Getting in Shape

Small Business News
by Zakia Hyder
February 1999

In seven years, at age 30, Jamie Kenny had moved up the ranks of a top marketing firm to land the role of director of public relations. She had full support from her managers. With 28 employees under her supervision and $33 million in annual departmental billings, she was a highly sought-after candidate for competing firms.

Still, this young executive was dissatisfied.

"I felt overwhelmed and unhappy," recalls Kenny. At that time, she was working 60 hours a week. Most of those hours she focused on day-to-day business. She found little time to devote to long-term goals for her department, let along tie to spend with her family. "I was spinning my wheels," Kenny says, "and even though everyone around me recognized this, they did not know how to help me get out of the rut."

Finally, Kenny decided it was up to her to find a way. She could have quit her job and moved to a new company. She could have taken on fewer duties. But before trying any of the many options that crossed her mind, Kenny decided last year to seek guidance from Jennifer White, an executive coach. Although she had never met White, Kenny had read her nationally syndicated columns.

In six months of working with a coach, the young executive decided to stay with her long-term employer (David K. Burnap, Dayton Ohio), but change her work habits. She is now more productive in her job; she is also more fulfilled.

Dennis Merrick, too, recently hired himself a coach. Three years ago, when he started The Cincinnati Coffee Co., Merrick, 55, was confident that his many years in corporate American would guide him in is entrepreneurial venture. He put in 12 hours a day at the cafe, single-handedly managing his paperwork.

Like Kenny, he wanted something more.

"I missed the kind of professional interaction I used to have before," says Merrick, referring to his time as a corporate manager. "I found myself sitting along a lot, with no one to play devil's advocate or share my business concerns." That's when the cafe owner decided to take a chance.

For several weeks, The JWC Group - a coaching firm headed by White and four other professional coaches - sent a broadcast fast to area businesses informing them about JWC's services. "The first five or six faxes I received, I tossed aside," says Merrick. "But when I read one, it clicked with me, and I decided to call Jennifer. I had never heard of coaching before, so I said to her, 'Let's try this for two or three months and see what happens.'"

He's been working with her now for more than two years.

Since then, Merrick has significantly expanded marketing efforts and added new product lines. Perhaps more important, few customers leave the cafe today before Merrick has done some "interacting" with them. "I am much happier," he says, "and I am more secure in what I am doing."

Here's how executive coaching helped Kenny and Merrick achieve professional and personal fulfillment in their businesses.

Kenny's first contact with White was via e-mail. "I wrote that I was overwhelmed, and I was wondering if she could help," says Kenny. Although Kenny was initially skeptical about hiring a coach, she felt at ease knowing White worked as a marketing executive prior to her job switch. "It was important to me that she understand my profession and where I was coming from," says Kenny.

The coach began by challenging Kenny to ask herself three fundamental questions:

What am I good at?
What do I enjoy?
Is it time to move on or stay here?
"The best thing I do is manage for the long-term and that is what I enjoy the most," answered Kenny. She also acknowledged that she had made significant moves within David Burnap to advance her career and her managers were supportive.

"It's been a good fit for me," says Kenny. "I realized that my dissatisfaction was not with where I worked, but rather as a result of how I worked."

With that realization, Kenny began setting goals aimed at increased fulfillment. In recent years, as a result of staff turnover, Kenny had found herself putting aside her main duty of developing new business. Instead, she was servicing existing accounts. "Pretty soon, I was so bogged down with the day-to-day, I felt the need to be involved in everything around me."

After Kenny defined her area of strengths and what she enjoys, White asked her to take actions that would put her focus in that area. "I stepped back and looked at what made a good account executive ? then I went out and started networking for find those ideal candidates," says Kenny, who has since restructured her department and made a new hire. She now has more time to plan before making presentations to potential clients. Compared to before - when she poke to two to five clients at a time - she can manage 18 prospects at a time. "For me, that's a big change," says Kenny. "It was hard to delegate, but I have learned that there is no need to duplicate efforts. This allows me to be good at my own job."

