Here’s how to do business training the right way

Social media is known to change brain chemistry. This distorts reality and confuses the frameworks in which we understand concepts.

Business coaching, as a concept, has been distorted by social media, specifically, life coaches on LinkedIn. Similar to objective, hard science, sports coaching, it is now seen as an arcane art at the intersection of mysticism, self-help jingoism, and pop psychology.

Frankly, the importance of intrinsic motivation in complex and life-long endeavors like the human profession is beyond dispute. Science is overwhelming: In complex activities, in the long run, intrinsic motivation trumps all kinds of extrinsic rewards. However, intrinsic motivation is not the same as motivational activities. More specifically, business coaching involves building specific skills, abilities, and behaviors to achieve defined business goals. No amount of intrinsic motivation can replace a lack of purpose and talent.

Understanding true business coaching begins with three insights: First, business coaching is similar to sports coaching—it should focus on building targeted skills and behaviors to achieve well-defined goals. Internal motivation is important, but it must be transferred to the desired result. Second, coaching is not a stand-alone, people-driven activity, but an integral part of the strategy-planning-management process.

Third: Contrary to the first, business is a wicked problem. As with kind problems (e.g. chess), the rules of business are not always well defined; They change over time and often unexpectedly, the definition of “winning” is ambiguous and the consequences of actions taken are often delayed and poorly correlated. Business coaching must enable high-potential leaders to thrive in such dynamic environments.

Once these three insights are internalized, business coaching can be done in five steps: The first step is strategic alignment: Define what “winning” means in a manageable time frame, say three years. Of course, the goal post may change due to business. Facts, but it describes the general direction.

The second step is critical: define the future organization that will enable the win (for example, if the goal is to double revenue in three years, what will the organization look like then?) This should be done in four directions: Organizational Design (the organization’s critical building blocks, functions or business units,) Organizational Structure (the critical Roles,) Essential processes and skills. When this future organization is measured against the current one, the gaps become clear, and the future direction emerges.

The third step is to identify coaching candidates. The benchmarking in step two should identify which leaders are best suited for the future organization. Among those who fit in (external recruits to fill the gaps) will be those who are already working in capacity and need support. Both types benefit from business training in different ways: the first by appreciating and the second by first learning and then practicing the necessary skills.

The fourth step is to build a customized coaching agenda for the selected candidates. This is a detailed exercise that outlines the specific skills and behaviors that need to be developed, how they should be learned, when and by what metrics they will be measured. The last step is the execution of the trainer’s agenda. This is where the unpleasant hard work takes place, often with the direct intervention of the coach over many years.

Two questions remain: Who is a good coach, and should she be internal or external? The best business coach is a former business leader herself who has faced similar challenges and achieved similar business goals. Whether it is internal or external depends on the bandwidth and internal complexity of the company.

One thing is for sure: she is not a motivational speaker or a life coach.

Abhisek Mukherjee is Co-Founder and Director of Autus Consultants.

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