From Contractor to Coach (What I am working to be)

Coach Cohen


I am currently working for a consulting firm supporting a government client.  I have worked in the same place for about 7 years now.   In recent times I have heard more complaints about “contractors” and there is outward speculation concerning the intent of people working for government aligned business.   I am sure that some of the people who are complaining about contractors at some point were contractors themselves.   As a matter of fact, since I have been around the office for a long time, I have seen some of these contractors to government civilian conversions.   I am a patriot, I love my country and I care deeply about the overall mission of our armed services which is to protect our country, our freedoms and our way of living.   Mostly, I think about the young service members and how we can help make their lives easier as they put themselves in harm’s way.

Holistically, the government spends a lot of time spending time.  It is what it is. I have written in the past about this in terms of taking individual actions to make a difference.   That isn’t exactly what I am writing about today.  There are many people who work for the government under various conditions.  I have thought about the differences specifically regarding people who are considered “contractors.” While they are considered “contractors” I feel strongly that a lot of them are more than that.

What is a contractor?

A contractor is a person that performs a task or set of tasks that is specifically outlined. Contractor company or person under contract: a company or person with a formal contract to do a specific job, supplying labor and materials and providing and overseeing staff if needed.

Oddly enough this doesn’t neatly translate in the world of working for the government.   There are many times that people are asked to work outside of the bounds of their specific task.   There are also times that the government writes very high level tasks that could be many different actions with a great many sub-tasks.   Regardless, the contractor is the person working to satisfy the tasks with some level of specificity.   In other words, I do the job then hand you the bill and receive compensation.

What is a consultant?

Consultant professional adviser: an expert who charges a fee for providing advice or services in a particular field.

“A consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time, and then keeps the watch” is a popular saying among people who aren’t fond of consultants. Advertising executive Carl Ally (1924-1999) was credited with the saying by 1965. Robert Townsend further popularized the saying in his book Up the Organization (1970).

Still in the realm of the government the consultant is considered a contractor.   The difference though really is that in most consulting organizations when a contract is negotiated the firm can and will move expertise in and out of the engagement to satisfy the actual requirements of the contract.  This is an important distinction because the client should have no expectation of working with the same person or people for an extended period of time.  Consultants essentially need to move around to maintain their level of expertise.  Various engagements bring unique and dynamic capabilities to the individual client.
What is a coach?

The first use of the term coaching to mean an instructor or trainer arose around 1830 in Oxford University slang for a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam.

I find it interesting that the original reference was to a tutor who “carries” a student through an exam.  A coach is a teacher.   He is hired, most likely by contract to instruct and align with his team to help them become successful.  He is hired to help them win.   I would say that he is a contractor as well.  This doesn’t diminish his passion or his caring for the people he works with and for.   The other major difference is that the coach is potentially working with a longer time frame in mind.   He is in it for the long run.  How many coaches have worked for schools for their whole career?   Being a coach means wearing many hats, at times the coach may have to be a consultant.   The bottom line is that when the team wins the coach wins and that is an important distinction.   Did the coach play the game himself?  Isn’t the coach being paid to do his job? Aren’t coaches that win religiously highly compensated?   Clearly coaches have a stake in their work that transcends the monetary compensation.

I consider myself a coach.  I spend a lot of my time thinking about how my clients can win.  I want them to win because it means that I have done my job.  I want them to win because a win for them is a win for me.   It is an important distinction from consultant to coach because it drives to the heart in the matter of helping people, to help people you must have trust.  Coaching allows for you to build trust and with trust people will make the right decisions even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.

With that I will now answer the question that I most frequently am asked concerning what I want when it comes to my career.

What do I want?

Simply put, I want to help people.  Saying that doesn’t tell you much so I will attempt to be as clear as possible.

I would like to continue to bridge the gap between people and technology.  Lowering the total cost of operations and identify ways to raise awareness and opportunity to capitalize on existing capabilities.   I believe that it takes small teams working in clusters.  I also believe that behavior is more important to recognize and address over technical concerns.   In other words, we have the technical solutions to most problems solved; our clients need our help in leveraging those solutions.  In order to help our clients gain max efficiencies we need to help them with their process and methods including behaviors.   Most problems are people or situation oriented not technical.

Ultimately, I would like to walk into a project as an objective observer with my other core team mates and examine the clients’ perceived need and compare this with an evaluated need.   I believe holistically that we can and must use Architectures, SOA, ITIL and other known process to identify the low hanging fruit.  My experience with the DISA enterprise and various interactions with COCOM’s, services and agencies tells me that tools are available to meet and exceed client demands.  Clients are simply unaware of such tools and additionally fear these tools.

The DoD is moving towards a cloud paradigm and our clients will be mandated to move in that direction.  The lesson here is that clients will need to understand trust models.  I would like to help them achieve this lofty goal but gradually by educating them on cloud concepts and introducing them slowly to capabilities they are unaware of or rejected due to fear.   The end result is a decrease in operational expenditures in technology and an increase in management and focused labor resources.

Instead of spending money on creating technology to meet their mission, clients can spend their money on meeting the objectives of their mission.  Using already in place identified resources and leveraging products to understand what capabilities exist in the various domains, where they reside and how to access them we can actually help them perform the tasks they require as opposed to having them develop home-grown solutions that waste resources.

Fundamentally, it is about establishing trust between our various communities and the enterprise.  It is about building strong people to people connections in this disjointed and hyper-dynamic environment.   I want to make sure that my clients have the time to think about their choices and trust the various options presented to them.  Finally, I want to make a difference in the world so that I know when I go home that I didn’t just get a pay check but I am paying forward for my children and your children so that we have a safe, stable and free world.

To clearly know a person’s intent we should look no further than their actions.   What do you want to be?

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