I think it matters, and I'll share my rationale shortly. But first, let's explore the difference between these roles.As a consultant, you're typically engaged to solve a specific problem, to manage a project, or both. Each client sees their consultant as a subject matter expert to whom they can look for answers and solutions to the question, "What should we do?" in a particular area. They may also look to their consultant for help in implementing the recommended solution.

When you're a coach, you're engaged to help enhance the performance of your client in a particular area. Each client looks to their coach for help in assessing their capabilities and in developing a "game plan" to identify the new skills, abilities and habits that they'll need to enhance their performance. They may also look to their coach for support in creating accountability mechanisms and ensuring that their tactical game plan is implemented.

I believe that the difference between hiring a consultant and hiring a coach is analogous to the difference between hiring someone to catch fish for you and hiring someone to help you gain new skills, abilities and habits so that you can catch your own fish. So, if your client has to choose where they will spend their limited outsource dollars, will they be better off engaging a consultant to solve a specific problem, or engaging a consultant who acts as a coach to enhance their performance?

It is important to note that I am not unbiased on this topic. I own an organization dedicated to providing coaching services to CPA and information technology firms, and I have seen, firsthand, the powerful benefits that clients receive when working with a coach.

When clients engage you as their coach, they are encouraged to take responsibility for the actions that need to occur in their organization to meet their objectives. Taking this responsibility enables them to:

* More directly manage their project scope, time lines and budget;

* Take more pleasure in - and responsibility for - the ultimate outcome of their work; and,

* Gain new skills, abilities and habits to help them generate and implement similar solutions themselves, instead of relying on someone else to generate and implement their solutions for them.

There are very real benefits to you as a coach, too. As a coach, you are able to establish a higher-level, more strategic relationship with your clients, because you're seen more as their advisor or guide than as their "do-er." Consider the difference in perceived strategic value between an information technology consultant delivering two distinct network services - a network assessment, and network maintenance and repair. Which service positions the consultant more as a coach than a "do-er?" And which service do you think the client sees as more strategic?

I am not suggesting that you stop providing consulting services or stop "doing" the work a client has traditionally hired you to do. I am suggesting, though, that you elevate your value to that higher level, acting as a coach on a strategic level, and blending your traditional consulting services as it makes sense.

Further, when you employ coaching techniques, you'll be better able to ensure that your client is actively engaged in whatever work you're doing - making the project easier to manage and the people easier to engage. Perhaps even more valuable to you, though, is the differentiation that offering coaching services can provide to you and your firm in an IT marketplace filled with consulting competitors.

So, if you're convinced that you'd like to be more of a coach than a consultant, how do you make the shift?

Start by developing your coaching skills, which will occur over time by investing in education, a game plan and, ideally, engaging a coach yourself. Although I can't fit all of the information and experience needed to magically transform you from a consultant into a powerful and effective coach in this column, I will share some ideas to help you take steps to become more "coach-like" in your client relationships.

Finding the coach in you

According to the International Coach Federation Code of Ethics (www.coachfederation.org/aboutcoaching/about.htm), a coach's responsibility is to:

1. Discover, clarify and align with what the client wants to achieve;

2. Encourage client self-discovery;

3. Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies; and,

4. Hold the client responsible and accountable.

To find the coach in you, consider what you're doing today, as a consultant, in each of these areas and begin shifting toward more "coach-like" behaviors.

The (self-)discovery process

If you're a software consultant, you may view the process of uncovering your clients' wants or needs as part of your sales process, often called a needs analysis. To make the shift to coaching, you'll have to ensure that the discovery process itself has even more strategic value.

To make certain that the discovery process is as beneficial to your clients as possible, consider developing a consistent method for uncovering your clients' key concerns and most significant opportunities.

This methodology will enable you to understand what is working well and what is not, and will provide a mechanism for helping your clients gain clarity on what they want to address first.

In the IT world, consider leveraging vendor tools and checklists to develop a standardized discovery methodology, conducting management or leadership interviews, a basic SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis, and creating a tailored assessment form to ensure that you gather consistent information for each client you coach.

In addition, consider engaging your client in conducting their own "self-assessment," to maximize their involvement in the discovery process. The more data and information that your clients gather themselves, the more likely they are to take responsibility for, and ownership of, the outcome. Suddenly, the findings and conclusions are not just "your findings or opinions" any more. In addition, when your clients conduct the assessment themselves, they may more carefully consider their answers.

By following this plan, you'll be able to structure your engagements so that the majority of the discovery and self-discovery process is billable and begins after you have been engaged by your clients.

Client-generated solutions

To address the ICF coach's responsibility to elicit client-generated solutions and strategies, consider asking your clients what they have learned from the discovery process and what activities they would like to undertake as a result.

For instance, consider an IT engagement that requires that you help to map business processes with a client's staff member. Should you tell that person how the processes should work? Or should you ask the staff member to assess the current processes, advise you of the issues and potential solutions they see, and then allow you to suggest modifications later, based upon your experience?

I think you would agree that the client-generated solution will produce a better outcome, because, more often then not, the client staff knows their stuff. And because they are part of the solution, the staff will be far more likely to take ownership of the solution and ensure that it is implemented than they would be if they perceived it as an idea thrust upon them by an "outsider" or management.

But beware! Supporting your clients in creating their own solutions requires that you give up two very difficult things:

* First, when you allow your clients to create their solutions, you give up being seen as the brilliant "answer person" on whom your clients must depend; and,

* Second, you give up the ability to steer the outcome or solution to help you to sell a particular product or service.

What you gain from it, however, are appreciative clients who learn to generate their own solutions and who, when the opportunity arises, will engage you for additional services because they know that their organizational performance will be enhanced as a result.

Holding clients accountable

The last of the coaching responsibilities that we'll explore is that of holding your clients accountable and responsible for implementing their strategies and action plans.

Fast Company Magazine had a great quote describing this aspect of coaching: "Coaches are not for the meek. They're for people who value unambiguous feedback. All coaches have one thing in common, it's that they are ruthlessly results-oriented."

As a coach, I feel good about being ruthlessly committed to helping my clients achieve their goals. And you can, too. First, ensure that each action step that's identified has one clear owner and a definitive by-when date for completion, and that these action steps, owners and by-when dates are captured in writing. Then, meet regularly with your clients to review their progress on each action step, identify roadblocks, reset expectations, document the refined plan and then start the process again.

Becoming more "coach-like"

Begin acting more as a coach and position yourself at a higher level on your next client engagement by:

* Deepening and broadening your client discovery process to include more in-depth discovery tools and input from your clients;

* Encouraging your clients to generate their own solutions and then collaborating with them to refine their ideas; and,

* Helping your clients commit to an action plan and then developing constructs to maintain accountability around their plan.

When you make the shift to exhibit more "coach-like" behavior, the difference you'll see in the level of your client commitment and goal achievement will amaze you.

Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and owner of ConvergenceCoaching LLC (www.convergencecoaching.com), a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm.

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