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When to call the coach

Helping businesspeople is a growth industry, but it’s little regulated

By Alison MacGregor, The Gazette June 5, 2010

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Marie-Claude Pelletier was in a quandary.

After 11 years, her company, Les Effrontes, had built up a loyal clientele in the Montreal area -its “army of professionals” was busy helping people overhaul their wardrobes and polishing their looks.

Her thoughts were turning to expansion. But how?

Should she build on her local reputation by opening a beauty salon adjoining her elegant Ste. Catherine St. location? Should she expand into a regional centre like Sherbrooke or Quebec City? Or should she go for broke and open an office in Toronto or the Big Apple?

In stepped Lisa Chandler, a coach specializing in entrepreneurs with established small to medium-size businesses.

Montreal is home to scores of business coaches like Chandler, offering guidance on a variety of such topics as leadership, marketing, senior executive skills, social networking and starting a small business.

It’s a sector that has enjoyed solid growth during the last 20 years and seems poised to grow even more as the practice is more widely adopted.

Instead of telling Pelletier what to do, Chandler acted like a personal sounding board, throwing out hard questions that helped Pelletier draw conclusions.

“It’s about listening at a level much deeper than what most people are used to,” Chandler said.

She challenges clients’ assumptions by “asking powerful questions that lead (clients) to their own insights.”

What’s stopping you? What can you tolerate? What do you want more of ? What do you need to know in order to say yes to the thing that you want?”

The coaching experience is “not ‘touchyfeely,’ ” Pelletier said with a laugh. “I didn’t want any of that.”

Instead she likened her coach to “a mirror that talks.”

Unlike counselling, which focuses on self-examination and reflection, coaching is about finding out what needs to be done to solve a problem or reach a goal -then going out and doing it.

Between sessions, coaches and clients usually communicate with each other. A client is expected to complete assignments and provide updates -usually through email, these days -while the coach monitors the client’s progress.

If a client refuses to engage in the process, the coach has the option of firing him or her.

The Quebec branch of the International Coach Federation, the international organization that oversees the independent certification of coaches, estimates that there are about 250 certified coaches in Quebec.

Clients range from senior executives to budding entrepreneurs.

Hourly rates typically range from around $250 to $350 an hour, but can go to $500 and up for senior executive coaching.

Government financial aid programs have encouraged growth, such as an Emploi Quebec program that subsidizes about 50 per cent of the cost of business coaching.

As everywhere, globalization and technological change have helped fuel the boom.

While coaching can be a positive experience, the industry is self-regulated, so unqualified people can promote themselves as business coaches.

There is “still a little of the Wild West” in the sector, said Jim Gavin, co-director of the professional and personal coaching certification program at Concordia University.

“It’s an industry in its infancy,” he said. While there are “a lot of great people,” there are also “a lot of people hanging out a shingle.”

Peter Vogopoulos, 39, a Montrealbased marketing coach, agreed. He runs Marketing for Real Results and has been working as a full-time coach for almost three years.

“More and more people out there are calling themselves coaches, and it can be difficult for consumers to discern what makes a great coach,” he said.

He pointed out that not all coaches have the same background and experience. Vogopoulos has engineering and MBA degrees and worked for several years as a consultant before becoming a coach.

“We don’t need to be subject-matter experts,” he said, “but having (a) richer background and experience just makes you a better coach because you have stuff to draw from.”

Jo-Anne Duquette, head of the Federation internationale des coaches du Quebec, suggested that one way for clients to protect themselves is to look for a certified coach on the website of the International Coaching Federation (ICF).

She also suggested potential clients meet with at least one or two coaches to make sure they find the right person.

“You need to have a good match,” she said.

Concordia’s Gavin said that even if someone is certified by the ICF and has numerous qualifications, it does not mean that the person is the right coach for a certain client.

Being certified is not the sole criterion, nor is it always necessary, he said.

“Someone can be certified, but only have a limited number of hours of classroom training or client training,” he said. “One hundred hours is a drop in the bucket.”

A business coach who has worked as a CEO in the non-profit sector, for example, would have a lot of insight into how organizations work, he said.

He suggested looking for someone who has an “extensive amount of relevant experience and training relevant to you and the issues you are dealing with.”

He also suggested asking for a trial interview -which is often free -to sample the coaching method and determine if the coach is someone you can work with.

When a coach and client work well together, they can produce excellent results.

“The coach is someone who provides insights and perspective and enables the executive to take different angles on the reality that they are confronting,” Gavin said. “So that they are pulled out of the typical lens or typical ways they engage in working or dealing with certain problems.”

Coaches can also help with the challenge of family-work balance.

“For an entrepreneur, that is a hell of a balance,” said Alain Theriault, 49, an entrepreneur and start-up coach who ran the entrepreneurship centre at the HEC for nine years before branching out on his own.

“When I work with my clients, I am making sure that they focus on their strengths so that they aren’t scattered all over the place,” he said.

“Entrepreneurs have a tendency to jump on every kind of business opportunity that comes up. It’s kind of an ADD personality” that we find a lot in entrepreneurs.”

And the biggest issue is “the continuous tango dance between the professional and the personal issues.”

And coaching isn’t always kind.

“Sometimes people need to hear something that they don’t want to hear,” said Vogopoulos, but he always tries to be nice about it.

Chandler, who is helping Pelletier wrestle with her choices, said keeping clients on track is a big part of her job.

