“Always tell the truth. I think it can be difficult when you’re working, especially in a professional setting, to have those transparent and honest conversations.”  -Audrey Cannata

A recent study found that more than 70% of financial executives spend zero to 2 hours per week furthering their continuing education. That’s an enormous number of financial execs spending almost zero time learning and growing.

It’s easy to empathize with their plight. People who work in the financial world are personally and professionally busy people with plenty on their to-do lists. When someone already has numerous imminent deadlines to hit, extra training falls by the wayside.

To fill this extended gap in learning, take a little time to look through the book “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More, and Change the Way You Lead Forever” by Michael Bungay Stanier. 

The book explores the concept of prioritizing the transformation of people over the transaction of dollars and cents. Many readers experience an “aha!” moment picturing a brighter future beyond the present moment.

What Is Coaching in the Financial World?

There are many misconceptions about coaching. Today, almost anyone can call themselves a coach. There’s been an explosion in people who consider themselves coaches but are just full of hot air.

So what makes a great coach for financial brands?

Coaches help others see things they’re not already willing or able to see.

Great coaches ask questions as they help people self-actualize and experience transformations in thinking.

As Audrey Cannata, Operations Lead at the Digital Growth Institute at co-host of the #BehindTheCover series of the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast, pointed out, a great coach doesn’t need a deep background in financial services. Savvy coaches understand that success is about people and processes.

Success is a mindset.

This means there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to coaching in the financial world. A coach that works with 10 different brands will see 10 different results. And even if that coach told all 10 brands to do similar things, they’d end up with 10 different results due to individual needs, human behaviors, and levels of resistance to transformation.

The best coaches don’t provide answers.

Instead, they ask questions and offer paths to follow. They teach the way, not the answer. They help illuminate the path and encourage travelers to head down it and find success.

Meanwhile, great coaches are also providing tools and methodologies that help teams make discoveries. They provide examples, frameworks, and mental models that keep the journey moving along smoothly.

The #1 Challenge: Building Buy-In

Perhaps the biggest overall challenge to making transformations in the financial world is building buy-in among teams. Everyone is so immersed in their daily jobs that it’s difficult to find time, let alone build the buy-in it takes to accomplish big things.

A skilled coach helps, but here’s the rub: Many coaches aren’t effective at this task.

Consider some statistics from a research study highlighted in the book, “The Coaching Habit.”

  • 73% of managers have had some form of coaching/training.
  • Just 23% thought coaching had a significant impact on their job performance or satisfaction.
  • 10% felt that being coached had a negative effect.

That’s right - fewer than one-fourth of them thought coaching made any impact, and 1 in 10 felt the impact was negative!

Those are terrible results. 

This speaks to the fact that a truly transformative relationship is all based on each person’s perspectives and experiences. Coaching isn’t a magic wand that makes everything better and can even harm your organization if it’s not handled correctly.

Stop Sidestepping and Start Speaking

Transformation requires trust. People must feel that the process and the company will provide a safe spot to share what's on their minds.

A good coach gives people this safe space and encourages them to dig down to the core of pressing issues. Their company may have been sidestepping certain issues for years or even decades, but now the coach says, “Let’s stop sidestepping these issues and start talking about them.”

It’s normal for people to be hesitant to jump right into these kinds of open conversations. There’s often a huge amount of fear involved. 

Try using the “What’s going well?” method to get things rolling. It starts with a coach asking what’s going well in the organization, which creates space for an open and honest discussion. WELL is an acronym:

W - Winning. Where have you been winning?

E - Excited. What are you excited about right now?

L - Learning. What have you learned recently?

L - Looking. What are you looking forward to?

You can think of this as a temperature check. You’re taking the temperature of the person and the organization to assess current health. Doctors do this because they know their patients will present with obvious symptoms, but the true cause is likely something much deeper that exists below the surface.

The Miracle Question

When it’s hard for people to open up and talk about transformation, there’s a key question you can ask to help them get started. Some call it The Foundation Question because it’s about getting down to the foundation of an issue. Others call it The Coffee and Conversations question because it stimulates conversation.

In The Coaching Habit, this question is known as The Miracle Question.

