Accountancy magazine (July 2006) ran an article “Coaching: the new religion” written by Wilf Altman. In it he suggested that ‘leading firms of accountants are surprisingly coy about coaching.’
In my experience however all of the largest firms run partner development programs and most of these include a form of coaching or mentoring. I agree with Wilf that there is no single definition of ‘coaching’ in the context of “the new religion”. Many accountants have heard of life coaching, business coaching or success coaching. We have probably also heard of mentoring – typically where a suitably senior person shares their experience and their wider knowledge of the profession to speed up the development of a less experienced person.
What the process is called however is less important than whether prospective partners and rising stars are motivated to enhance their skills. Most firms tend to rely on senior partners to act as coaches or a mentors. In practice such partners rarely have the training, talent or time to be reliably effective in such roles. The candidates cannot complain for fear of damaging their potential for progression and upsetting the senior partner. The firms imply that the best candidates would take that chance but few people have the confidence that requires.
Increasingly therefore ambitious firms are engaging experienced credible mentors from outside the firm. Mentors such as myself are not subject to conflicting time constraints or political manoeuvrings within the firm. We are there for the candidates when required and can provide a tailored programme that includes coaching in those, generally non-technical, skills that the candidate needs to develop further.
Most firms that are not large enough to run their own internal partner development programmes are increasingly looking to find cost effective alternatives. They want to ensure that their rising stars stay and develop the key business skills they require to be effective and profitable as partners. Some firms may describe this as ‘coaching’. Others will see this as mentoring – which is possibly more relevant for all but the really experienced partners. Offering new recruits the (tax-free) benefit of a credible mentor can also assist the recruitment process during the ongoing ‘war for talent’.
This entry was also submitted as a letter for Accountancy magazine and has now been published as such on p23 of the September issue.