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Coaching Counts

In part one of a two-part series, top tutor Ashim Kumar explains the importance of coaching for accountants

December 2018

As our professional experience grows, we realise that critical though technical knowledge is, implementation of plans does not happen without the committed participation of the team. Plans are great, but teams make them happen (or not!). Globally, 60-70% of change projects fail to meet their objectives; six of the nine reasons for failure are people related. This costs business billions of dollars every year. These statistics clearly suggest that much more effort needs to be invested in making sure that we have the right people with the right skills in place to drive projects to success. Whether we are part of a team or leading one, it is critical that we and our colleagues all pull in the same direction and can bring the best we have to offer to the table. Coaching is an extremely powerful way to make this happen. It clarifies who we are, what we want and how to get it; and what is really important to us and why. Without the answers to these questions, how can we tell that we are in the right place, professionally or personally? If we are doing what resonates with our values and ambitions we will excel at it; otherwise, our performance will be sub-optimal and neither we, nor our colleagues in the team, will succeed.

What is coaching?
The term ‘coaching’ conjures up various images. Some visualise the athletic professional at the local tennis club, or the (not-so-athletic) coach of a football team. Others imagine a senior colleague at the workplace who guides less experienced staff to improving their skills; yet others see a technical expert imparting information on latest best practice. Executive coaching is none of these. To be clear, it is not about transferring skills and knowledge from expert to learner. Executive coaching is a powerful way of boosting performance through the intelligent use of exploratory questions. It can be thought of as ‘a designed alliance’ in which the parties collaborate to release the coachee’s potential.

How does it work?
Few processes influence and change behaviour as effectively as coaching. According to a study of Fortune 100 executives “coaching resulted in a return on investment of almost six times the programme cost, as well as a 77% improvement in relationships, 67% improvement in teamwork, 61% improvement in job satisfaction and 48% improvement in quality.” Additionally, a study of Fortune 500 telecommunications firms showed that executive coaching resulted in a 529% ROI. “Impossible!” I hear you say incredulously. “How can simply asking questions produce such transformative behaviour and results?” The reason is simple... and complicated. Being asked the right questions encourages us to dig deep into our unconscious mind to uncover the complex triggers behind our behaviour (and therefore our current situation) and start to modify them. After all, before we can change something we must first become conscious of its existence. Coaching invokes thinking in the other person. It is transformational because it makes that which is unconscious, conscious. “Mumbo jumbo,” you mutter, “I already know how to think!” Much as we would like to believe that about ourselves it simply isn’t true. There is extensive evidence that demonstrates that the vast majority of our behaviours are reflexive; in other words, we respond automatically (and without consideration) to situations that we face daily. There are many good reasons for this, and I would refer you to ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’, a book by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, for a more detailed explanation. If we accept the premise that most of the decisions we make in life are arrived at without conscious thought, and that those decisions have resulted in our current situation, then we must conclude that not only are we solely responsible for where we are in life, but that we got here without thinking about it. A sobering thought that many of us would prefer not to consider. The US writer on character development, Earl Nightingale, put it best when he said: “If most people were to say what they were thinking, they would be rendered speechless.”
Coaching influences us at conscious and subconscious levels. It targets unconscious triggers to understand and modify behaviours and change our reality. This is sometimes referred to as the performance gap – the difference between what a person knows and what they do. In other words, it encourages action to do what we already know to be the right thing.
“That’s all very well, but how does the magic of coaching happen?” you demand. For the answer to this see part 2 of this article in next month’s career advice.

• Ashim Kumar is Certified Leadership Coach and tutor at fmelearnonline.com

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