Differentiate the Roles of Consultants, Coaches, and Trainers
OLB 7007, Assignment 1
DuBose, Justin Z.
Dr. Jaime Klein
10 February 2019
The complex nature of the ever-changing modern work environment causes organizations and organizational leaders to constantly evaluate and improve their products, people, and proficiency (Joo, Sushko, & McLean, 2012). One major consequence of this evaluative process is the explosive growth of professional coaches and consultants (Joo, Sushko, & McLean, 2012). Each of these fields are on the rise and show no signs of slowing down. Consulting is a 400+ billion-dollar global industry (Baaij, 2014) while coaching, while significantly smaller, is likewise a multi-billion-dollar global industry and continues to grow in nearly 250 countries across the globe (Segers, Vloeberghs, & Henderickx, 2011). Organizational leaders, then, must understand the nature of professional coaches, consultants, and trainers to decide which of these fields is best aligned to their organizational mission and goals.
While organizations and organizational leaders must understand the nature of professional coaches, consultants, and trainers, researchers consistently conclude that these fields are wrought with ambiguity. Baaij (2014) noted that each of these professional fields lack a commonly utilized theoretical and conceptual framework and understanding. Even though coaching and consulting are both rapidly growing multi-billion-dollar global industries (Baaij, 2014; Segers, Vloeberghs, & Henderickx, 2011), Joo, Sushko, & McLean (2012) referenced the lack of empirical research on the various roles. Thus, this paper seeks to further examine and distinguish between the roles of coaches, consultants, and trainers and examine the unique contributions of each to organizations and organizational leaders.
While organizations have traditionally been led by “top-down” leaders, Joo, Sushko, & McLean (2012) noted that the evolving and complex nature of the modern work environment has caused leaders and employees to shift their thinking about organizational dynamics. Joo, Sushko, & McLean (2012) noted that organizations are now shifting to knowledge specialists which are inherently self-governing. This shift in organizational structure and dynamics is one of the factors which highlighted the need for professional coaching. Organizational leaders themselves began to shift from the paradigm of a traditional director to one of a supportive coach (Joo, Sushko, & McLean, 2012). The growing need for coaching became evident in the evolving roles of organizational managers and leaders with their employees.
Another factor which contributed to the growing field of coaching was the need for organizations to attract and retain quality talent. Couto & Kauffman (2009) noted that the combination of a lack of available talent and the desire to retain and develop employees with high performance potential is a major contributing factor to the growth of coaching. Thus, one of the most important functions of coaches is their ability to attract and develop highly motivated employees. Egan & Hamlin (2014) likewise concluded that coaching is geared toward the future and is primarily an individual endeavor between coach and employees. Egan & Hamlin (2014) further concluded that the greatest strength of coaches was the flexibility and greater focus available in the “one-on-one” model of coaches and employees. Since coaching can be individually tailored, the growing enthusiasm for coaching is likely found in the richness of the dialogue and developmental exchanges (Egan & Hamlin, 2014). This conclusion was also reached by Sammut (2014) who discovered that coaching is most effective with adult learners in a one-on-one context. Specifically, adult learners display measurable growth in areas of critical reflection of self and circumstances and placing current issues within a larger context. Thus, the greatest strength of coaching – and the area which organizations benefit most from – is the ability of coaches to spend focused one-on-one time with employees. Organizations benefit not only from the development of high-potential performers, but also from increased critical reflection and situational awareness by those employees.
While the field of consulting is a 400+ billion-dollar global industry (Baaij, 2014), it is difficult to distinguish the various roles within the field of consulting. Baaij (2014) noted, for example, that the vast majority of consulting takes place by business consultants rather than management consultants. Business consultants are intended to improve the operation of a business or provide advisement on a product, whereas management consultants aim at improving the quality of individuals leading and managing the business. Therefore, while coaches are hired primarily to work with employees, consultants are primarily hired for for advisement with entire organizations.
Consultants, then, are often seen as subject-matter experts on a professional product or process are typically hired by organizations to provide consultation and advisement at a strategic organizational level. Since consultants are sought for their strategic and technical expertise, they are often hired following success careers in government, the private sector, and universities (Couto & Kauffman, 2009). The explosion of demand for consultants has transformed businesses and organizational leaders in a variety of ways. Baaij (2014) noted IBM – once seen almost exclusively as an innovator of technology and hardware – and their transition into the world of consulting. “Many firms, which were not originally classified as consulting firms, such as IBM, now offer consulting related services that have surpassed their original hardware product” (p. 145). The primary role of consultants, then, is to consult with and advise organizations and organizational leaders on strategic innovations or as subject matter experts. While management consultants do exist – both as sole practitioners and in larger, even global, firms – most organizations hire consultants as business consultants rather than management consultants (Baaij, 2014).
