Here’s the story of what most companies do: deliver products and services, build a loyal customer base, and make as much money as possible. Eventually the owner retires rich, sipping rum drinks in the Caribbean and perhaps playing some golf.
While that’s a lovely scenario, it’s not very deep.
When I coach business owners, I often find that there are some goals which are much deeper, more heartfelt. The companies who are driven by something deeper are different.
|First published in and copyrighted by Christian Coaching Magazine, 17 August 2013|
You might be familiar with these companies:
Toms Shoes (www.toms.com) structures the company around giving away a pair of shoes to a needy child in Africa for every pair they sell. Blake Mycoskie founded the company to reduce poverty in the world.
Google (www.google.com/about) began as a highly unique, innovative and attractive employee culture. This tech startup has succeeded not so much because they have outrageous technology, but because of the creativity of their people.
Chick-fil-A (www.chick-fil-a.com) has always held to its Christian beliefs. Most visible is their closed-on-Sunday policy, which is a means of glorifying God and honoring Sunday as family time for employees and customers.
In each case, you can see that there are goals much deeper than just making a lot of money. For them, profitability is a means to maintain and grow those goals, not just money for its own sake.
I work with a range of business owners who want to honor their deeper values, while building sustainable businesses. But our culture reinforces the view that a for-profit company needs to deliver profit. All other actions are measured by that yardstick. In that view, non-profits are allowed to have more altruistic motives, precisely because they’re not supposed to be “making money.” Never mind that maintaining profit at break-even can be hard, hard work.
When you work with clients who want to honor profound business goals, how will your coaching best support them? Let me share a model I use when coaching businesses along with some insights I have learned along the way. The coaching process engages the client in four distinct phases: define, structure, act, and learn. Let’s explore each phase.
You’ll start by helping the client to define and articulate her goals. This is something that all coaches do, of course, but the challenge is to integrate personal passions into her business.
Let’s say that your client starts out by stating that she’s frustrated with working so hard in the business, but is losing connection with what’s really important. You can help her make progress with questions like:
- What would give you deep satisfaction with this company?
- Why is that important to you?
- What would it look like for your business to achieve that?
- Why would you want to do this through your business, rather than some other way?
Sometimes she’ll discover that it’s not reasonable for a business to give her what she’s looking for. But often she’ll find that the dissatisfaction stems from not having articulated a clear goal. Without that grounding, it’s no surprise that the normal business pressures take over.
What do goal statements look like? Here are some partial examples:
- Everything we do will build balanced lives for our employees …
- We will bring prosperity to the needy in our community …
- We are an environmentally balanced company …
- We honor God by expressing Christ’s message and living His values …
These statements are incomplete, because they need to be balanced with other business goals – around products, services, and customers. And, yes, profitability – because that’s what will give the company the ability to continue achieving these goals in the future.
I always have my clients write down their goals themselves. I find that this helps the client maintain a deep emotional connection. Use whatever terms resonate the most for them – goals, vision, purpose, values, mission, or whatever.
Once the client has a solid grounding in his goals and values, he has to make it come alive in the business. It’s great to have the intention to make a difference in the world, but without structure it will never come to reality.
To bring the client’s goals into action, start with these questions:
- Whose job is it to achieve this goal?
- How is that reflected in job descriptions?
- What tangible results would we see that would indicate progress toward the goal?
- How do each person’s measures reflect that progress?
It’s important to bring tangible feedback to every team and individual who is involved. Verbal support is great, but even more powerful are mechanisms built into the company’s culture and way of managing.
Feedback might relate to what employees see in their paycheck, but it’s not sufficient. Their behavior depends even more on feedback from their boss, recognition in front of their peers, and how they observe decisions being made.
If a goal is important, it’s going to be pervasive, consistent, and measured.
Goals are great, but you won’t know what’s working until you look for progress. As a coach, your role isn’t to take action for your client. Instead, it’s to help her see what’s going on, to ask the challenging questions that will show whether progress is actually being made.
This is why it’s so important to have a structure of measurement and feedback. Typically, you won’t see deeper values very clearly on a balance sheet. Perhaps as a particular expense item, I suppose, but that doesn’t show you the value delivered from that investment.
It’s my role as a coach to create a conversation which starts like this: “It seems to me that what we just discussed relates to the goal you articulated. You said that your vision for this company was ‘to develop awesome leaders in business and in life,’ right? So how do you know you’re actually getting closer to that vision?”
Every time I’ve had this kind of conversation with a client, it’s yielded great insights. It starts by grounding the client in her deep goals, in her own language. Then I lay out a challenge that’s connected with what’s currently on her mind, what we just discussed.
Then I listen and reflect back, while the client processes her thoughts. Sometimes the insights will be stunning.
In business, things are rarely stable for long. Vision, mission, values and goals are meant to help provide stability, of course, but it seems that everything else changes.
You’ll serve your client by helping him to learn from this tension.
Here are some questions that can help clients dig more deeply:
- What surprises have come up?
- What parts of that are permanent shifts, versus temporary?
- What’s helping you achieve your goals, and what’s getting in the way?
- Are you thinking this means you have to shift your goals?
- What do you need to change in HOW you’re achieving your goals, in the structure?
By asking whether the goals should be changed, your client will often become re-grounded with what’s truly important. Sometimes you’ll end up with a better articulation, but more often it will just help him to build his focus and resolve. From there, he’ll have the energy to make the changes necessary to adjust to changing reality.
As a coach, it’s important to remember that this isn’t your business, it’s your client’s. There’s no need for you to become an advocate for change or non-change. Your role is to be a mirror which helps the client to integrate, reflect, decide, and move forward.
You’ll notice that these steps can be applied for any kinds of business goals and leadership decisions. The point is that extra energy is needed to balance unusual goals against the normal pressures of running a business.
We live in a culture which reinforces focus on serving customers, delivering products, and making money. Unfortunately, other goals tend to be less measurable, less visible, and then can slip away over time. Even if you incorporate them in your list of ten corporate values, people will shift their energy toward what gets measured and rewarded.
If your client is serious about wanting to make the world a better place, you can help her make this real. She’ll be able to make money AND make a difference.
Carl Dierschow is a Small Fish Business Coach living in northern Colorado. He has worked with business owners and professionals for 14 years, and is an ICF Associate Certified Coach. He blogs on the topic of small businesses at www.ValuesBasedBusiness.wordpress.com.