Coaching vs. Consulting – Understanding the Best Choice For You

Written by on September 9, 2015

When leadership staff are faced with the challenge of entering new territory or reorganizing, they ask the same question: should the business hire a coach or a consultant? What’s the difference, and which person has the knowledge and skills to help the business? While both coaching and consulting work in the same sphere, they are unique roles. For best results, an executive must understand these differences and find the right solution for the organization’s unique circumstances. The key issue is to identify whether or not the organization has a knowledge gap that needs to be filled.

Coaching: Partners in a Process

Coaching has three key fundamentals:

  • The relationship between coach and client is a partnership.
  • There is no knowledge gap: the client already has the necessary skills or knowhow.
  • The coach believes that the client can succeed.

Coaching is a partnership between equals – a learning journey for the client with the coach as a guide and support. Rather than attempt to fill in a knowledge gap, the coach guides the client to create a better process.

Frequently, coaches help their clients create or revise their goals and action plans. The coach’s primary responsibility is to ask questions – usually to help the client come to a realization on their own. While this is often a longer process than consulting, coaching can feel like a highly rewarding experience for the client: a rich journey where the client owns the results, rather than a prescriptive problem-solution case.

Consulting: Filling the Knowledge Gap

Consulting, on the other hand, works best when an organization faces challenges in which it has no expertise or knowledge base and requires a structured strategic plan from an expert. Frequently, the consultant will come into the organization frequently, gather and assess data, and return with a recommendation. This is particularly useful when, for instance, the organization needs to create thoughtful and informative proposals for a third party, such as a bank. The consultant can help the organization incorporate the right information for the best results.

While the consultant and client do work together, this is not a partnership or “give and take” relationship. The consultant provides expertise and presents a recommended course of action – it is the client’s responsibility to ensure they are capable of successfully implementing the suggested strategies or tactics.

Do Coaching And Consulting Ever Overlap?

Executives who are considering consulting may first want to work with a coach. Why? Faulty processes in an organization can undermine the recommendations of even the best consultant – resolving them with a coach circumvents this issue. Working with a coach before a consultant can mean better results for all.

Furthermore, though they are two distinct roles, some experienced coaches also make excellent consultants, as one naturally leads to the other. Coaching can precede consulting: the coach begins by identifying their client’s process issues, then the coach may change roles to act as a consultant and fill in knowledge gaps. For example, if an organization is planning to break into a new market, the coach will ensure that the organization’s processes and procedures will be capable of serving the new customer base – then, if there happens to be a knowledge gap, the coach will recommend a consultant or take on a consulting role to close it.

Two Options, Different Outcomes

When executives consider the question of coaching versus consulting, the ideal option will depend greatly on the type of service the organization needs and the knowledge of its leadership staff. To get strategic, clear-cut recommendations from an expert in a particular field of industry, choose a consultant. To revaluate processes and develop new goals, enlist a coach. Choosing the wrong third party to work with can leave an organization with core weaknesses unaddressed while unnecessary attention is paid to areas in which the organization already has a high level of competency. Choosing the right third party to work with will ensure that an organization addresses those areas in which there is a legitimate weakness, ensuring best results.