When I first booked a consultation with a “values coach,” I was apprehensive. I’d heard about other leaders who swore by them -- from Bill Gates to Steve Jobs to Eric Schmidt -- but I’d never had a professional coach myself. Plus, this wasn’t just for me or a core group of executives. It was a benefit we were extending to the whole company.
In the end, I hired a coach and expected some sort of professional audit. But instead of going through our company’s financials or analyzing our key performance indicators (KPIs), what we got was more like a career-oriented therapy session -- someone who dug into the personal and interpersonal blockers keeping us from performing optimally.
We’ve had coaches come in for “office hours” once every few weeks when my staff can drop in, we’ve done team sessions, and some employees even make one-on-one appointments. There’s no limit or direction to what can be discussed. Some people choose to talk about job performance and professional goals; for others, it might be taking a more holistic view of their lives. And, as it turns out, bringing in a coach has been well worth the investment for my small company.
Ultimately, the experience has taught me a fundamental truth: At its core, running a business isn’t about balance sheets, profits and productivity. Those things are all byproducts of building successful relationships with other human beings. Since getting some coaching, the way I approach my team and my clients has completely transformed -- for the better. Here are a few ways values coaching can help.
It brought out the humanity in our office.
Working in the tech space, I’m lucky to have a lot of brilliant, ambitious people on my team. One downside of our work is that it’s not particularly social. On any given day, our office is full of software engineers, heads buried under headphones and eyes focused on computer screens.
Now, of course, I want my team to be focused, but I’m also aware that this self-imposed quarantine can lead to feelings of isolation at work -- a killer for morale and productivity. We break up the work with lots of social outings and team-building exercises, but I wanted the opportunity for my team to go deeper, to really explore how they operate as three-dimensional human beings.
It sounds like therapy, and in a way, it is. Bringing in a coach can lead to a more grounded office environment where people feel like they are more than their job title -- and are encouraged to express that at work. For me, it’s fundamental that working at our company provides more than income; It can also be a pathway toward the sense of fulfillment we all seek.
And from a bottom-line perspective, extending coaching to all employees -- not just the executive team -- can create a more respectful, healthier environment. At our agency, that contributes to our retention rate of over 90%. That result alone is well worth the few hundred bucks an hour it costs to bring in a coach, especially when compared to the toll of replacing a valued employee.
I learned how to (actually) communicate.
When I was younger, I worked with my dad in our family retail business. He can attest to the fact that I wasn’t always the best co-worker. I was oppositional, defiant. There would be arguments, and I’d escalate them.
Looking back, my issue came down to ineffective communication. I wasn’t always sensitive to the needs of the people I was speaking with, or cognizant of my own patterns -- like my tendency to be contrarian and defensive.
I’ve mellowed a lot as I’ve gotten older. As the CEO of a fast-growing e-commerce agency, I strive to create a positive work environment, grounded in respect. But I know that my words carry a tremendous amount of weight. It’s easy to slip into a top-down leadership style where I’m just telling people what to do without taking the time to understand their processes. Left unchecked, I know that’s a recipe for resentment and, ultimately, burnout.
Working with a coach can help decode communication styles, identify blind spots and become attuned to the people you talk to. I’ve learned how to have two-way conversations with my team members when I’m giving constructive feedback, setting boundaries or problem-solving. We now have an environment where things that can fester and turn toxic don’t go unsaid.
It helped us head off conflicts with clients.
One of the most surprising things I’ve found about the coaching process is that the benefits extend far beyond our company. As an agency, we’re the outside help that’s angling to take over responsibilities inside a prospective client’s organization. It doesn’t always go over well. No one likes a stranger coming in to criticize your efforts and claim he or she can do better.
I’ve learned how to extinguish this tension before it ignites. Instead of coming off like a brash know-it-all, I’m able to include those stakeholders in forming a solution. I solicit their insights and ask them to lead me through their process. Not only does it make them feel valuable and invested in the outcome, I get key insights into where things might have gone off the rails in their own process.
Learning how to make everyone in the room feel comfortable and respected not only increases your chances of being hired, it makes the job that much easier once it’s yours.
In an era where there are countless “professional services” promising to add value to your business or make it more efficient, it’s easy to dismiss the concept of a values coach as unnecessary fluff. I almost did. But what I’ve found is that the skills I’ve learned from working with one can transcend the workplace. I’m not just a better boss, I’ve become a better person. And there are few things more valuable than that.