A certified business coach with a Masters in Education, Chandler, 40, often finds herself pointing out: “You keep saying that you want to do this, but you are spending your time on this … How does this add up?”

As for Pelletier, she is working on her expansion plans for Les Effrontes and continues to meet with Chandler every two weeks.

She has decided that Quebec was too small to take her business to the level she wants and that if she wants to play in the big leagues, she needs to jump into a bigger market like Toronto or New York City.

“(Chandler) tells me things like, ‘You talked about this for two weeks and you have not progressed,’” Pelletier said with a smile. “She makes me reflect on what I want to do -she keeps me focused.”

Websites of interest:

Les Effrontes

Emploi Quebec

Chandler Coaches

Alain Theriault

Marketing for real results

International Coach Federation

Quebec International Coach Federation

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette


Speed-interviewing: On your marks, get set – hire!

Zosia Bielski

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Nov. 30, 2009 7:03PM EST Last updated on Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010 4:28AM EDT

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Think fast: At a speed-interviewing event, the bell rings and you have 10 minute to impress your possible new boss

Metzti Bryan got her print-inspection co-ordination job with TI Group the hard way.

Along with about 100 other graphic communications management students at Toronto’s Ryerson University, she stood in the school cafeteria and waited for the sound of the gong.

As it rang out, the students charged into the cafeteria, frantically scanning the room for their first interview. After 10 minutes, the gong would signal the next interview. Each student would speak with 12 prospective bosses that day, over the course of 120 gruelling minutes.

Ms. Bryan got the job she was after, and now speed interviews students for her company – the last time at Ryerson’s job fair in March.

“It’s like a race,” Ms. Bryan said, calling the experience both energizing and nerve-wracking.

Based on the speed-dating model, in which singles try to woo prospective partners in minutes before rotating to another table, speed interviewing is taking off among employers who want face time with the most prospects in the least amount of time.

It’s also finding favour among time-starved professionals who need to hire a doula, a babysitter or a life coach, even as management and organizational behaviour experts are expressing division over its effectiveness.

Proponents of speed interviewing say the events are efficient and dependable.

“It speaks to the fact that people don’t have a whole lot of time,” said Tanya Geisler, who along with co-founder Lisa Chandler hosts Coach Buffet, a series of speed-interviewing events for life coaches in Montreal and Toronto.

Participants pay $50 for a 35-minute workshop with one coach and 15-minute sessions with two others. Before and after the sessions, they get to mingle with 10 more coaches who are on hand.

Many of the participants at the first events, in Montreal in October and Toronto last month, were small-business owners aged 35 to 45. Ms. Geisler, a life coach herself, asked them to write down a troubling life or business issue to keep them focused.

She said speed interviewing is a good way to find a life coach because the process of finding the right one can be “really long.”

Ditto for parents looking for doulas, said Amanda Spakowski, founder of Toronto’s The Nesting Place. The company will host its third speed-interview event for 10 doulas and 10 expectant couples in January.

“Each couple will get a room to themselves and the doula will rotate and they’ll have a mini-interview” lasting five minutes, Ms. Spakowski said.

“Within five or 10 minutes, a lot of people can tell if they feel a connection with somebody or not,” said Ms. Spakowski, noting that parents get sample questions and doulas are asked to think about what sets them apart.

Face time is important because the profession is a personal one, said Ms. Spakowski: “This person is a person you’re going to be naked in front of; this is a person that you’re really going to need to let go in front of, be loud and be vulnerable.”

After they pick a doula, parents are encouraged to conduct an in-depth interview on their own time. This is still less time-consuming than full-length interviews with multiple candidates, Ms. Spakowski argued.

Speed interviewing first took off five years ago in the United States – for babysitters. Today, there is the Lullaby League in Canada and MommyMixer, now offered in 32 U.S. cities and launching in Toronto next spring.

Still, experts are concerned that speed interviews lets employers glean little about the person whizzing by their table. They argue that the only way to learn anything meaningful about prospective employees is to ask behavioural questions about situations at their previous jobs, situations similar to ones that would arise at the job being offered.

“If the job is very complex, you can’t do that in five minutes,” said Dave Zweig, an associate professor of organizational behaviour and human-resource management at the University of Toronto who has researched job interviews.

“In five minutes, all you’re doing is using your own bias in making judgment, and that can lead to bad hires and discrimination,” Prof. Zweig said.

Other experts say speed interviewing can’t do much more harm than the standard interview, mostly because employers form nearly all of their impressions within the first 30 seconds of meeting a candidate, regardless of the time allotted.

“The research evidence is that when you’re interviewing somebody, you’ve probably made up your mind whether you’re going to hire them by the time they’ve sat down in the chair,” said Hugh P. Gunz, chairman of the department of management at the University of Toronto.

Prof. Gunz said employers then use the interview to “gather information that backs up our initial prejudice.”

He and other experts suggest speed interviewing may be as futile as its longer cousin.

“Interviewing is probably the least reliable way of predicting job success,” said Ann Frost, associate professor of organizational behaviour at the Richard Ivey School of Business. “… I’d say go ahead and do it for five minutes because you’re not wasting as much time.”

But Prof. Frost allowed that there could be some benefit to interviewing a slew of doulas face-to-face: Such intimate professions demand chemistry, which often takes only a few minutes to gauge.

“It’s not really about the skills or capabilities of being an engineer, but ‘are you a kind person that I’d like to hold my hand while I go through labour for the next 12 hours?’”

© Copyright (c) CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc.