Money Talks 8 tips to level up your financial coaching
“Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”
? J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Are you a consultant, district manager, or multi-unit franchisee confident to advise your managers and district reports about marketing, operations, or human resources—but who struggles with conversations about financial issues? Or perhaps you’re knowledgeable about numbers, but can’t get your people engaged around this important topic?
Here are my top tips for creating financial insights and, most importantly, driving action. To help get you in the right mindset, I’ll refer to your conversation partners (whether managers or owners) as “clients.”
Tip #1: Switch from consultant mode to coach mode. Unlike subject matter expert consultants who excel in telling clients what to do, effective coaches ask insightful and probing questions that lead clients to discover their own solutions. The goal is to get people to act. This is more likely when clients better understand their current situation and “own” their action plan. While it seems easier to advise (as you are the expert), leading the client to discovery positions the solution as their idea. People don’t argue with their own data! Adopt a mindset of curiosity, open-mindedness, and collaborative partnership and you’re on your way to successful coaching interactions.
Tip #2: Ask powerful questions. Good coaches ask questions that give clients opportunities to clarify their understanding of the issues, state what they believe is important, and share more than just facts. Powerful questions provide the opportunity to gather information about your client’s agenda, clarify your understanding of the issues, and connect with and understand the client better.
Tip #3: Ask open-ended questions. Don’t ask questions that begin with Why. Questions that begin with How, What, When, and Where cannot be answered with a simple Yes or No and yield more-useful information. Why not ask why? Asking someone to justify a position can be interpreted as accusatory and may lead to defensiveness instead of collaborative problem-solving. So:
NOT Why are your sales so disappointing?
INSTEAD What would it take to achieve a high-functioning sales team?
(A list of 95 open-ended financial coaching questions and other tools are available on the Profit Soup website).
Tip #4: Be prepared! Before a meeting, make sure everyone is on the same page. 1) How will you know the visit was a success? Clearly define the outcomes. 2) What are the best strategies for achieving those? Develop an appropriate agenda. 3) What information will you need to support the agenda? When will you need it, and who will provide it? Do you have the pertinent financial statements—the most recent, including a percent of sales column and a year-over-year comparison so you can discuss trends? Is there an accurate balance sheet showing the trending of debt and cash? Have the essential KPIs been identified and the current figures gathered? Are there relevant systemwide benchmarks for comparison? 4) What preparation would make the visit more efficient and productive? Confirm the attendees’ responsibilities. 5) Confirm logistics such as date, time, and location. Plan ahead for a meeting free from interruptions.
Tip #5: Focus the conversation on the desired outcomes. Clarify the meeting’s purpose. Confirm the agenda. Execute the agenda. Assess: Where have you been? What’s going well or not? Prioritize: What are the most important things to work on? Brainstorm: What drives superior performance? What’s getting in the way? Measure: How will you measure success? What are the targets? Engage: What are the most essential elements of the plan?
Tip #6: Always, always end the meeting with a clear call to action. Before the meeting ends, summarize: 1) Who will do what by when? 2) What are the major milestones and timelines that reflect progress? 3) Set a date to evaluate progress.
Tip #7: Reflect and focus. Within a day or two, follow up with a quick chat or email for coach and client to reflect and share things that went well based on the visit and the goals and commitments agreed upon. Define what will confirm evidence of improvement, related ideas that came up since the visit, things the client wants to continue working on, things the coach will concentrate on during the next visit, restate call(s) to action, and confirm the date for the next visit.
Tip #8: Practice! As with any new skill, practice, reflection, and observation help you improve. Take time to assess your effectiveness and seek opportunities to lift your skill set. I’ve found these three steps work well. 1) Recall a time when someone asked a question that made you dig deep, gain insight, and take action. What was the question? What made it so powerful? 2) Refrain from giving advice for one day. (Bonus points to parents of teenagers who achieve this!) You might be surprised at how often you find yourself slipping into “expert” mode. Pro tip: Use that time to ask questions that lead the client to their own solutions. 3) Observe how expert interviewers use open-ended questions to get interviewees to relax, reflect, and open up.
Don’t get me wrong: Consultants don’t need to give up sharing expertise. But bolstering coaching skills can take your financial conversations to a new level—one that makes an impact, drives action, and gains traction.
Lauren Owen is a business coach and facilitator who helps closely held businesses, particularly family businesses, build effective teams and execute successful ownership transitions. She is a long-time associate, frequent Profit Soup collaborator, and contributing author for Profit Soup’s new workshop, “Level Up Your Financial Coaching: Profitable Growth from Day 1.” Learn more at ProfitSoup.com, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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