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Sometimes I forget that everyone isn’t as obsessed with coaching as I am.

This blog is for those of you who nod and smile when when people say, “I am a consultant” or “I am a coach” but really have no idea what the difference is. It’s easy to get them mixed up.

Let’s give you some clarity so that you when you are at a party you can ask questions that might lead to a great conversation.

What Coaches Do (Work with Individuals)

First off, let’s talk about what a coach doesn’t do. They don’t tell you what to do. They are not advisers. Instead, a coach is focused on building trusting and collaborative relationships with individual clients to empower them to move forward and achieve goals.

Coaches use various tools that help you see connections you cannot see on your own. Coaches may use assessments to help you learn how to think in different ways about how you communicate and approach situations. For example, a leader may not be able to understand why they cannot motivate their team and a coach uses tools to help the leader look at the situation from different points of view. But, again, they don’t tell the leader how to motivate their team.

Often times, a coach will start by having you introspect about what is important to you. Popular techniques may be journaling, visualizations, story telling, scales, and worksheets. Once you can articulate the values that drive your behaviors and what goals you want to achieve, actions can be taken. Coaches help provide this clarity. It is a human limitation that you cannot see yourself objectively, and this is where coaches provide the greatest value.

A good coach is a non-judgmental and empowering reflection of their client. They help their clients see themselves as they are.

In it’s most basic framework, coaching is a series of four steps: Discovery, Self-Reflection, Action, Accountability

What Consultants Do (Work with Companies)

A consultant is dedicated to helping a company. A consulting relationship usually starts when a company has realized they need outside help to solve a business challenge or problem. The company challenge can be a variety of things like the need to develop a strategic plan or an inability to identify future leaders to run the business or anything that is getting the way of organizational success.

Businesses hire consultants when they have determined that they don’t have the right expertise inside their business to get the outcome they want. They are looking for an outside, expert perspective.

Consultants can be called on to support businesses in many different ways, here are some examples:

  • Targeted assignments, i.e. a marketing plan.
  • Identify a problem, for example helping a company determine why a certain department has trouble keeping employees.
  • Serve as an additional team member for a certain period of time instead of hiring a full-time employee. For example if an extra software engineer is needed to develop a product that has a quick delivery date.
  • Initiate a change or start something and the company thinks the change needs to be driven from the outside. For example a wellness consultant may be hired to kick off a new wellness program in an organization to create momentum and structure for the program.
  • Solve a core challenge. For example a consultant could be hired to discover why customers service scores are down and will do a series of interviews to identify patterns.
  • Train or teach employees certain skills. For example computer programs or general management training.
  • Do the less-fun-stuff like reduce staff or provide resume and job search support for individuals who are let go.

Consultants usually have some expertise in a given field for instance; marketing, fund-raising, accounting, IT, or human resources. This expertise is gained by years of experience, keeping up on industry trends, possibly having certifications/credentials, and a genuine geek-level interest in their chosen consulting area. When you talk to a consultant you should be able to hear the passion about what they do in their voice.

So to sum it up. Coaches work with you to help you see yourself more clearly and help you achieve goals, and consultants work with your company as subject matter experts who advise and do work for your company.