This is the coach era, period! It all started gaining prominence with sport. Be it soccer, basketball, baseball, cricket – name the sport – the “coach” today has a very high profile and visible role; even seen as the public face of the team or franchise.
John Buchanan, the erstwhile coach of the Australian national cricket team, was a big hit amongst the newer generations for his introduction of technology and out of the box thinking. He brought in practices from rugby to fielding sessions in cricket, he considered getting hitting coaches from baseball to train cricket batsmen in hitting over the top, etc. One of the old school blokes who played in John’s era, Shane Warne, once famously said “Coach is something that gets you from the hotel to the match venue”. He could not have better articulated his disregard for the coach’s influence in the scheme of things.
This week, while covering the English national team’s ongoing visit to the West Indian islands, an outspoken commentator by the name of Geoff Boycott got into the news with his observation that there were more support staff seen out on the field, than players. Unlike a few sports like soccer or the American football where there’s a lot of strategy formulations and alternations in game situations, sports like cricket provide very little powers to the coaches in the midst of a game (if you will, for a moment, forget the Cronje-Woolmer mic experiment episodes!).
It is very common to find analogies between sports and businesses. I, for one, am a big fan of using buzz words from sporting worlds in the corporate life. For, after all, where else could you look for better equivalents to team work, leadership, commitment, bonding, etc than look at sports teams. More importantly, it helps a lot of us sports fanatics connect to some of these situations better. No wonder then, to see management coaches and consultants being the order of the day – be it helping in new strategy formulations, bringing in radical transformation to business strategies, or determining newer synergies for organizations. The list goes on and the clan’s purview seems expanding by the day…
Where I find the freshly “coached” organizations struggling is in the aftermath of the consultants’ or coaches’ study of the organization: i.e. implementing the report’s suggestions (forget the pressure of trying to do some meaningful changes to justify the cost of the fancy report!). The engagement with consulting firms has become a fancy term to the point where the grass roots within the organizations look at these external coaches and consultants cynically. I’ve had strong opinions in the past, on these very lines, until having had a chance personally to work hand-in-glove with some management consultants and coming away with valuable insights.
I think the essence to a successful coach-team or consultant-client relationship is in managing expectations upfront. The likes of Bain & Co., which have made huge reputations in being positive and successful change agents, have succeeded purely because they came in clearly setting expectations and roles on both sides. Coaches or Consultants do not provide magic answers; they don’t wave magic wands! Rather, because they do not the have the vested interests and the associated baggage, they are able to bring in a balanced and objective view to the problem on hand. This is putting it bluntly, but in reality their suggestions (again, not answers) are most likely to be painful transformations to undergo; hence they aren’t thought of beforehand, or kept as the last resort, by organizations themselves.
I am, not for a moment, trying to belittle the role of external consultants or management coaches. I am merely trying to state my positive experiences, and stressing on the mindset one needs to go in, before dialing “C” for a coach!
Image Credit: DB King