Imagine that tonight, you go to sleep and a miracle happens. You wake up tomorrow and what happened? What miracle occurred overnight to make everything better?

Answering this question gives people a sense of control and clarity. Instead of feeling hopeless, they feel capable of describing what would happen in an ideal world. From there, they can start brainstorming what to do next.

If The Miracle Question doesn’t help someone start talking, they might do better with The Coffee and Conversations Question.

In this version, you imagine the two of you meeting up for coffee sometime between 1 year and 3 years from now. First, you ask, “What are you drinking? Is it coffee? Is it a cocktail?” This allows them to relax and think about something easy: their favorite drink prepared their favorite way.

Now the conversation is warming up and feeling more human. Take a sip of your imaginary drinks together and ask what needs to happen between now and then to reach their goal. What progress would need to happen to accomplish that victorious sip?

Then pause. Just pause and be silent.

Leaving a long silence is key. It might make the person slightly uncomfortable, but that’s what it takes for transformation. Allow space and time for them to finally find their words and start speaking.

Moving forward, it helps to write things down. What are their feelings? Accomplishments? Goals? Roadblocks? Opportunities? Worries? Creating a written record of the discussion will help it all feel more real later when they come back to revisit it.

Beware of The Lazy Question

Transformation is tough, so people sometimes attempt to take the easy route by asking their coach to solve their problems. Instead of thinking it through, they just say, “What should I do?” or “What would you do in my situation?”

As a coach, it takes significant self-control to avoid providing an answer to The Lazy Question.

Coaches always have lots of thoughts, but it’s not helpful to directly provide ideas without encouraging the person to self-reflect and take action for themselves. 

This is a time to stop, think it through, and figure out some potential answers. It might be painful, but this is how true growth occurs.

Tell the Truth and Don’t Take it Personally

It takes bravery to tell the truth. Transparent and open conversations are hard, but they’re exactly what it takes to move organizations forward through groundbreaking transformations.

In the book, “The Four Agreements,” the author discusses the importance of not taking things personally. This is a challenging concept that’s difficult to absorb and put into practice, but also prevents the anguish of taking things personally.

Even in the buttoned-up financial world, we’re all humans. Our emotions become involved with what we’re doing, and it can be challenging to give and accept difficult feedback. 

“Not taking it personally” means making it a habit to prioritize growing and learning over feeling hurt by the process. We value transformative growth over the potential harm to our egos.

The Value of Saying ‘No’

People sometimes think that making a business transformation is about losing yourself in the process and just saying “yes” to everything new that comes your way. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

As humans, we’re wired to accept challenges. Particularly in the financial world, people tend to be achievers and “A” students who like getting things accomplished.

As a result, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, say “yes” to too many things, and find it hard to delegate tasks. Delegating might make you feel you’re just cheating and pushing work off onto others.

The reality is that you’re not capable of doing everything, and you’re not good at everything either. Transformation takes teamwork. There might be someone else with different capabilities who could excel at something new, adding diversity and energy to the process.

Innovators and visionaries share the spotlight. They validate what others do while accepting that everyone has boundaries that should be respected. 

What’s Next for Your Financial Brand?

When it comes to coaching, it’s important to end each coaching discussion by looking toward the future. After a taxing 30, 60, or 90-minute coaching session, people might feel a little overwhelmed, and it’s essential to leave them with a single actionable takeaway.

You can always ask the simple question, “What are you going to do next?” This not only helps the person formulate a plan, but sets the expectation that there’s more to come beyond this single discussion. 

There’s a vast gulf between knowing and growing. Each coaching session should go beyond just learning information. How will you grow from this knowledge? What will you do over the next 30 days to make appreciable progress toward the goal?

This creates a culture of accountability where it’s normal and expected to get things done consistently. Only accountable cultures can be transformative cultures.

One last tip: Keep in mind that transformative growth also requires inclusion. Instead of just making coaching mandatory or printing banners with some new motto, invite your people into the process. Welcome them into the transformation experience in a two-way feedback loop.

Ask how they feel, discuss how they’d like to be involved, and build an action plan together. This is how the world’s greatest coaches are leading their teams to success.