THE HOBBESIAN TRAP – When to play the role of an Agile Coach OR Consultant??

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The 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes had discovered an interesting theory named the ‘Hobbesian Trap’ – when one is gripped by the fear of being attacked, he pre-empts by arming himself, which instils fear on the (would be) ‘attacker’ who in turn upgrades his arsenal. This action escalates the initial fear and forces the ‘defender’ to upscale too, leading to an uncontrolled spiral (the Arms Race).Whilst the analogy may seem off-the-track with Agile and Management, the illusion of the Hobbesian Trap applies to all aspects of human psychology, especially in the realms of coaching and consultancy. When a decision needs to be made between a coach and a consultant, one is put in a dilemma – Who can help the business to improve profitability / produce higher return on investment / enhance customer satisfaction? The answers of these questions may lead to a spiral of uncertainties. Most business owners face the Hobbesian Trap when it comes to hiring a consultant or a coach, on the sheer premise (or fear) that one is absolutely needed for the business, while having little or no knowledge of what role they play in the company’s growth or what they can help the company to accomplish.

The Coach

A Business Coach is a facilitator and enabler. He/she triumphs over your accomplishment and his/her primary job is to enhance and sharpen your skills to ensure you achieve your goals. Coaches work ‘inside out’ – they assist you to develop purposes and reasons, which help to generate desired behaviour in your business. Business coaches also help to address issues with regards to the mind-set or unconsciousness, such as limiting beliefs, fear of unknown and the ‘Imposter Syndrome’. They build a supportive environment with clarified accountability to ensure you follow through your actions to completion.In summary, a coach facilitates you to define your goals for your business and the “plan of action” to achieve them, and he/she stands by you through the process of implementation.

The Consultant

A Business Consultant is a subject matter expert who addresses specific issues to influence your business positively. He/she provides the knowledge, skills and competencies, to analyse your business and propose a solution to the problem, and customises an action plan to implement the solution. A consultant employs his/her extensive experience and knowledge in business planning and strategy to gauge the scalability and direction of your business, course-correct specific domains such as optimising sales and marketing strategies, streamlining systems and processes, reforming organisational structure, and so on. A business consultant brings a fresh opinion, objectively assesses the current state of the business (‘as is’) and helps to shape the target state (‘to be’), creates and implements action plan to accomplish the business objectives.

Who Do You Need?

The key to unravel this mystery is to enlist the services of both to support the internal and external mechanisms of your business. That being said, it does not mean that one needs to hire a coach and a consultant – instead one can be upskilled to step up to either of the two roles with adequate resources. It can be argued that in comparison it is more feasible to be upskilled as a coach than a consultant, as the functionality of the roles suggests. A Coach tends to be more ‘people centric’ and an Agile Coach operates on the principle of ‘people over processes’, who can be possibly better in understanding this other than the business owner himself?! Of course, the assumption is more appropriate for small enterprises and large organisations would need to engage external coaches to offset bias in work ecology. It is important that the need to be trained as coaches at the Executive level is not dispensed with. It is more to do with people than task at the senior levels of the organisation, and when it comes to determining on a coach/consultant one needs to introspect on three key areas:

  • The quality of intrinsic knowledge existing in the business
  • The strength and robustness of the support structure on which the business resides
  • The quantum and time sensitivity of the target results

Knowing the difference between a business coach and consultant can help one to avoid the Hobbesian Trap, therefore save costs and avoid disappointing outcomes. Agile enables you to be clear and upfront on the level of knowledge, support and outcome your business desires,and assists you in making the right decision. It obviates you from getting into the trap. It is crucial for one to understand the organisational requirements, and upscale the corporate strategy by deploying an Agile Coach or an Agile Consultant (or get trained as one), or both as per the merit of the situation, to achieve the desire result.

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