What Is The Difference Between A Coach And A Consultant?
(Farmington, CT, USA)
I've been meaning to ask, what is the difference between a coach and a consultant? I see coaching and consulting in your logo and in the services you offer, and I've seen others who do the same, but I don't really know how one is different than the other.
Thanks For Your Question, Erin!
It's Boh here from Inevitabl. Thanks so much for your question. It's one I hear often, and have even debated with close friends and colleagues. That said, there may not be one hard truth when it comes to defining the difference. But, that doesn't mean that we won't try! Here's my take on it.
First, Some Background and Context.
The bulk of my career has been spent as a coach, beginning after I'd graduated from Bridgewater State College (now University) with a Bachelor's in Physical Education and a concentration in Exercise Science.
I worked, initially, as a personal trainer and group exercise instructor, and quickly moved into management and a learning and development role.
In each of these, especially as my clients were gym members who had specific fitness goals and my students were fitness professionals, often new to the industry, who wanted to succeed in their careers, I considered myself a coach. As I transitioned through various roles in the fitness industry to include levels of management higher up in hierarchies and owning and operating a fitness studio, I'd have described myself in the same way.
It wasn't until I'd worked in educational technology sales, completed advanced degrees (MBA and MS in Organizational Leadership), and began addressing the needs of organizations independently that my work with these prospects and clients became more consultative.
My Thoughts On Coaching.
When I think about coaching, I think about helping to guide clients to discovery, understanding, and an ability, or confidence, to take the reigns and begin taking action, even if in small steps, toward their goals.
An example of this might be in working with a first-time fitness studio owner (there's a bunch of them out there now, most who never expected to be in the role as soon as they've now found themselves to be) who is wearing the hats of social media marketer, email and website copywriter, and first-time manager, responsible for the hiring, development, and performance management of new staff members. Often, in assessing a situation, I may see a solution that I might take personally, were I in their shoes, yet that sort of prescription might not gel with the variables that make that studio owner unique. And, it may not be a solution that would be sustainable for them.
Rather than pressure one way of arriving at the desired outcome, we explore options that favor the strengths of the individual to help build a process that they'll be comfortable with and can maintain over time.
My Thoughts On Consulting.
In consulting, I specialize in change management with both organizational leadership and organizational communication being important components. Most of my work begins with an audit of a company's current situation and processes. There's a quantitative element in that we're aiming to identify starting points related to the organization's preparedness for change. Though, there's also a qualitative piece in aiming to discover, through appreciative inquiry, items that may be part of organizational culture that are already helping the organization toward their objective. While rapport-building and empathy may be present, this can be an assessment intensive stage that might not necessarily include the facilitation or delivery of a solution.
There's a few reasons for that. Some companies want an outside set of eyes in performing an audit, yet prefer an in-house, do-it-themselves, process of correcting issues once they've received my assessment and recommendations. Different than coaching, there isn't always the time to learn and explore. More often, time is critical, and so an audit and recommendations for changes to be made are the primary and desired deliverable. It's much more of a "here's what you need to do" conversation.
That isn't to say that auditing is the only consulting-related service offered. Organizations that have gone through this first stage might then choose to enter into some form of coaching for their executives or managers, training for sales personnel, implementation if processes or technologies are being updated significantly, and retainer-based services for quarterly check-ins thereafter.
Is There Overlap Between Coaching And Consulting?
I like to think that I'm able to draw from the best of both worlds to give my coaching clients and my consulting clients the standards of service that they should expect, and that is going to help them reach the goals that they've outlined. While I have certainly earned my stripes in focusing on some specialized areas, I believe my hybrid, professional experiences are what set me apart from other coaches and consultants. I'm able to consider the situations and issues that are present for clients from several frames of reference, helping to bring innovative ideas to the table, and to consider areas that might otherwise have been neglected, making sure that all is accounted for.
Coaching might be described as a mentorship where the client discovers suitable options for achievement of goals. Consulting leans a bit more toward an initial audit or assessment with recommendations for what should be done to address problems. However, consulting doesn't have to stop there, as coaching, training, and facilitation can follow. The best of both worlds might be had, for the coach/consultant and for the clients, where the strengths of each are combined.
I hope that is helpful. It really is a discussion that could go on for hours. Though, what I'll say is this - whether you think you're a coach, or you think you're a consultant, what will matter most are the conversations that you have with prospects and new clients that define the expectations for your time together and what is going to be delivered. Stay true to that, deliver exceptionally well, and you'll be alright no matter your title.
BohDavid Bohmiller, MBA
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive