The launch of the Kia business coaching series proves learning is done best when it's through the experience of others. Here, find out more about the programme and the three businesses set to benefit from some expert advice this summer
When Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the most respected entrepreneurs of all time, said during a recent TED talk that “everyone needs a coach”, business leaders sat up and listened.
The term “coach”, as a synonym for “tutor”, has been around almost two centuries, with the Oxford English Dictionary citing a first usage in 1848. Coaches in business have been around for at least 50 years, and they are of growing importance.
They now help business owners, leaders and executives with a whole range of professional areas, including management, business growth, exporting, supply chain and innovation.
The ability to access outside help to plug knowledge gaps has become incredibly valuable in the business context: new trends, regulations and economic changes can arrive out of the blue, and few entrepreneurs are specialists in every aspect of starting and growing a company.
What is business coaching?
The perceived role of a coach has changed dramatically in recent years. Previously, only struggling businesses would seek out professional advice – but now any entrepreneur seeking to learn new skills and hear an outside perspective may reach out to a coaching professional. Small business owners, who typically work long hours and have multiple roles in their organisations, are particularly likely to benefit from a business coach – especially sole founders, who can experience feelings of isolation or loneliness.
This is why the Telegraph has teamed up with Kia Motors to launch a one-of-a-kind coaching experiment. We are pairing up three entrepreneurs, who run fast-growth companies, with a panel of experts, each focused on a different area of business.
Who are the coaches?
HR expert Sir Cary Cooper is president of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development and professor of organisational psychology and health at the Alliance Manchester Business School. He says that his field is “people problems in the workplace”, including “anything from work-life balance to stress management and productivity”. He is keen to help entrepreneurs through the growing pains that occur when small teams become big organisations.
“Entrepreneurs tend to be adept at managing 10 to 20 people, when an iconic head and a strong vision are enough to inspire and motivate,” he says. “But as teams grow, HR becomes more complicated.”
Russ Shaw, founder of Tech London Advocates, a network of 6,000 leaders from the technology sector, is bringing his experience in helping start-ups and scale-ups to grow at just that sort of troublesome pace.
He is keen to help leaders make better, clearer appraisals of their business and their strategies. “Being an entrepreneur and an investor, I can see problems from a number of perspectives,” he says. “I’ve been a mentor and coach for many years and I’ve learned the best way to help people isn’t to say, ‘Here are three options. Pick one’ but to encourage the entrepreneur to articulate their own way forward.”
David Falzani, an honorary professor at Nottingham Business School, has founded five companies and helped 14 early-stage businesses to succeed. He will be offering the businesses advice on myriad subjects, including raising finance, market analysis, forecasting and troubleshooting.
He says the main problem that small business owners have is underpricing their products or services, and the second is not putting enough value on their own strategic contributions and trusting “a second-in-command to delegate the day-to-day operations to”.
Supply chain professional Louisa Hosegood has spent her career helping the likes of John Lewis and M&S to streamline their logistics networks, and is an expert on such operational issues. “I’ve had a lot of experience finding practical solutions to real-world problems,” she says. “These problems don’t differ very much between small and large companies – although the contracts may have many more zeroes at the end.”
She says: “I’m looking forward to helping these entrepreneurs unpick the issues they face and find a way forward. It’s like tipping out a jigsaw and putting a puzzle together.”
Supporting the practical processes of the businesses will be Andrew Dunsdon, fleet management expert and national business sales manager for Kia. He says that this is an opportunity to advise – but also to learn, which he says is a critically important skill for services businesses and suppliers to maintain, however successful they become. “The more we know about the challenges that these businesses face, the better we can adapt to help them,” he says.
Marketing expert Luke D’Arcy is UK president of global brand experience agency Momentum Worldwide. He will guide the entrepreneurs on issues including public relations, social media and brand building. “I am very excited to work with these three businesses,” he says. “All three are clearly different, with different challenges, but they are all clearly excelling in their own markets and are in a great position to move forward strongly.”
Over the next few months, we will follow these business owners as they work through their unique business challenges and hone their business goals under the expert tutelage of our coaches. We will report the results at the end of the experiment and find out if Mr Gates’s advice rings true.