Adopt a Life Coach Mentality to Succeed in Business

A good life coach is someone who will listen carefully to what you have to say; someone who will feel a genuine interest in you, your life, your hopes and your dreams; someone who has a profound desire to apply their skills and knowledge to assist you to be, do and have whatever it is you truly want in life.

Those who believe business success requires a thick skin, an uncompromising nature and a hard edge, may be left bemused – but I firmly believe the mentality required to be a good life coach is consistent with that required to succeed in business.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve recently had to seek out a new accountant for my business. I’m happy to say that I met a lady who really impressed me and whose company will, henceforth, get our business.

Yes, I was certainly impressed by the depth of knowledge she displayed about her own profession and how she could apply it to the obvious benefit of my business. More than that, though, I was impressed by the interest she displayed in life coaching and the training of life coaches (the field in which my business operates) and the time she took to understand where and how my business fits in – and operates – in our industry.

I had to smile after that meeting. Rather ironically, my accountant had displayed what I believe to be the very characteristics of a good life coach:

Great listening skills;
A genuine interest in others; and
A desire to apply their own skills and knowledge to the betterment of those they serve.

Later, as I reflected on this, I felt somewhat surprised that this had surprised me! After all, wasn’t that exactly what I had been looking for… a good accounting ‘coach’?

This got me thinking about other professions in the service industry; doctors, dentists, electricians, teachers, plumbers, lawyers, dieticians, tour guides, politicians… the list goes on. In every case, speaking from the point of view of a customer, my definition of a good practitioner would have to be the same…

…Someone who can listen intently to what I have to say, show a genuine interest in me and my requirements and apply their skills and knowledge to best effect in meeting my needs.

My mind turned to all those people in the service industry that had failed to impress me in the past – and with whom I would be reluctant to do business in the future. Without exception, it seemed, what had put me off could be traced to either their inability to listen to me, their lack of interest in me personally and/or their inability to apply their skills and knowledge to best effect to further my interests.

The more I thought about it the more I became convinced that to be considered good at what they do, people in the service business need to redefine the way in which they operate and market themselves.

Quite simply, they need to think of themselves as coaches to their customers.

As I processed this minor revelation, I was reminded of ‘Marketing 101’ classes at University. I vividly remember my lecturer, a flamboyant character, if ever there was one, admonishing his young students never to be tempted into following a ‘product orientated’, as opposed to ‘customer orientated’ approach to business marketing.

the Man Who Turned Around Nissan

In October 1999, after the teams had made their analyses and had presented their proposals to the executive committee, Ghosn was able to announce his strategic plan for the revival of Nissan in a public presentation. At the same time this plan was simultaneously announced to all of Nissan’s 148,000 employees. In his address Ghosn even dared to claim that Nissan would have no debt by 2005.

In short, the plan consisted of the following, long delayed, drastic measures:

1. Fewer and simpler factories. Nissan had too many factories and was using only 53% of its capacity. Therefore a reduction in the number of factories was necessary. 5 factories in Japan were to be closed. A taboo in Japan.

2. Reducing the purchasing costs by 20%, which also included the reduction of the number of suppliers (from 1145 to 600 firms). In his address he said “We are going to help those [suppliers] who are going to help us”.

3. Reducing 20% of general expenses, including marketing and administrative expenses.

4. Reducing the number of sales subsidiaries in Japan by 20%.

5. Freeing up currently non-strategic assets and applying these to the core of the business and thus significantly reducing Nissan’s general debt. This meant divesting most of Nissan’s holdings. For a Japanese company and Japan itself this was a shocking announcement because many historical, sentimental and personal bonds would be cut off. (Ghosn was outraged when he discovered Nissans ownership share in a competitor, Fuji Heavy Industries, manufacturers of Subaru cars.)

6. A total personnel reduction from 148,000 to 127,000 full time employees. Of the total of 20,000 lay-offs 16,500 fell in Japan! The only department which did not suffer from redundancies was R & D which was even allowed to hire 500 extra employees.

Ghosn took care that the plan was very precise, extremely factual and highly quantified. It even mentioned the deadlines set for each of the goals to be achieved. The plan left little room for misinterpretation.

His brutal cost-saving remedies are standard turnaround practice but he was able to make people understand and admit that Nissan had reached a point of no return. He concluded his presentation of the plan with a pledge that if he missed any of the targets, he would resign! The Japanese were impressed by Ghosn’s public commitment. Probably because of this courageous statement he had already then conquered the hearts and minds of the Japanese.

The Critical Success Factor

The Critical Success Factor of Ghosn’s successful approach in turning around Nissan was the installation of the nine Cross-Functional Teams (CFT) which were composed according to his ideas. The task of a CFT was to come up with recommendations, within its allotted discipline, to the executive committee, within three months. There was no choice because of the state that Nissan was in. There were no barriers to recommendations and this was a prerogative rarely given to middle ranks in Japan. Ideas that were accepted would be executed by the team that formulated them. This ensured not only realistic ideas but also commitment.

Each team consisted of ten professionals from Nissan and Renault with two leaders selected from top executive ranks representing different disciplines with common ground (for example purchasing and engineering). Each team had a pilot – acting as a secretary – who was responsible for the agenda, research and dialogue. A CFT could establish sub-teams which were charged with researching specific issues in more depth. At a certain moment some 500 employees across the company were mobilized in this project. Despite the use of interpreters, internal communication within the groups was, in the beginning, difficult, because of the languages used, Japanese, French and English. To avoid misunderstandings, Ghosn introduced a small company dictionary which contained 40 keywords in English and he further stimulated the French and Japanese executives to master English.

The results

In 1999 Ghosn had dared to claim that Nissan would have no debt in 2005. The way he worked, his personal commitment, his analytical mind, the quality of his strategic plan, the clarity in which he communicated this plan to all levels of the company and the trust he emanated, resulted in the astonishing feat that already one year after his arrival Nissan had a profit of 2.7 billion dollars and showed an operating margin of 10.8%! Now Nissan has even become the world’s most profitable major carmaker.

The future of the Alliance

Now, in 2006, Renault has a 44% share in Nissan and Nissan has a 10% share in Renault. Nissan is currently even more profitable than Renault. The logical aim of the Alliance is to cover the entire world with a minimum of duplication.