What a Business Transformation Coach Can Do for Your Business

Business reinvention is a high-risk, high reward effort. That risk can be mitigated with an experienced business transformation coach.

But what does a coach even do? Or what should they do to ensure your effort succeeds?

There's no consensus on these questions. However, having delivered business coaching for these types of company projects for over two decades, I've learned a few things.

For example, there is more than one way to deliver business coaching.

I collaborated with my peers to surface what we believe are the most essential skills and processes to help steer complex projects toward successful outcomes.

What is Business Transformation?

But lets start with some clear context.

Business transformation is all about creating order of magnitude changes, not incremental improvements. It creates new company value and differentiation, not more of the same.

These types of projects may include business model reinvention, product innovation or process reengineering. They often go by names such as digital transformation, data transformation, industry disruption, or customer-centric strategy.

The overarching point is that they create new or significantly improved value. Like things that become a competitive advantage, that fold into your unique value proposition or extend your brand. Things that make employees and customers go 'wow.'

When assisting clients with these types of projects, we emphasize that the most successful projects define 1 or 2 goals that deliver extraordinary impact, as opposed to defining many things that deliver 1 or 2 percent improvements.

What Makes a Business Transformation Coach Effective?

Most industry practitioners suggest the combination of skills and process management are standout capabilities. We agree.

But just what skills are needed?

There are many qualities that make a great business transformation coach. However, some are more influential than others. We've found the below four skills stand above all others.

business transformation coaching skills
  1. Experience and expertise are the foundation for understanding and helping. Business acumen and industry skills help navigate shifting markets and organizational dynamics but are only the beginning.

An advisor that has been an operator will outperform one who has not. The experience of having been in your shoes creates empathy, improves collaboration, and gets to the right outcomes faster.

In my own experience with clients, I find that my suggestions or ideas often come across as new or novel. But they are actually learnings taken from prior experiences. Also, I learned long ago that my words are only effective if they cause others to reflect, challenge assumptions and adjust in ways that advance the effort.

  1. Clear, concise communication is essential. A skilled coach is an active listener. Only then can they foster an open dialogue, simplify the complex, speak to each audience in their terms, and distill individual voices into a group consensus.

These advisors work on the project; not in the project. That gives them a unique perspective to bring insights that are not so obvious to others.

They apply a blend of listening, questioning and observing, so they can see what others may not.

Their words must help others see what they see. For example, they must help staff deep in a project see the difference between activity and progress or separate the urgent from the important. They deliver essential insights with a balance of clear-eyed rationalization and contagious enthusiasm.

They don't dwell on failure. But they also never sugarcoat or mislead. They deliver the facts, however unpleasant.

But they communicate in a safe space so that vulnerabilities can be tackled head on. They communicate in a way that creates learning, facilitates adjustment, delivers hope, and leads to a forward-focused approach.

  1. Analytical Skills are needed to solve tough problems. These skills are used to analyze data, identify patterns, and help teams make informed decisions. These skills help facilitators transform data into insights, and then into actions that achieve outcomes.

Data is the currency for business reinvention. Data will pinpoint both problems and opportunities. Analytical thinking is needed to dissect complex challenges and apply data to plot the shortest route to business results.

  1. Finally, they are results oriented. They know their contribution will be measured in tangible outcomes. They know they cannot separate their performance from that of the organizational effort. So, they maintain a laser focus on the planned objectives, measure key metrics during the journey, and use their role to steer others in the right direction.

Are there other helpful skills? Of course.

Good coaches are adaptable. They are well versed in conflict resolution. They celebrate successes. They often promote a growth mindset. They are generally customer-centric.

They tell you what you need to know. Not what you want to hear. As the legendary Jack Welch once said, "They tell you the truth when no one else will."

Most of all, they know how to bring many skills together to drive meaningful change and guide the company to a planned destination.

Essential Processes

The prior section identified who they are. This section shares what they do.

Every company transition is unique. However, the underlying constructs that make them successful are not.

Over many years and many projects, we've found that good coaches bring proven processes for repeatability, structure for measurability and analytics for learning. Below are some of the most important processes to guide complex projects to their intended result.

A

SMART Goals

Start with SMART goals. If you are unsure of the most important or highest impact goals, start with a Design Thinking workshop.

Design Thinking
B

Agile Execution

Adopt an agile approach. Agile is particularly well suited to complex projects that incur changes, competing interests and shifting requirements.

Agile methods work because they bring together the critical success factors of team collaboration, integrated business involvement, iterative and adaptive processes, and the frequent delivery and incremental work products.

Agile Sprint
C

Business Process Improvement

Don't overlook business process redesign. Recognize that new strategies or technologies are not helped with poor processes. If processes need to be improved as part of your effort, take the time to simplify, streamline and then automate.

Also, don't initially worry about efficiency. Worry about effectiveness. Transformation is about impact. Processes focused on efficiency without a focus on outcomes is a losing proposition.

Business Process Improvement
D

Organizational Change Management

Change management is vital.

You cannot achieve a transition without incurring a change. However, for many companies, embracing change is not the norm and can be a difficult journey.

Change management programs help staff shift from the current state to a future state. They show how to promote a culture with a willingness to 'let go to grow.' To let go of sacred cows, old habits, the status quo, business as usual and the fear of change. To stop defending the past and build for the future.

Change Management Process
E

Risk Management

Risk management is your best tool to avoid surprises and achieve slated objectives within schedule and budget.

These types of initiatives are inherent with risk. So, use a risk management process to identify, measure, and prioritize risks. You can then implement strategies that prevent, mitigate or respond to high likelihood or high impact risks that threaten your project objectives.

Risk Management Process

It is impossible to eliminate risk or anticipate all the challenges that may occur during a project. However, risk management is one of the best tools available to reduce the likelihood that big problems will occur, and that concerns can be dealt with before they become crisis.

F

Governance

Everybody knows governance is needed to shepherd challenging projects. But not everybody knows what that means. Governance is really about four things.

  1. Transparency, which shares the measures that most clearly show project status and progress, and whether the project is on track or not
  2. Inspection, which is a regular cadence to review the most essential measurements, vet progress and ensure understanding
  3. Adaptation, to implement changes when results show variances from plan, or to steer the project toward an outcome or implement a course correction, and
  4. Accountability, which ensures each person knows and delivers their commitments

There are many good tools and artifacts to support governance. They include things like roles and responsibilities charts, RACI schedules, RAID reports and steering committee reports. One tool that we routinely use is a governance dashboard like the one shown below.

Governance Dashboard

Good governance is proactive. It empowers the steering committee to view the project through the front windshield, and not just the rearview mirror. It enables stakeholders to steer the project and not just be along for the ride.

A Seasoned Advisor Can Help

The market is shifting, your customers are changing, product and service commoditization is accelerating, and you need to transform how you do business to stay relevant and competitive.

When chartering new waters, it's invaluable to have a captain who has navigated those waters before. A business transformation coach can guide the voyage with skills and processes that lead to actions and outcomes. And they can provide a compass that leads your project to its intended destination.