Table of Content
Chapter 4 - Findings and Analysis
I conducted a series of three, one-hour interviews, for the purpose of gaining insight into the current and future state as described by participants to gain insights into the research question from various perspectives.
The first was a small business owner who shared their experiences working with both an ICF credentialed coach and two non-credentialed coaches. The second was an ICF credentialed Professional Certified Coach (PCC) who has more than 750 hours of experience coaching small business owners. The third, was a representative from the ICF, who is currently engaged with the learning and development team. These interviews provided valuable insight into the experience each holds related to small business coaching. Each overall finding is supported with a descriptive summary of what was shared in the interview.
From a high-level analysis, the three interviews identified seven shared themes including the value of coaching, the importance of the ICF to provide standards in coaching, the challenges, and opportunities for small business owners of obtaining coaching, the impact of technology, specifically AI, the need for sector specific coaching, the value of the human element in coaching and the importance of community and connection.
Interview – Small Business Owner
Summary of Findings from Interview
Emotional and Spiritual Reward
The small business owner found the reward of coaching to be more on the emotional and spiritual side, providing someone to talk to and navigate the challenges of running a business.
Value and Benefits
Despite the costs involved, the small business owner perceived the benefits of coaching to be significant, outweighing the expenses. They emphasized the importance of finding the right coach and leaning into the coaching process.
Coaching played a crucial role in maintaining a positive feedback loop, bolstering confidence, providing a sounding board, and facilitating self-reflection.
Perspective and Objectivity
The small business owner valued the perspective and objectivity that a coach brought to their business challenges. They appreciated having someone outside their immediate space to discuss difficult situations.
Confidence and Support
Coaching contributed to maintaining a high level of confidence throughout challenging periods, and the emotional support and friendship aspect of the coaching relationship were highly valued.
Accountability and Goal Orientation
There was an expressed desire for more clarity and goal-oriented sessions, as well as increased accountability to work towards long-term goals.
Active Listening and Challenging, Evokes Awareness
The small business owner highlighted the coach’s skills of active listening, providing feedback, and gently pushing them out of their comfort zone to see things differently or make changes.
Methodology and Personal Connection
They experienced differences among credentialed vs non credentialed coaches, with non-credentialed coaches following a methodology or script, that lacked personal connection and seemed less attentive or responsive to their needs.
Understanding Small Business Owners
The small business owner felt that the coaching industry should better understand the significant ups and downs faced by small business owners, as well as the unique challenges and turbulence of running a small business.
It was noted that the ICF could focus on specific sectors of the small business world to provide targeted coaching services based on the needs and goals of those businesses.
Credibility and Stories
The small business owner suggested that the ICF, if seeking engagement with the small business world, should have credible stories and demonstrate an understanding of the pains and challenges faced by small business owners.
Through the lens of social exchange, the small business owner stated that “the reward was more on the emotional and spiritual side of things” and the cost was “nominal” considering the value of having someone to talk to about what was going on in the business.
They also shared that “the most successful people in the world have a coach” and having a coach “allowed me to maintain a high level of confidence.” They noted the primary difference between the ICF credentialed coach and others employed previously was not having to follow someone else’s script of what they should be doing, instead with the ICF coach being able choose their own agenda for meetings. They also valued the ICF coaches’ skill of listening and to stay focused on what it is they wanted to talk about.
Interview – ICF Credentialed Coach
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The ICF credentialed coach described their small business owner clients by saying “we call them small business, but what they are dealing with are big challenges” and shared how much appreciation they have for the energy small business owner clients bring to meetings. Being able to support clients by providing them space to think and focus was central to the success of their small business coaching practice. Paramount to the coach’s success was the support received by the ICF through training, connection, and community. Being an ICF PCC coach afforded the credibility needed for them to earn NGO funding to support small business owners in their community, a nice example of social exchange for this study. The coach noted that the reward of working with small business owners was less about money and more about the reward of personal satisfaction received in the exchange and noted that “small business owners have no money.” The discussion in this interview of NGO funding for small business owner coaching led to the author exploring further the theme of the democratization of small business coaching.
Interview – ICF Representative
Summary of Findings from Interview
Democratization of Coaching
A novel theme of democratization emerged and how small business owners may not be able to afford coaching. The need to make coaching more accessible to businesses of all sizes, not just large corporations. May include the use of AI.
Standards and Accreditation
The importance of setting and maintaining high standards for coaching and the value of accreditation for coaches.
Community and Connection
The significance of communities of practice, webinars, and local chapters in fostering connection and collaboration among coaches.
Coaching in Small Business Settings
The unique challenges and opportunities associated with coaching small business owners, including their resource limitations and the potential for growth and empowerment.
