Five Keys to Successful Business Coaching in India, By Kim Benz and Sasmita Maurya

India has perhaps the oldest tradition of coaching-related services in the world. The lives of all great rulers of ancient India were impacted by the powerful presence of their 'gurus'individuals who, in many ways, were similar to modern-day mentors or coaches. But, ironically, modern Indian business leaders have been very slow to incorporate the coaching advantage in their success stories.

Business coaching itself is very new in India, and is commonly viewed as yet another buzzword for consultancy and training services. Certified business coaches are almost non-existent. Where they do exist, they are active in the corporate sector in large metropolitan areas. Most companies are hesitant to embrace coaching. For one thing, business coaching is often perceived as excessively expensive; for another, many high-profile executives do not wish to admit their own need for coaching.

Ms. Herjeet Dutt, the Chief Consulting Officer of Practice Success Dot Com, asserts, "Business coaching has always existed in India, although most of the time it gets clubbed (associated) with the consultation, facilitation or mentoring process."

Indian businesses are largely a mix of two representative clusters:

  • Cluster 1: Multi-national organizations, local entrepreneurial ventures that have expanded their business offshore, and local business organizations with public holdings and stock market listings.This cluster recognizes the need for coaching in a limited sense—in-house mentorship is more widely practiced. As the investment in development of high-potential employees continues, the need for business coaches will increase here.
  • Cluster 2: Closely held businesses with no stock market listing, partnership business/trading companies, and independent business owners.This cluster makes a minimal investment in employee development, and coaching is most likely to be viewed as an expense.

There are five keys that are critical to expanding the role of business coaching in India:

1. Create increased awareness of professional business coaching

Business coaching is a fuzzy concept in India right now. Many consultants, who view coaching as the latest 'fad,' label themselves as coaches. In reality, they provide consulting and training services. So the challenge in India, in order to generate interest and professional legitimacy, is to clarify what business coaching really is. Decision-makers must be educated to distinguish the differences among consultancy, training and coaching.As a practical matter, many coaches consider the certification process both expensive and risky, due to the almost non-existent current demand for professional business coaching services. At the same time, certification is critical to improving the perception of business coaching's legitimacy and professionalism in India.According to Ajai Singh, a certified coach based in Mumbai, there is potential for growth: "There is some organizational movement towards investing in the development of high-potential individuals using the coaching methodology, and I expect that in another couple of years, coaching will become a remunerative practice for qualified, certified individuals.

2. Develop flexible coaching models

The core goal of business coaching in India is to introduce new mindsets, leverage existing strengths, and deal with weaknesses in the workforce, thus creating the synergy required to enhance skills and overall performance. A basic coaching model, described by Avinash Kirpal in his article, Coaching for High Flying Corporate, is the GROW model: Goal setting, Reality checking, Option analysis, and Willingness to take action. And many individual coaches use models that are closely analogous to Kirpal's.India has over 18 different languages, and an equal number of variations in traditions and cultures. When developing or adapting coaching models for Indian clients, it is important to evaluate the geographical location of the client organization, its local work culture, and the traditional mindset of its people, since cultural factors have a stronger influence on the workforce than organizations' corporate personalities. Business coaches must therefore be sensitive, open, adaptive, and flexible with coaching models.

3. Network for increased impact and business development.

Networking is critical, since the coaching business in India is largely dependent on word-of-mouth referrals. What often works best is a multi-faceted approach to creating an appreciation for the value of business coaching services. In India, as in many countries, the established networking tools of business publications and journals, websites, business conferences, and personal contacts are the primary venues for effective networking. References from existing and previous clients help to increase the credibility of many service providers, and they work effectively for business coaches, too.

4. Set high standards for business coaching

Formal coaching qualifications and international credentials, including membership in respected coaching associations, set high standards and substantiate the coachs credibility. Decision makers may feel more confident in hiring business coaches with credentials and qualifications, and be more successful in justifying their expense.Ajai Singh says, "There are too many individuals calling themselves coaches, when actually they are consultants or mentors. My personal feeling is that anyone who wants to call him- or herself a coach must have some kind of formal training or accreditation from one of the plethora of coaching schools around the world."

5. View the coach/coachee association as spiritual rather than strictly professional

A coach in India must be viewed as a committed member of the 'organizational family.' This is the land where a guru (teacher) occupies a pedestal almost higher than God! But to be a guru demands undivided devotion to teaching and service. Building trust between the client and the coach depends on some degree of personal bonding as well.Commander Girish Konkar, CEO of Beyond Horizons, has an interesting observation from his experience in the Indian business scenario. According to him, "Here, coaching is looked upon as a spiritual association, as opposed to a 'business/commercial' association. Indian history describes the strong association with a guru throughout any learning process. Almost all rulers of ancient India were known to have had a guru for spiritual, emotional and administrative/political guidance."

    In addition to the five keys described above, some intangible factors also play a large role in business coaching in India. As MBCI accredited mentor and business coach Floyd Vaz shares, "There is one intrinsic credential that is far more important than any professional credential, and you cannot really be trained in such a thing. That is to have a genuine, sacrificial, unbiased love for the people and organizations you coach—in other words, serving them to be the best they can be."

    Perhaps that is the key to the highest standard for business coaching in India—or anywhere else.


    Dutt, Herjeet. 2006. Telephone interview, October 27.

    Kirpal, Avinash. "Coaching High Flying Corporates." Brefi Group. Available at http://www.brefigroup.co.uk/coaching/index.html

    Konkar, Girish. 2006. Telephone interview, October 27.

    Singh, Ajai. 2006. Survey response, October 18.

    Vaz, Floyd. 2006. Survey response, October 28.

    Kim Benz, BS, RCC, founder of TrilliumHill Consulting, is an organizational design and leadership consultant/coach. She specializes in research and development issues, and works extensively with scientists and engineers. Read more about Kim in the WABC Coach Directory. Kim can be reached by email at trilhill@aol.com.

    Sasmita Maurya, MBA, is a mentor and trainer. Her work with technical graduates, helping them to hone their interview skills and manage job-related issues, prepares them for their first placements in industry. Sasmita can be reached by email at sasmitamaurya@yahoo.co.in.

    This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Spring 2007, Volume 3, Issue 2). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

    If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

    Posted by Kim Benz

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