There does not seem to be a lot of research explicitly around the benefits and disadvantages of such a blended coaching approach. There is one short article that is often referenced, by Cheryl Belles in an edition of Consulting Today published in 2000. She refers to the coaching-consulting relationship as a “bell curve”, with pure coaching at one end and pure consulting at the other, and argues that a blend of the two is usually the most effective approach. But how can a blend of consulting and coaching offer this additional value to a client – without taking away from the benefits of pure coaching? It is my contention that introducing an element of consulting rather than sticking to a pure coaching approach can provide additional value and accelerate a successful outcome for the client; but it is crucial that the coach and client set clear expectations both at the start of the coaching relationship and throughout the sessions to ensure that the client, and the coaching process, is respected.
What is ‘coaching’ and what are the benefits?
Before looking at a possible blend of coaching and consulting, it is important to understand what each of these fields represents on its own. The International Coach Federation (2015) describes coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential”. It’s relatively new as an independent discipline, although it is said to have its roots in the Socratic dialogue of ancient Greece! Modern usage of the term ‘coach’ stems from 19th-century Oxford University slang for tutors who ‘carried’ their students through an exam, later being applied to sports and then in the 20th century to the workplace (Cox, Bachkirova and Clutterbuck (eds), 2010). Coaching places the trust, and the responsibility, firmly in the client and in the coaching process. It is based on an understanding that partnering with a coach will help the client to realise his potential, to create the life he wants, faster and more easily than if he tries to do it alone.
In training at the International Coach Academy, we spend a lot of time clarifying the theory of what pure coaching involves and we spend as much time as we can practising this as well. This means supporting the client in discovering the answers for himself, asking and never telling, acknowledging and encouraging the client. It means supporting the client to utilise his own internal resources to realise his full potential. In allowing the client the space to come up with his own solution, the coach needs to let go of her own agenda, be completely free of judgement, and be comfortable with not knowing what is going to happen.
The nature of the coaching process is such that it maintains the client ‘in the driver’s seat’ and this is very empowering. We trust that the client has all the knowledge and expertise that is required to make the ‘right’ choices in his own life; we encourage him in his endeavours and acknowledge the progress that he makes; and we support him in making long-term, sustainable changes that he can maintain on his own as he holds himself accountable in regard to the commitments that he has made. He retains full responsibility for and ownership of his own life and the decisions he makes. In terms of the concrete benefits of coaching, an ICF study (2012) found a range of positive outcomes, for example, 80% of participants saw improved self-confidence, 73% saw improved relationships, 67% saw improved work-life balance, and 70% saw improved work performance.
What is ‘consulting’ and what are the benefits?
Look up ‘consulting’ or ‘consultancy’ and you’ll find some variation of this definition: providing expert advice within a particular field. The expertise that the independent consultant or consulting firm provides is an expertise that the client lacks, at least at the present time. Consultants can offer an objective view on a company’s situation, independently of any internal politics or organisational complexities, and make recommendations on how to move forward. Sometimes consultants are also brought in simply to fill a gap in more of a contractor capacity, where they are also leveraging a specific set of skills and expertise.