How ICF Coaching Can Grow Your Accounting Firm

Gusto Editors

Do you know how to grow a coaching culture in your firm? 

If this is a new idea for you, don’t be afraid! Personal coaching may seem like something that doesn’t fit into the world of accounting. However, adopting coaching strategies at your firm can be incredibly beneficial. These strategies can give you the ability to build strong leadership development skills and change the way your firm approaches client relations. 

We at Gusto have teamed up with CPA Academy to make coaching a possibility for your firm. Our webinar “How to Build a Coaching Culture at Your Firm” addressed the importance of developing a coaching mindset in the workplace. This webinar, led by Amber Setter, followed the ins and outs of becoming an effective accounting coach.

Amber Setter is an ICF credentialed professional coach. She has spent most of her career working for professional services firms and accountants to build solid professional environments.

This post looks at what it means to have a coaching mindset and how that mindset can grow a coaching-centric culture within your firm. Choosing to embrace the power of coaching will increase your effectiveness with client relations and strengthen your firm in many ways.

Understanding the ICF core competencies

In 2019, the ICF created four core competencies to ensure synergy within their certified coaches—the foundation, co-creating the relationship, communicating effectively, and cultivating learning and growth. These “clusters,” or strategies, were developed to support coaches with a greater understanding of the skills and approaches used within today’s coaching profession. The clusters are critical to the coaching process and provide a pathway to enhance a coach’s relationship with clients.

The foundation

The foundation cluster surrounds the way coaches ethically interact with their clients through a coaching mindset. Coaching with integrity provides a channel for clients to develop trust with their coaches. 

“Professional coaches are entrusted with confidential and sensitive information, … [and] it’s important to have an ethical foundation that [coaches] know [their] responsibility of what it means to exercise client confidentiality. [One example] is exercising due care with record keeping.”

– Amber Setter

Another critical aspect of coaching with integrity is knowing when to refer clients to the right resources. Coaches may not always have the answers within themselves, but a good coach can direct you to the proper help. 

“When it comes to coaches, [they] are specifically trained at looking into when someone needs something different than coaching … [and offer] more resources they might need.”

– Amber Setter

The second half of the foundation cluster embodies a coaching mindset—a mindset that is open, curious, flexible, and client-centered. Coaches can instruct their clients to remain calm under pressure by focusing on the coaching mindset. Maintaining a flexible attitude during work will enable your firm to remain grounded throughout even the most stressful days.

Co-creating the relationship

The second core competency of the ICF is co-creating the relationship. There are three focuses within this cluster—establishing and maintaining agreements, cultivating trust and safety, and maintaining presence with clients.

The focus of establishing and maintaining agreements creates clarity between the coach and clients. Initially, the coach will establish the ground rules for the agreement and continue to maintain these rules throughout the process. These ground rules allow coaches to narrow down the improvements a firm is looking to make. 

After coaches establish the basis of their sessions, they move toward cultivating trust and safety. Creating a place for clients to be able to share freely is paramount for coaches:

“The environment needs to be a safe place where someone can freely share whatever comes up for them. … [One] method for helping to cultivate trust and safety includes seeking to understand your client within their context. You want to demonstrate respect for the other person’s identity, their perceptions, their style, and language. [Then] adapt your style to meet theirs.”

– Amber Setter

Once a client feels safe within the coaching experience, coaches can maintain a presence with the client. Maintaining presence allows coaches to show clients how to stay present in the moment instead of giving in to distraction.

“This is defined as being fully conscious and present with the [client] and employing a style that is open, flexible, grounded, and confident. Let’s be honest—we can all use help with being more present.”

– Amber Setter

Co-creating relationships with clients make it possible for coaches to approach clients from a focused, observant, empathetic, and responsive place. When both parties of the agreement work together, they create a solid coach-to-client bond. 

Female ICF-accredited coach and accountant advising a client.

Communicating effectively

The third ICF core competency focuses on effective communication. Two of the primary strategies involved are listening actively and evoking awareness. These strategies promote client engagement and further develop the bond between coach and client. 

Active listening engages clients within their contexts rather than having a list of rehearsed answers during a conversation:

“Active listening is not sitting there and mentally rehearsing your answers while the other person speaks. … [To] listen actively, ultimately, is to fully understand what is being communicated and support the other person in self-expression.”

– Amber Setter

When a coach listens actively, they gain the ability to reflect while maintaining a conversation. Reflection provides the opportunity to ensure clarity and understanding. Coaches can transition into evoking awareness within their clients once they establish clarity and understanding. 

“Evoking awareness is about the ability to facilitate insight and learning by using tools and techniques such as powerful questioning, silence, metaphor, or analogy. There are lots of tools coaches might have.”

– Amber Setter

Evoking awareness pushes the client and coach to go beyond the words of a conversation. By digging deeper into the conversation, coaches can get to the root of what clients need to unlock their full potential. When a client becomes aware of their inner-self, they begin to travel down the path to betterment. 

Cultivating learning and growth

The final competency, cultivating learning and growth, marries insight and action. After coaches use their effective communication strategies, they gain insight into the tools clients need to apply to themselves. These tools facilitate action to better the client. 

“[Clients] leave each session with homework or action to take that moves them forward in the attainment of the results they desire. … It’s an invitation, and the client gets to choose if they want to take it on. This is where you create autonomy in the design of goals, actions, and methods of accountability.”

– Amber Setter

When the core competencies are working together, coaches elevate their clients to become autonomous. This state of autonomy gives their clients the ability to improve self-awareness, implement tools learned from their coach, and ultimately become their best selves personally and professionally. 

Female accountant thriving professionally.

Creating a coaching culture in your firm

When you hire a professional coach for your firm, your team gains the tools needed to connect with themselves and clients on a deeper level. Their internal autonomy will become the base of their motivation and create a culture of self-improvement within your firm. 

“The real shift for people when [using] a coaching approach is when you help them see how their inner-game (the awareness of who they are and the thoughts running through their head) is impacting their outer game.”

– Amber Setter

The strategies your team can learn from a coach will give your staff the ability to unlock their leadership potential. When your team adapts the coaching mindset to their professional and personal lives, your clients will be affected by the shift. They will gain a deeper connection with your firm and attain their autonomy from the coaching strategies implemented by your team. 

Learn more about how to grow a coaching mindset in your firm

Professional coaching provides your firm’s employees with the support they need to unlock their unused potential. The guidance provided by a coach will motivate your staff in a unique way that will manifest itself by developing a more autonomous and reflective culture in your firm. As a result, your clients will benefit from better connections with your team.

“Coaching helps others to really discover for themselves new thoughts, beliefs, perceptions, and moods that strengthen their ability to take action and achieve what’s important to them. In the development of your team, it’s important to communicate broader perspectives and find new possibilities for action.”

 – Amber Setter

If you want to learn more about growing an influential coaching culture within your firm, check out the entire webinar here. Also, if you want to learn more about the effectiveness of coaching in accounting, be sure to look into Part One and Part Three of this webinar article series. 

Our mission at Gusto is to create a world where work empowers a better life. Be sure to check out our People Advisory Program to learn how you can provide peace of mind, create great places to work, and cultivate more personal prosperity. We also provide a partner blog full of resources to empower your firm. Visit our Gusto for Accountants page for more information on people-based accounting, and check out our payroll options for invaluable tools to offer your clients.

Gusto Editors Gusto Editors, contributing authors on Gusto, provide actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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