How Coaching and Consulting Can Work Together for Better Effectiveness
Coaching and consulting are typically seen as two different services that don’t work together. You either get a coach, or you get a consultant. A quick Internet search of the term “coaching and consulting” results in 7 of the top 8 articles pitting the two sets of skills against each other, with only one article blending the two concepts and offering the new term “coachsulting.” In my experience as both a coach and a consultant, I have seen the benefits of offering both and being able to switch hats while working with clients.
Before I share my experiences, however, let’s first define what the two terms mean. Although both approaches have the same intent of helping the client solve their problem or challenge in order to move forward, they each emphasize different things.
What is coaching:
- Goal is guidance
- Works towards building capacity
- Helps client find own clarity and answers
- Focuses on asking questions
What is consulting:
- Goal is instruction
- Works towards solving a problem
- Provides subject-matter expertise based on understanding, knowledge, experience
- Focuses on providing solutions
Curious about how the two can work together? Let me share some stories. (Please note: the following stories are archetypes of several clients and any similarities to actual people is accidental.)
Coaching can Help Someone See the Bigger Picture
I once worked with a middle manager who was dissatisfied with his role and career direction. As we spoke, we uncovered that he felt a sense of imposter syndrome, causing him to continually focus on the things he wasn’t doing well at work. Further exploration revealed some deep-rooted insecurities from his upbringing when his parents would compare him to other kids. We worked on separating facts from feelings and I had him articulate and summarize the things he had done well, along with all the positive feedback he had received from his leaders, managers, and staff.
As he recounted his “wins,” he told me that he was responsible for gaining a new client account that represented 25% of the company’s revenue from the past year; something he had not been taking full credit for. Through our conversations, his view of himself changed. He wasn’t an imposter. He was qualified. He produced results and his colleagues believed he was capable. Coaching helped him see the bigger picture of his place and contributions to his company.
Consulting is Effective for Solving Specific Problems
Coaching can be helpful for everyone, especially people managers. However, the more specific the issue, the more likely that consulting will be helpful, especially if you have expertise and experience in the subject. I saw this play out while coaching a client who wanted to be a better manager to her direct reports. As we talked, she told me about a specific team member that she was struggling to manage. After listening to her describe the situation, I could see that she was having trouble differentiating between performance concerns and HR policy violations. I asked for permission to remove my coaching hat and put on my consulting hat. She agreed, and I gave her my answer as someone who has had many years of HR experience and having seen many similar situations to hers.
With my consulting hat on, I advised her to bring in HR to handle the violation issue because they were better equipped to handle those concerns. With regards to performance issues, I recommended that a performance improvement plan be arranged for the staff in question. The objective is to help the direct report meet their goals, but if the person did not meet the performance criteria in the plan, my client and her company would have the backup option of grounds for transfer or termination. By switching from coaching to consulting, I was able to help my client address this specific problem in ways that I wouldn’t have been able to as a coach.
Coaching is Effective for Challenging Limiting Beliefs
One of my clients was a designer working mainly for one large client. She came to me because she was concerned about being easily distracted and not being focused enough. “I’m distracted and having trouble doing the things I need to do,” she shared with me. As I asked her questions, we discovered that not being focused was her main way of operating for many years and that she believed that the distraction was actually a critical source of her creativity.
Often, when I work with people who feel stuck, there is a deeper belief that is limiting a person’s growth. In this case, believing that she needed distraction in order to be creative was her limiting belief. It was also her excuse not to change herself. As a coach, through asking questions, we challenged that belief and helped her to see that distraction was not the key to her creativity. She came to realize that the things that helped her get to this point in her career were not necessarily the things that would help her get to the next step of her career.
Consulting is an Effective Tool when Teaching is Required
Continuing with the above story about the designer, after my client shifted her belief that distraction was not linked to her creativity, she was ready to fully commit to being more productive. However, she did not have a specific plan for improving her productivity. At that point, I asked for permission to switch from coaching to consulting, which she agreed to. I then taught her the Getting Things Done work flow methodology, which I personally use in my day-to-day life.
Over the course of one and a half years of working with her, I tracked with her and provided accountability as she improved her focus and increased her productivity. Toward the end of our time together, she had picked up another large client, essentially doubling her workload.
For this client, coaching was necessary to help her unblock her limiting beliefs and consulting was needed to provide her with the practical skills to move forward.
Many businesses have experienced the benefits of hiring consultants and some are beginning to understand the benefits of coaching as well. For me, having both coaching and consulting skills gives me more tools in my toolbelt to help others, whether they are internal clients who come to me in my day job for advice or help, or clients to my consulting business. In being able to use both methods, I can serve all my clients more effectively and ultimately help leaders lead better.