Facebook Twitter

Coach, send me in!

SHARE Coach, send me in!

Remember when business "efficiency experts" were in vogue? You don't hear much about them anymore, but they were once up there with "right sizing" as a term guaranteed to strike terror in the hearts of cubicle dwellers.

How about "consultants?" Oh, yeah, you know all about them. They're the folks who are brought in from out of town to show you how to do the job you've been doing for the past 10 years and get triple your salary for doing it.

Well, get ready for a new breed of business guru who may even now be on his or her way to your office with the goal of helping you become a better employee. Say hi to your new "coach."

It's not surprising in our sports-saturated culture that the coach concept would find its way out of the gyms and into the office; it's probably odd that it didn't happen sooner.

But it's happening now. Just go into any Internet search engine, type in "business coach" and start surfing.

That's what Neil Myers did, and he's convinced it was the best thing he's done since co-founding Connect Public Relations, a firm based in Provo that specializes in providing PR services for high-technology clients in several Western states.

But then Myers is not a traditional corporate president. It stands to reason that anyone who feels comfortable running a company from another state — Myers lives and works in Santa Barbara, Calif. — and is perfectly happy hiring telecommuting employees from as far north as Seattle and as far south as New Mexico would be OK with a cutting-edge concept like business coaching.

Sound like a heck of a way to run a railroad? Maybe. But it seems to be working just fine for Fortune 500 companies like Marriott International and Dow Chemical and also for small firms such as Connect PR and its 40 employees. Only one of Connect's clients is based in Utah.

Connect seems to be the perfect example of what the futurists contend is the way we'll all be doing business one day: Not sitting in board rooms in our power suits but in bedrooms in our jammies, tapping away on a keyboard.

Or maybe not. The '50s futurists said we would all be commuting to work in our private helicopters by now, and they seem to have missed that one. And since we Homo sapiens are social animals and like hanging with each other, let's not write off traditional "bricks and mortar" offices just yet.

Myers certainly hasn't. Most of his workers still make a daily commute to the company's Provo offices and, just as in your company, some of them are better able to do the work than others. In fact, it was for one specific employee who had "challenges" (clients "loved her until they worked with her") that Myers went searching for a coach.

That's right, he didn't just fire her, he went looking for help for her.

That's how he found Kitty Cole, a San Francisco-based business coach who has worked for various companies on a part-time contract basis. Myers says Cole worked with his "challenged" employee for a month, and he was impressed with the results. He let her work with a few more employees and was impressed again.

He then made her an offer she couldn't refuse, and Cole is now Connect's full-time "director of training, development and quality assurance" . . . but she's really just "coach."

It goes without saying that when the boss brings someone in to "help" you, you're not going to tell them to take a hike, and the same goes for coach Cole. However, as best as can be discerned without mind reading, Connect's employees seem to have embraced being coached by Cole, and they don't seem to be faking it.

Janeen Bullock, Connect's director of operations and human resources (what we used to call personnel director), now practices employee interviews in front of a mirror, trying for just the right tone of voice and facial expressions that Cole taught her will work better in dealing with people.

"The best thing about this coaching is that I am a better manager," Bullock said. "I learned that by softening my facial expressions and tone of voice, employees feel safe with me and we can have a two-way conversation. I listen more attentively, and my relationships with employees have improved."

It's not just an attempt to be nicer, she assures. It goes right to the bottom line.

"The return on investment is seen directly by the skilled people we retain," she said. "Companies lose hundreds of thousands of dollars by hiring, training and then having to replace employees.At Connect PR, we have very talented people. Kitty's training has helped everyone become more self-confident in what they do. We take ownership of our jobs."

Corrinna Bonet, an account executive at Connect, agrees that Cole's coaching has worked for her.

"There has been a definite change in my attitude. I now see things in a different light. It's helped me be more pro-active and fulfilled in my job."

Is the coach really just an intimidator with a catchy title? Myers believes if Cole had started out as a "quality control" person, that's how she would be perceived, the same way that police view "internal affairs" people. But cops carry guns and routinely face life-and-death situations. PR people don't.

"If we were in the nuclear energy business, for example, she would scare people," says Myers of his coach. "But in our business, if someone makes a mistake, no one dies. She doesn't intimidate, she just sits down and talks to our people about how they can maximize their potential, so she isn't scary at all."

Cole has worked in retail management, real estate management and personnel training, and people were always asking her for individual sessions.

"We didn't call it coaching then, it was personnel counseling, but one day I realized that what I was doing was business coaching, sitting down with employees to discover what they really care about. We start with a plan, including a vision statement, and we lay out goals."

But like any football or basketball coach, it's not all touchy-feely. Sometimes the coach will get in your face. Vince Lombardi didn't become a legend by always being Mr. Nice Guy, and Cole sometimes has to be a bit confrontational.

"I have to increase their efficiency, their time management and handle behavior problems such as constant procrastination, being continually late to meetings, having poor interpersonal problems, that sort of thing."

And sometimes she helps employees discover that they have no love for public relations and should be doing something else. Is that just psychobabble for weeding out the losers? She doesn't think so.

"It just doesn't work when people try to fake it it in this business. If a person doesn't have passion for their job, it will show up in their performance. We had a great guy here six months ago, but after talking with him a few times, he told me he realized he needed to go. He wanted to be in home remodeling, not PR. It ended up being better for him and better for the company."

For those who do have passion for their jobs, Cole says coaching can actually make their life easier. "We had a lot of workaholics here a year ago, but we have worked toward a better life-work balance. We don't expect people to put in 50 to 60 hours per week. We have many people now who can work 8 to 5 and get all their work done and go home."

E-mail: max@desnews.com