 1990. Although his career in practice had focused on financial services, particularly insurance, crossing to the industry side of the fence marked a huge change. ‘The job is very different from professional practice,’ Stooke says. ‘Every day you learn something new.’

Since joining Catlin, the company has been on a rollercoaster ride of changes – moving from being owned by a private equity company to doing an IPO and, last year, acquiring another listed company, all of which has proved a steep learning curve for ICAEW fellow Stooke. ‘That’s where the coaching comes in. I find it very good in terms of thinking about priorities. Moving from practice to industry, and with so much going on, it’s useful to get another perspective.’

Catlin already had a coaching programme with Praesta Partners in place for senior management, including CEO Stephen Catlin and the chief underwriting officer. Stooke was teamed up with his coach, Ian Angell, an ex-KPMG-er with a financial services career spanning names including Panmure Gordon and Schroders. But Stooke is adamant that like-for-like experience isn’t a requistite. ‘You need a coach who can empathise and listen, rather than tell you what to do.’

The coaching itself takes the form of a two-hour face-to-face meeting once a month. ‘Generic advice isn’t very useful – it’s about putting it into a specific context, and building on what you’re already doing because there’s always room for improvement.’

Stooke believes both the personal and business benefits make the experience more than worthwhile. ‘It’s changed me subtly – I’m more confident in what I do and prioritise things better. The coaching has allowed me to focus on some weaker areas – for example on reporting rather than organisation. Our organisation has grown a lot since I joined in 2003 and is much more complex. So we need to make sure the right people are focusing on the right things. But it’s not a ray of light – it’s about building on existing skills.’


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