Coaching Case Study By Ruth Song
(Career Coach, SINGAPORE)
Sarah is a young professional who is based in Canada. She has been working for five years and is now a senior manager handling market research in her company.
She enjoys her job but also feels a calling to own her own business. She is torn between leaving her well-paid, comfortable position and starting her own business because she does not know what her business is about yet.
She knows she wants to own her own firm in 5 years but sees it as a small outfit. She has not figured out what she wants to sell but she knows that it is going to be a product-based social enterprise or have a social goal/vision.
Using the G.R.O.W. model by Sir John Whitmore, we began our coaching conversation to work on her growth in this area.
Goal To Be Achieved
She wants to know how to get herself from a comfortable position now and make that leap in 5 years. She wants to get to a stage where she is doing what she enjoys and making full use of her talents.
Sarah is self-aware and is clear about what stands in her way of growth:
- She enjoys her current job and that is making her complacent about moving somewhere else
- She is also averse to giving up her current salary as it affords her a comfortable lifestyle.
- She is not clear of what business she wants to have.
- She feels she lacks the knowledge of running a product-based business.
Focusing the Goal
We agreed that her initial desired outcome was actually two outcomes:
- She wanted to find out if she could go from being employed to being self-employed.
- She wanted to know what kind of business she should go into.
Understanding that the most effective coaching conversations happen when the desired outcome is as focused on a single objective as possible, I clarified which one of the two outcomes she wanted to focus on during the session.
She chose to focus on clarifying her business niche as she sees the two being related. Once she knows what her business is about, it would give her the confidence to take the necessary steps to go from employed to self-employed.
To find out more about her current situation, I asked her questions that helped to unravel the emotions and beliefs behind her situation.
It was important for me to remain open about her goal. Even though she sounded quite adamant about starting her own business, I knew I had to get to the bottom of what pushed her to think of self-employment.
a) What made you want to be self-employed?
b) What have you done that you found the most satisfaction in?
c) What does not inspire you at all?
From these questions, I discovered that she has very different visions of client outcomes from her employer. Her employer only wants to provide data to the clients, but she wants to provide the unique insights that would help them make better business decisions. She was keen to have more control about how she could serve clients better. I also found out that she found it difficult to engage with administrative work which had no direct impact to the way she helped clients.
Through the conversation, she highlighted a few points that indicated that her personality and key strength (Restorative on StrengthsFinder) was in conflict with the typical role of a business owner.
It was important for both of us to know if she was ready for the long haul, including a number of years doing something she did not particularly enjoy (marketing and managing people) or what she termed as “hunting”.
a) If you are going to be self-employed, are you prepared for it?
b) What role do you see yourself play?
c) What plans do you have to make running a business sustainable for you in the long run?
Her answers gave us a clear understanding that in order for her business to be sustainable, she either had to do what she could not see herself doing for the long run or she had to hire someone to run the company, leaving her to focus on what she did best – troubleshooting problems.
Meanwhile, she kept saying “I’m afraid” when referring to self-employment. I wanted to find out more about this fear and how it fed into her current situation.
a) What is causing that fear of not being able to do this? Has that been something in the past that caused you to feel this way?
I discovered her stint leading a voluntary organisation may have contributed to a sense of failure of not doing what she thought she was supposed to do (manage all aspects of the organisation) because she felt called to serve in specific areas like troubleshooting problems outside and inside the organisation. Though the organisation was well-prepared despite her lack of active fundraising, she felt she could have done more for them besides what she did.
A Shift in Reality
It was clear she was coming to a clearer understanding of herself and what she wanted to do in 5 years. I went back to the initial goal of owning her own business, to find out how she felt about that now.
a) Knowing your strengths (a problem-solver) and what you’re not keen on doing (hunting), does owning your own business still appeal to you?
She recognised that the idea of owning the business still appealed to her but the concept of owning a business has changed. She is now open to working for an SME that does the work in line with her vision and would allow her the freedom to pursue the work that matters to her.
It was also important to clarify what was most important to her at work. I asked to rank things like money, prestige and meaning of work.
a) On the hierarchy, where does money stand?
She reflected that she was attracted by money early on in her job. However, after a while, she realised that money wasn’t completely satisfying her needs. Her current job is keeping her because she feels that she still has a lot to learn. Though she thinks money is important, it is not something that would be the dealbreaker in a major career decision.
We also explored what the ideal industry was for her to make the most impact.
a) What are some industries you have worked with / like / would like to work with?
b) Do you foresee a future for this industry?
c) Have you ever tried “owning” your own business?
d) Is there a market for it?
I discovered that she really wants to work with tech start-ups on using data to improve their user experience due to her own work experience with data and a previous situation working with a tech company.
She has never owned a business of any sort but she recalled a situation where she was put in charge of a writing a case study for a company when she was in the voluntary organisation. The shift in energy was palpable – she was very excited, talking me through everything she did. Though she recognised that it may have impacted her career growth at that time, she said she had no regrets because she witnessed true change for the company with her efforts.
She said this would be a dream job. She could also see herself working long term in the industry but she was worried that startups had no money to pay her and they would not pay her because she was not recognised like McKinsey.
It was important to know if this information was true and so I asked her if she knew this for a fact. She said no but she got that sense while working on the case study for that particular company which she did for free.
It was at this critical point that I decided to dig deep into finding out whether she could see the value she brought to her customers as much as the work brought value to her. I asked her the same question four times, “What is your value to the company?” At first she was confused why I was not ready to accept her first answers, so I clarified the question for her. She began to see that with her efforts, she saved the company one year of trying to figure out their problems and indirectly help them earn $200,000 in six months. All these in 10 hours of work.
I felt that I had reached a point where I had to circle back to the original goal set to consolidate the learning and evaluate how she saw her situation now.
a) Are you clearer about what you want to do in your niche?
She was surprised with what she had learnt about herself. She did not expect to move away from her original social enterprise idea and be more passionate about helping businesses be clearer about their strategy. She still feels that she is still open to work for someone or own her own company. I recognised her win for those conclusions as now it was now not holding her back from progress.
At the end of the conversation, we worked on a few action steps that would take her closer to her niche, without giving up her full-time employment yet. She was very clear about three steps she wanted to take to understand her industry more and build up her contact base specifically in the tech startup arena.
We closed the coaching conversation very excited about her next steps and I look forward to checking in with her progress.
Skills Used During The Coaching
Establishing Trust and Intimacy with the Client
I demonstrated showing genuine care and concern for the client by promising to keep the conversation confidential. I was also very mindful to use words that were appropriate and respectful to the client. I avoided using “Why” as much as possible – only using it once towards the middle of the conversation when I felt that we had a good rapport going and I needed to dig deeper into the reasons she was giving me.
I was fully present with the client. Instead of writing copious notes as I’m very used to, I decided to focus only on the client. I was feeling uncertain because I had no idea what she was going to talk about and couldn’t prepare questions. However, I decided to trust myself to know what to ask at the appropriate time. I took the initiative to clarify which outcome was more important to her so that we could focus our conversation. I also remained positive throughout the coaching session to help the client remain energised.
Throughout the conversation, I demonstrated open and positive body language – nodding and facing the client completely. I also held back from commenting too much, only speaking up at the end of her sentences when I wanted to summarise what she said to check if we were on the same page. I was also mindful to pause even after the client finished her sentence to welcome her to say more if needed. I was able to maintain a non-judgemental and objective atmosphere for the client to work through her thoughts.