Consultants will usually come into an organisation and talk to the key stakeholders to identify their needs. They will then apply their thinking and knowledge to the specific situation and recommend a strategy, a new process, a new organisational structure, and so on. They may also provide training for the team that will implement the new approach and they may even be there for a long time – but eventually and by definition they will move on, leaving the organisation to implement or sustain the consultants’ work themselves.
With their clearly articulated knowledge and expertise, and with the specific recommendations that they put forward, consultants are providing a very tangible value to the client. This is in contrast to pure coaching where the client is seen to be an expert in his or her own life, and the coach is an expert only insofar as the coaching process. In an issue of Choice magazine with the title ‘Coach or Consultant?’ (2010), the feature article puts forward the following distinctions between pure coaching and pure consulting:
|PURE CONSULTING||PURE COACHING|
|Focusing on ‘me’||Focusing on ‘you’|
|Knowing what’s best||Testing what’s best|
|Demonstrating subject matter expertise||Demonstrating process expertise|
|Promoting dependence||Promoting interdependence|
So whereas consulting includes solving problems directly, knowing what’s best, and telling and advising the client what to do, coaching has a softer approach of asking, drawing out the answers and promoting discovery on the part of the client, discovering together what is the best solution.
Are the differences between coaching and consulting so clear cut?
This distinction between coaching and consulting rests on consulting requiring particular expertise in a specific subject matter and coaching requiring none; consulting involving only telling and coaching only asking. However, a coach may in fact have experience in a particular area, especially in executive coaching where business experience at a high level may be seen to be advantageous. Ahern (2003, cited in Passmore, 2007), for example, put forward a competency model for executive coaches that included an ability to analyse at an MBA level, knowledge of organisational dynamics, and an ability to match “senior-level talk”.
The idea of coaching niches such as executive coaching is in itself interesting, since the very fact that a coach operates in a particular niche implies a certain experience and knowledge in a specific area – whether business, health and wellness, spirituality, or whatever other niche the professional has chosen. A certain level of awareness and even experience of what your client is talking about would seem to be only advantageous. Meli Solomon (2015) posits that a familiarity with the “language and trending topics” of your niche is a given in order to understand your client. In fact, in an article in Choice magazine, Gail Barker (2010) argues that niche coaching is by its very nature a blend of coaching and consulting.