When business coaches come a-knocking

Making corporate stars shine brighter

The concept of investing in a business coach to iron out issues in the workplace and empower individuals and teams is taking root in the hallways of corporate South Africa. Consultants at the Centre for Conscious Leadership (CCL), a South African networked consulting organisation specializing in leadership learning and transformation, say the trend is growing, driven by the positive results gained by both individuals and companies.

Mirriam_02.JPGThe story of Mirriam Zwane, director and co-founder of Praxis Computing is a case in point.

Her experience with business coaching proves that this service can make a substantial and long-term difference in the workplace says Heidi Carter, founding partner and coach at CCL.

“In our experience the value of direct coaching through interviews, discussions and practical exercises more often than not leads to a real, workable solution to address the issue at hand. However coaching involves more than simply talking about issues – there is an interactive process that is reliant upon input and work from both parties to identify influences and important factors that may or may not be contributing to the situation. Human behaviour and workplace dynamics has a lot to do with this situation,” says Carter.

“In Mirriam’s case it was about matching up her self-image as an executive director in the company with that of her colleagues.”

In 1993 Mirriam and her two co-founders founded Praxis Computing, now based in Parktown, Johannesburg.

The company is now an established business and has a long tradition of service to NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and clients like SETAs (Sector Education and Training Authorities).

Initially Mirriam was brought on board as a consultant. However after four months with Praxis she was offered the opportunity to acquire shares and got offered a position as a director, as well as a seat on the management board of the company.

“One of my core responsibilities at the time was to manage training for our clients as well as for our staff. Back then, many non-governmental organisations were beginning to engage with technology service providers with a view to acquiring well managed infrastructure. However, it was a challenge because there were a number of legacy issues that had to be dealt with, specifically with regard to document management and storage,” says Mirriam. “There was certainly a need for training and skills development.”

Despite gaining praise and recognition from her colleagues for her talent with people and her ability to train, advise and consult, Mirriam concedes that she felt uneasy around the director’s table and often felt out of place due to a sense of low self esteem.

This worry was compounded by strong feelings of self doubt as Mirriam battled with the need to provide often complex technical information, often at the drop of a hat.

This situation had to be addressed urgently as the company was expanding. The company had to adapt its client relationships accordingly. In the eyes of its clients Praxis Computing was far more than a mere service provider – Praxis was recognised as a trusted partner and long-term associate.

In 2003 the suggestion was made that Mirriam enquire about a business coaching service. .

From the outset it was important for Mirriam that potential service providers demonstrate an understanding of the business requirements of Praxis Computing and, of equal importance, appreciate the role of individuals and be open to the personal needs of employees.

CCL met the criteria and was appointed to provide the service:

“This was a year-long relationship with consultants that involved regular discussion sessions, interviews and coaching work. The main need was to address the feelings of stress and fear at board meetings and work through other issues that continued to impact on my performance at work,” says Mirriam. “Much of our dialogue was focused on strategy to tackle personal challenges.”

Soon after embarking on this working relationship with consultants at CCL, Mirriam realised that the people with whom she was seated at the board table actually appreciated the skill set she brought to that table.

Furthermore it became evident that this skill was not influenced by any specific level of technical expertise, but was valued on its own merit.

“It dawned on me that as people we don’t actually have to be a potato salad, that in contrast we can be mixed vegetables in a pot,” Mirriam quips. “There are aspects of my ability that are very valuable to others (that I bring to the team), on the other hand, I also leverage off the skills of my colleagues. In the end we represent a tight-knit, streamlined and co-ordinated executive management structure.”

Carter agrees saying,” We are very proud about the profound difference this service has made to both Mirriam and the environment in which she works. Business coaching entails a great deal more than simply discussing issues and trying to find solutions, it is an ongoing process by which individuals are empowered to change their understanding and approach to challenges and allow this to enrich and improve interaction on many levels.”

Outside of the office Mirriam has also used this experience to reinforce and sustain her contribution to her community upliftment and social welfare initiatives.  At the time of the interview, Mirriam was going to join her church (Rivers Foundation) in the social development side.
“I believe business coaching offered by qualified and trained experts does work, but it depends very much on the individual. If you are open to change and want to make a success out of the experience, there is nothing to hold you back,” adds Mirriam.