The impact of technology on coaching, including the potential for app-based coaching platforms, the role of technology in leveling the playing field for small businesses, and the need for coaches to adapt to technological changes.
Coaching as an Enabler of Human Development
The transformative power of coaching in enabling human development and its potential to contribute to the advancement of society.
Mindset Shift and Generation Gap
The changing mindset towards coaching, particularly among younger generations, and the potential for coaching to become more widely accepted and valued in various industries and sectors.
The role of coaching in specific sectors such as healthcare, family-owned businesses, and education. A doctor for example, owns a small business.
Exploring coaching from non-Western perspectives, international aid connections, and the global impact of coaching initiatives.
Research and Data
The importance of research and data in understanding the impact and effectiveness of coaching and its relevance to small businesses.
The challenges faced by coaches and small businesses due to resource constraints and the potential for technology to address some of these limitations.
The alignment of coaching with global goals and initiatives focused on democracy, inclusion, and human development, such as the 2015 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Marketing and Business Development
The need for coaches to effectively market themselves and develop business skills to reach and serve their target clients, including small businesses. Coaches are small business owners.
Evolution of Coaching
The evolving nature of coaching and the need for coaches to continuously develop and improve their skills, mindset, and understanding of various industries and coaching themes.
Clarity that the ICF is a membership driven organization that takes direction from and for members was an important positioning statement that came from the interview related to social exchange. This member-centric approach ensures that the ICF’s initiatives and focus align closely with the needs and interests of its membership base. The participant shared that the “value of connection and community” are central to the organization’s role in their relationship with coaches. They noted the limited resources small business owners have for coaching and that coaches themselves are small business owners.
Overall, the interviews provided rich insight into the value of coaching for small business owners, the importance of the ICF to provide community and connection for coaches, and the value of the human element in coaching. Multiple social exchanges were noted from the cost of coaching not being an issue to the cost being a complete barrier to obtaining coaching. For the coach, having an ICF designation meant being able to obtain funding for their clients, and for the client interviewed in this study, the coaching led to them having the support they needed to confidently sell their company.
Meta-Synthesis Scholarship Review Findings
Challenges and Importance of Small Business
Overall, there was evidence in the literature to suggest that small business owners struggle at the best of times. When searching small business, the topic of failure was one of the most common themes. Scholars underscore statistics on business failure of up to 80% in the first five years, as if it were the normal characteristics of a small business entity (Hunter, 2011).
Equally evident is just how important small businesses are to the economy as highlighted by this statement: “The welfare of the whole country and regions depends on the development of small business” (Hryhorash et al., 2018). The importance small business play in the overall economic and social environment cannot be understated (Gherghina et al., 2020). In the US, small business owners represent 99.9% of all U.S. employer firms (Turner & Endres, 2017) making them the most significant market for coaches. A study on community resilience noted the importance of small business beyond the products they sell (Buckman & Tremblay, 2021).
Small Business and the 2030 UN Sustainability Goals
According to Zambrano et al. (2021), the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 by the United Nations has made the study of business failure more topical than ever. Specifically, the achievement of Goal 8, which focuses on decent work and economic growth, relies on the survival of small businesses. The authors stress that without the presence of smaller organizations, it becomes impossible to address other goals such as poverty reduction (Goal 1), eradication of hunger (Goal 2), promotion of health and well-being (Goal 3), and the reduction of inequalities (Goal 10). It is essential for individuals to have “decent jobs to sustain themselves, acquire dignified housing, and achieve a reasonable quality of life” (Zambrano et al., 2021, p. 2). An updated report by ILO shared concern global crisis making it even more challenging to accomplish the SDG’s, specifically mentioning those relating to long-standing decent work deficits and deepening inequality (ILO, 2023).
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development states the outlook for 2023 remains highly uncertain for small business owners due to “high inflation and rising interest rates, exacerbated by the effects of Russia’s war against Ukraine” (OECD, 2023) . Reasons identified on why small businesses fail including going into business for the wrong reason, getting worn-out, underestimating the time investment, pressure from family, pride, lack of market awareness and lack of financial responsibility (Titus, 2006). Turner shares “that there is no single theory on the cause of small-business owners” failures after launching a small-business initiative” (Turner & Endres, 2017). The small business sector does not get the help they need from governments, banks financial institutions, and corporations which prevents them from being more competitive (Afful-Dadzie & Afful-Dadzie, 2016).
Benefits and Challenges of Small Business Coaching
Today, coaches work with individuals and teams to help them achieve their goals, enhance their performance, and overcome obstacles (Tate, 2021). The benefits of coaching include improving work/life balance, enhancing social competencies, increasing self-awareness, boosting self-confidence, developing relationship and interpersonal skills, adapting to change, setting, gaining role clarity, and changing behaviors (Blackman et al. 2016. p. 18).
