What do high-growth startups Stripe, SparkPlug, Neuralink, Nextbite, and Double Fine have in common? They’ve all committed to coaching as a key resource to support their employees, managers, and executives. And they’ve all gone with a)plan coaching to carry out that commitment.
As a founder, CEO, or HR manager, coaching might not be your first idea to level up your startup. It’s not the resource that will directly generate your next big sale. Nor is it the resource that will land you a new round of funding. It is, however, the resource that acts as the glue holding together healthy, productive, and committed organizations. The value of such a resource is truly unmatched for a young company.
Having coached at the above startups and more, a)plan is proud to serve as a trusted resource within the startup community. Through this work, we’ve discovered consistent patterns that help explain why coaching is the perfect resource for growing startups. In this post, we’ll discuss those patterns.
What Is Coaching for Startups?
For many changemaking startups, coaching is a resource provided to individuals within the organization to improve fulfillment, motivation, work-life balance, productivity, leadership, and more. For the startup, realizing these outcomes typically improves critical drivers of success, such as employee retention, company culture, and DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging).
Creating a coaching plan for a startup typically begins with the what and the why. What is happening at the startup, and why is coaching being considered as a potential solution? Next, it’s about the who. Will coaching be provided to the executive team? Managers? All employees? Underrepresented employees? Answering these questions depends entirely on the startup’s desired outcomes.
At a)plan, once we develop a complete understanding of the task at hand, we design a custom coaching plan that aims to deliver on the startup’s desired outcomes.
For a detailed look at the intricacies of delivering the coaching, our case study on the Tides Foundation breaks down the many elements of a successful engagement.
4 Key Reasons Coaching for Startups Makes Sense
We’ve already hinted at some of the key reasons why a startup might turn to coaching. Through our coaching at dozens of startups, we at a)plan know that some common patterns exist for companies navigating the highs and lows of startup life. Here are four key reasons why coaching is one of the best resources for startup success – and why the ROI of coaching continues to strengthen.
1. Coaching Improves Retention
They say a company is nothing without its people. And in the fast-paced world of startups, losing just one critical team member can instantly delay growth. Coaching for key members of a startup is one of the best ways to keep employees engaged, fulfilled, and motivated – outcomes you’d want if you are concerned about retention.
As we’ve experienced first-hand, a coach can be the ultimate reason that critical employees keep their eye on the company’s greater vision and how they fit into that vision in a meaningful way. Or, a coach can help empower an employee to improve their work situation instead of just jumping ship. There’s no shortage of ways in which coaching can become a legitimate retention needle-mover.
For a more complete breakdown on the cost of poor retention and how coaching helps mitigate this pitfall, check out this post on the rise of coaching for employee retention.
2. Coaching Is Perfect for New Managers
Particularly for startups, the organizational chart can change in a flash. And since growth is often a top priority, top performers are promoted on an accelerated timeline. While exciting, this pattern often leads to a large number of first-time managers.
What many startups overlook is that people management rarely comes naturally to folks. Just like software development, sales, or marketing, people management is a skill that can be honed. Getting better at management means learning how to give and receive feedback, how to motivate a team, how to delegate, how to manage ambiguity, and more. Coaching is the perfect space for new managers to work on these skills.
With a)plan, new managers develop their management skills with seasoned coaches who have done similar work with managers at companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and Stripe. With the help of expert coaches, interpersonal relationships thrive at a startup, which also improves the retention issue covered in the previous section.
3. Coaching Builds Rock-Solid Cultures
In many ways, the stakes are simply higher in high-growth startup environments. Running a successful startup is hard enough. It’s made even more stressful by the pressure of needing to keep stakeholders and investors happy.
This dynamic often results in revenue and employee growth taking center stage. Culture, meanwhile, is liable to suffer along the way. Startups sometimes course correct on this pattern once they reach a certain level of maturity. But why not get ahead of it early?
Coaching is one of the most impactful ways to uncover culture-related issues within a startup. Whether it be insufficient DEIB support, excessive burnout, weak core values, or poor management from the top, coaching reveals critical bumps in the road. While all of our 1:1 coaching work remains entirely confidential, we report macro trends and analytics to the executive sponsors of our engagements. This ensures that the company can start working on important course corrections.
4. Wellness and Performance Are Inextricably Linked
This final key reason is perhaps the simplest of them all: People are at their best when they feel good. That means performance in one’s job cannot be decoupled from their overall wellness, both inside and outside of the workplace.
Coaching helps employees discover their best selves. It gives people a renewed voice, a safe space to work on goals, and the confidence to keep improving. While there’s no secret formula to analyze the correlation between performance and wellness, we often suggest the following:
Success = Performance x Wellness (wellness can either be a positive or negative multiplier).
Creating a Sustainable Startup Culture
As a parting thought, one a)plan core value is particularly relevant when it comes to coaching for startups: Sustainability. Sustainability means different things to different people and organizations. However, most would agree that embracing Sustainability is about paying close attention to whatever it is that keeps us going.
What keeps a startup going (and growing) are the employees turning the dials and pulling the levers. To that end, there’s perhaps no better investment for a startup than one that serves the Sustainability of its people. For a growing number of startups, that investment is coaching.