I get asked this question often, and it’s confusing because some people use the terms interchangeably.
The best way I can describe the difference is to explain what I do with my clients.
A consultant is hired to study a process or specific issue within the company, whether it’s cycle time reduction, cash flow, or whatever. He of she comes into the business, conducts interviews with the appropriate staff, and learns how the process is being completed now. The consultant then looks at what the outcome is expected to be, compares it to what it is now, and develops recommendations.
A business coach on the other hand does not take the time necessary to become a subject matter expert. He or she believes that the company management knows more about their business that he or she will be able to learn in a reasonable amount of time. The business coach facilitates a process that brings the management team together to solve the problem or issue.
Which way is better? A consultant is actually better if the problem is new to the business and the expertise, skills or experience doesn’t exist within a business. An example would be perhaps converting to a Lean Manufacturing System where outside guidance is needed for initial development and training. Hiring a consultant for a general business issue or strategic planning is perhaps not the best way to go. The consultant will need to take the time to study your market; your industry, your product and depending on the complexity this could take a lot of time. You as the business owner are paying for that time while he or she learns what you already know for the most part.
A business coach uses proven tools and processes to facilitate the outcome by using your internal knowledge and challenging you and your staff to defend your assumptions and directions. An experienced business coach will use his or her knowledge gained from other markets or industries to lead you toward new and different ways of looking at your business. This is usually much faster and less expensive. In addition the solution to the problem or the development of the strategic plan is yours, you own it and you’ve developed it with outside help. It’s not something that is presented to you in a formal document and left with you as someone else’s solution.
I do both coaching and consulting depending upon the application and the problem. If the business doesn’t have the knowledge internally I, or one of the members of my network will help them develop it. I till try to facilitate ownership of the solution to insure better execution.
For things like strategic planning, diversification, improving bottom line profits I take a coaching role. I use the knowledge available internally and provide my experience and tools to help them look at things differently and to develop custom solutions that are right for their organization.
Be careful when choosing with a coach or consultant. It’s relatively easy to get business cards printed and call your self one or the other. Look for background and a solid track record.