A third and related role to coaches and consultants is that of trainer. Trainers exist throughout organizations and have distinguishing characteristics from coaches and consultants. Whereas coaches are hired primarily to work with high potential individuals and consultants are hired primarily to work with organizations at the strategic level, trainers are utilized both inside and outside organizations to increase the knowledge and proficiency of a particular skill set. For example, Couto & Kauffman (2009) highlighted P. Anne Scoular, who works as a trainer of coaches. Scoular has made a career as a trainer focusing on increasing the proficiency of the skill of coaching. In her case, she trains coaches on how to coach more effectively. Trainers, then, find their unique niche in the professional world by their expertise on a particular skill set and are hired by organizations to train other individuals within the organization to better utilize that singular skill set. Segers, Vloeberghs, & Henderickx (2011) made the distinction between coaches and trainers by noting that coaches often supplement organizational training. An individual, for example, may require a trainer to become proficient at executing a skill set, but may subsequently require a coach on how to best utilize that skill set in a given environment and working with and for a unique team of individuals.
The roles of coaches, consultants, and trainers have all expanded in recent years due to the evolving and increasingly complex nature of working environments. While each role is unique, each role also serves a common purpose. The uniqueness of each role is best expressed by examining each role’s unique purpose. Coaches, for example, work closely with selectively targeted employees who have greater-than-average potential. The coaches come alongside these individuals and increase their critical thinking by dialogue which encourages self-reflection and greater critical analysis. This dialogue and analysis translates to a level of thinking which makes them more effective at higher levels. Consultants, rather than seeking to effect individual change, are primarily brought in to effect organizational change. They often have long and exemplary careers in a given field which provides them the expertise to serve as a subject matter expert. Finally, trainers are often considered experts in a particular skill set and are hired only to train individuals on how to utilize that same skill set in their environments. The common purpose shared by each of these roles is their expected positive contribution to the organization and employees.
My own experience as a religious professional in both the civilian and military sector have allowed me to have unique interaction with each of these roles. The denomination with which I serve employs coaches who specifically work with church pastors to aid them in their professional lives. Often, these coaches are older individuals who have served for lengthy periods of time in similar capacities to those with whom they are coaching. Virtually no one outside of the pastor himself knows of this relationship. The denomination also employs consultants for various needs. However, rather than working exclusively with pastors, consultants are hired by churches for a specific goal: facilities planning, children’s ministry, fundraising, etc. As for trainers, the United States Army employs professional trainers for every job available in the Army. For example, when chaplains first enter into service they are required to complete the Chaplain Basic Officer Leader Course where they are trained by senior Chaplains. Some of these same chaplains will later be specifically selected to serve as trainers and instructors later in their career. This is an example of a particular skill set being imparted by a professional trainer for service within a unique context.
As Baaij (2014) noted, there is still plenty of ambiguity associated with each of these roles in the academic community. However, while each role may be far from having solid boundaries, certain distinguishing factors can be seen in each role. Organizations and organizational leaders should assess their human and material resources and consider their organizational purpose and mission before deciding which role is best suited to their endeavors.
Baaij, Marc G. (2014). An Introduction to Management Consultancy. London: SAGE Publications.
Couto, D. & Kauffman, C. (2009). What can coaches do for you? Retrieved from http://www.hbr.org
Egan, T. & Hamlin, R. G. (2014). Coaching, HRD, and relational richness: Putting the pieces together. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 16(2), 243-257. doi:10.1177/1523422313520475
Joo, B. K., Sushko, J. S., & McLean, G. N. (2012). Multiple faces of coaching: Manager-as-coach, executive coaching, and formal mentoring. Organizational Development Journal, 30(1), 19-38. Accessed on February 10, 2018.
Sammut, K. (2014). Transformative learning theory and coaching: Application in practice. International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 8, 39-53. Accessed on February 10, 2018.
Segers, J., Vloeberghs, D., & Henderickx, E. (2011). Structuring and understanding the coaching industry: The coaching cube. Academy of Management & Education, 10(2), 204-221. Accessed on February 10, 2018.
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