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Analysis: Business coaching and mentoring - does it work?

PUBLISHED: 11:31 20 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:31 20 January 2014

Left to Right Stewart Barnes (QuoLux), Tim Bodenham (BAM), Gerard Cooper (Allcooper), Tim Watkis (Randall & Payne), Adrian Gill (GillFoxJames), Luke Freeman (MF Freeman), Linsey Temple (GET), Peter Mardon (WSP), Sarah Bryars (Target PR), Rachael Ramos (QuoLux)

Left to Right Stewart Barnes (QuoLux), Tim Bodenham (BAM), Gerard Cooper (Allcooper), Tim Watkis (Randall & Payne), Adrian Gill (GillFoxJames), Luke Freeman (MF Freeman), Linsey Temple (GET), Peter Mardon (WSP), Sarah Bryars (Target PR), Rachael Ramos (QuoLux)

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Cotswold Business and Professional Life's inbox regularly groans with emails from business coaching and mentoring 'experts'. Who are they and what are they offering? We find out.

Could run your business better with a little help from the experts? What is a business coaching and mentoring expert anyway? What qualifications do you need to be one and how can you tell who’s good and who’s not?

We spoke to Gloucestershire-based leadership and business strategy specialists, QuoLux and Gloucester-based footwear and workwear distributor Gardiner Brothers which uses Vistage, a peer-to-peer based support network of MDs and CEOs.

“If you throw a stick out of the window you will hit a coach or consultant these days,” says Stewart Barnes of QuoLux. “It is a highly fragmented and unregulated market with many not having appropriate qualifications, or indeed any at all.”

So how can a busy MD sort the wheat from the chaff?

The QuoLux way

For ten years, Stewart Barnes was a main board director of HansenGroup, a multi-million pound, family-owned company. In 2008 he became a strategic development consultant with GWE Business West working with fast-growing companies across the South West and three years’ later, he set up his own business. QuoLux helps companies develop leadership and management skills to improve their productivity and profitability.

“The recent growth of coaching and mentoring within organisations has been exponentia,” says Stewart. “The underlying assumption is that the development of the individual will contribute to the development of the organisation. Coaching is about improving performance in the short term, mentoring is about longer term career development.”

Stewart is fan of mentoring but believes it’s best done either within a company by senior managers developing junior managers, or for start-up companies seeking direction.

“Frankly, most owner-mangers, CEOs, MDs, directors or senior managers of growing and established small-medium sized companies (SME) do not need mentoring. They don’t need to be ‘told’ what to do. Many are seeking advice or reassurance on what to do next.”

It can be a lonely job running a company or a department so having someone, or a group of people, to talk through your issues is useful. However, Stewart feels that no external person can appreciate the specific context of an organisation so proffering advice on what worked well in another company may not translate to your business.

“Coaches come from different backgrounds – I would submit that someone from a large company is unlikely to have empathy with, and an understanding of, SME owner/managers. Of course they will say they have, but unless you have been in the cauldron of a small-medium sized company you cannot appreciate the many issues a leader faces in any one day. The buck stops with the leader - they are ‘doers’. Also, they don’t have the many support departments that larger companies have.

“Similarly, coaches who have a specialism are not best placed to assist more broadly with organisation problems. For example, an HR specialist does not know overall business strategy. Some very good HR specialists I know stick to what they are good at. however some don’t. This is particularly dangerous where the SME owner/manager has had no previous external support so may view the intervention as a step forward. But is it in the right direction?”

“At QuoLux we offer coaching and mentoring through two different mechanisms. We either take the leader out of their business and onto our LEAD programme, which we deliver under exclusive license from Lancaster University Management School in the Midlands and South, or,we come into the organisation and work with the business leader and management teams. The client chooses.”

QuoLux coaching worked for Luke Freeman, joint-MD of Forest of Dean-based construction specialist MF Freeman. “I found coaching to be invaluable and an opportunity to devote time to drill down into a problem and unlock solutions. The coach simply ensures that this information is unlocked from within you by asking the right questions and ensuring that sufficient focus is given to the problem to allow an effective solution to come to light.”

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