Dr. Anna Blackman published findings of a critical review of 111 published empirical papers investigating business coaching, theory and outcomes resulting in themes of benefits of coaching including improving work life balance, psychological and social competencies, increasing self-awareness and building confidence (Blackman, 2016). Grant describes a full list of application of coaching including business related challenges of leadership development, team building, communication, enhancing sales performance, and dealing with resistance to change (Grant, 2012).
There is a common perception that coaching small business owners is more akin to consulting rather than “pure” coaching (Clegg et al., 2005). However, renowned consultants, such as Edgar Schein has shown in his book Humble Consulting (2013) that building strong relationships, problem-solving, and progress are achieved by asking the right questions. This highlights the importance of coaching small business owners through inquiry and open-ended questioning rather than providing solutions or advice, as one would expect from a consultant.
As a facilitator and catalyst, a coach focuses on the person running the business versus the business itself (Couteret, 2012). David Rock, a neuroscientist who employs a brain-based approach to coaching, discussed the diverse origins of coaching in an interview with Jeffrey M. Schwartz. He stated that coaching is the product of a fusion of multiple disciplines, including training, adult education, consulting, change management, the human potential movement, psychology, and systems science (Rock, as cited in Schwartz, 2009). The various schools of thought agree on little, except that coaching works, and that more of it should be done (Rock & Jeffrey, 2006).
Crompton’s study further revealed that various component variables of business coaching collaborate to create a positive coaching experience, which generates a sense of satisfaction (Crompton, 2012, p. 12). Other examples of works on the impact of coaching executives and leaders in business included a literature review on negative effects of coaching (Schermuly & Graßmann, 2019), a blended recovery and burnout coaching for small-business copreneurs (Busch et al., 2021) and an in-depth read on the effectiveness of managerial coaching (Dahling et al., 2015).
The perceived benefits of the coaching process outweigh its costs, as both parties experience positive outcomes (Crompton, 2012, p. 7). Small business owners are more concerned about the outcome of the coaching process, and this could be a major determinant of hiring a coach or going through the coaching process. (Norman, & Judith S. Lederman, 2005, p. 172). Expanding on the definition of coaching, the process is described as unlocking “previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity, and leadership” (ICF, 2023). This definition aligns seamlessly with the requirements of small business leaders.
When examining benefits, it is prudent to consider the challenges and risks. Without a universal understanding of what small business coaching is and is not, small business owners may not want to engage in the process due to “concerns about the expense of obtaining expert advice, doubts about whether it provides good value for money and concerns about the time needed to fully implement and benefit from the advice” (Mole et al., 2017).
Credentials and Small Business Coaches
There is a noticeable gap between the number of ICF credentialed coaches available and those who identify as providing coaching to small business owners. According to the 2023 ICF Global Coaching Study, over 67% of coaches report business coaching as their main speciality, however, only a mere 3% are primarily doing small business coaching (ICF 2023), which highlights the gap in the market.
Coaches seeking ICF accreditation go through a rigorous process of coach and ethics training and practice leading to one of three ICF recognized credentials, ACC, PCC and MCC (ICF, 2020). The main tenants that set an ICF credentialed coach apart from other coaches, are the adherence to the ICF code of ethics and professional development requirements. At the heart of the ICF competency model is ethical practice including confidentiality, creating relationships built on trust and safety, active listening, questioning to evoke awareness, while leading to client learning and growth (Passmore & Sinclair, 2020).
ICF coaches are required to “demonstrate personal integrity and honesty in interactions with clients, maintains confidentiality with client information, and acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices” (ICF, 2019), a favorable approach in any human social exchange. An ICF coach differs from a consultant in that their methodology involves asking questions to stimulate learning in their clients, rather than providing direct advice (Hargrove, 2008). As stated by Schein, asking the right questions is crucial in consulting, as opposed to offering recommendations or guidance (Schein, 2013). This is because people generally do not respond well to being told what to do (Rock, 2006).
With so few ICF coaches identifying as a small business coach, through the lens of social exchange theory, suggests a lack of social approval needed (Blau,1964) in the ICF coaching community to grow this market.
Chapter 4 reviews a wide body of literature relating to the challenges and importance of small businesses, their role in achieving the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainability Goals, the benefits and challenges of small business coaching, and the role of ICF credentials in small business coaching. The data emphasizes the significant role small businesses play in our economy and society and the potential of coaching by credentialed coaches to support their growth and success.
By viewing the data through social exchange theory, the ICF credentialed coach, the small business owner and the ICF team member belong to different groups and yet they have common affiliations (Blau, 1960) related to the study’s purpose. The ICF clearly cares about and supports their members, the ICF credentialled coach clearly cares about and supports their small business owner clients, creating a shared affiliation of supporting small business owners through coaching.