Kenny is also open to her staff's input. "Somewhere along the way, I had become too hands-on. I had to make all the decisions myself. Then, after my initial consultation with Jenny, I sat down with my team and said, 'OK, we are going to change things here. Share your complaints and positive points.'"

Kenny says she is now more effective in meetings. "I was quick to comment, quick to take action. Coaching has taught me to sit back and analyze the situation before jumping in - to be smarter about what I say."

All these changes in work habits have minimized conflicts between her and her staff - and even between her work and family obligations - says Kenny. As a result, she is more productive and professionally satisfied. "I have happier employees because I have put my trust in them," she says. "They are more results-oriented, rather than task-oriented. They don't need to tell me how many press releases they write in a day. They are instead encouraged to look at the big picture."

Added benefits of working with a coach: "I am taking better care of my health. Working more than 40 hours is no longer the norm," she says. "That doesn't mean less commitment. It means smarter ways of working."

An integral part of that "smartness" is accountability. Kenny spends about 45 minutes every week with White, devoting at least a couple of evenings to prepare for each meeting. "I leave each time with an assignment that I must complete by the next session. Each issue I deal with is broken into specific questions I must answer. Without this accountability factor, coaching would not work."

When Merrick first contacted White, he was concerned his start-up was not meeting his business expectations. He wanted to increase daily traffic in the cafe. He worried about equipment breakdowns, employees who quit or the paperwork he had to complete.

The executive coach encouraged Merrick to focus less on daily tasks and more on long-term growth. Like Kenny, Merrick had to change personal work style for more professional satisfaction, explains White.

Asked to define his skills, Merrick noted he was creative and enjoyed people contact. At that time, he was doing little to capitalize on those strengths. "I encouraged him to get out of that back room in his care and come out and talk to his customers. To network and meet new people," says White.

These days, Merrick spends less time in his office and more in the cafe, greeting and talking with customers. He is also part of a group of business owners who periodically meet for breakfast to share business concerns or swap ideas, another activity White encouraged.

By expanding his contact network to include business, media and computer experts, Merrick has learned new marketing strategies and streamlined most of his operations. A good part of his daily paperwork is now computerized and less time-consuming. He recently appeared on a local television show to improve the cafe's visibility, and he openly solicits advice from his peers.

"When I started this cafe, I felt my creative had stopped operating. But now I have good ideas again," says Merrick, who has introduced a slew of promotional programs, added a new product line and increased his annual sales by approximately 35 percent.

Merrick's value-added programs are good not only for his customers, but for his own morale. He is brining in more sales as well as spending more time at the type of work he enjoys. Coaching, says Merrick, has taught him to stop "running" his care and stop "marketing" his business.

Not many people are familiar with success coaching. Some use the term interchangeably with business consulting. However, coaching is fast gaining popularity among area executives.

Coaching is different from consulting, says Jennifer White - a professional coach and president of The JWC Group - because it focuses less on business improvement and more on individual growth. "As a coach, I act as a sounding board for my clients," says White. "I help them discover their own strengths and learn to maximize them. And their businesses explode because they're finally focusing on the right thing: who they're becoming as business owners."

To get the most benefit from coaching, executives must be willing to take constructive feedback and commit to the actions the coach recommends. "Almost 80 percent of the work is up to the client. To feel fulfilled, you must be ready to take on the challenges that will help you attain goals, be willing to experiment and try new things and be able to commit the time and money required."

When selecting a coach, advises White, ask yourself the following:

What is the coach's professional experience?
Does the coach understand my industry and/or business?
Does he or she have a professional designation as a coach?
Do I feel comfortable with this person?
Can I afford the fee?
Jamie Kenny, a public relations executive and client of White, says it is important to call and chat with the potential coach before hiring. "That initial feels is important. You have to be comfortable with each other," says Kenny.

For business owner Dennis Merrick, it was important to select a coach with business savvy and an honest approach. "I did not want a 'yes' person," he says. "You must select someone who is at the same level as you professionally - someone who does not hesitate to tell you when you have done something wrong."

Copyright, Small Business News