Monday, 21 December 2009

Key lessons learned from Coaching.

As we approach the end of 2009 I have been reflecting on my coaching experiences throughout this past year. I have been busier than ever with my coaching work with Developing People this year, coaching 45 different people for an average of about 5 sessions each – a total of more than 200 individual sessions. Given this amount of focused coaching effort, there are some important themes and lessons that can be learned from this work.

Many of these coachees have come from the same organisations where I have been engaged to coach a number of managers from the same team – and quite often also their boss.

There has been a significant benefit to the coachees themselves, meaning it is not only organisations and individual managers who benefit from what individual coaching can offer. I have not lost any of these coachees during the middle of a series of coaching sessions and all of them have gone on to complete the committed number of sessions and nearly half of them have carried on beyond their original coaching plan.

I have also been regularly recommended and asked to coach 4 other people who are colleagues of some of the original coachees.

Here are some themes that this year’s coaching sessions have reinforced in my mind:

  • Confidentiality is absolutely crucial – especially when coaching people from the same team or in the same management reporting line. When professional links, relationships and other complexities are involved, it would be very easy to ‘put your foot in it’.
  • The relationship between coach and coachee is fundamental and it needs to be a supportive, non-judgemental, trusting one.
  • Using my intuition as the coach and knowing when to be truly authentic and honest with my feelings and thoughts about their situation is more likely to produce breakthrough thinking and actions that will really make a difference.
  • It is important to support each person that I am coaching- even if they get into difficulties with their sponsoring organisation. This has happened with two managers that I was asked to coach who were employed in an F.E. College but who were then asked to leave their employment under “compromise agreements”. Whilst it is not my role to give them advice about the merits or demerits of their situation or advice on how to negotiate the best deal with their organisation it was gratifying to know that they both wanted me to continue to coach them and to support them with their new career search outside their original organisation.
  • When we have surveyed our coachees and asked them what they would like me to do more of or do differently for them in their coaching sessions, the main thing that they ask me to do is to challenge them more. I am conscious of this and also aware of the need to strike the right balance of challenge and support for them, in order to maintain an appropriate level of openness and disclosure from them. My sense is that it will not be conducive to our coaching relationship if they feel that I am being too critical of them and constantly judging them. This is one of the criticisms some of them often level at their line managers!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

How ego can affect the success of coaching.

We all have our egos and they can and do have a big impact on how we conduct ourselves, our communications and our relationships. They also influence our attitudes and how we relate to both the outer world and to our inner world of thoughts and feelings.

As a consequence we also take our egos into any coaching relationships – both as the coach and as coachee.

The coaching subjects all have their own egos to work with and most of them, in my experience, fit in towards the middle of a normal distribution curve of attitudes and behaviours – neither with over inflated egos nor with over whelming anxiety and uncertainty. If there is any tendency towards the extremes then I sometimes encounter people who are some what uncertain and lacking in confidence.

In these situations part of my coaching work is about helping them to build their confidence to an appropriate level and to help them to deal with more assertive people and those who are difficult to work with. Sometimes difficulties exist for coachees with their line managers who may not understand them or who may even have their own swollen egos to deal with.

I have occasionally been asked to coach a person with a big ego and this has provided its own unique challenge and my response must vary from person to person. The positive aspect of a big ego is that the person is usually very interested in themselves and in their own success. The potential downside however is that sometimes this type of person wants a lot of ego stroking from their coach and they may not be very realistic or self-aware. Giving these people objectives and useful feedback is part of the challenge and so is the role of challenger.

Quite often they don’t like the idea of them having weaknesses or development areas to reflect and act upon. One way that I have found to get this aspect across to strong people is to talk about “over played” strengths becoming weaknesses and inhibiting performance. This approach can help them to accept the message and for the feedback to become acceptable and useful in practice.

In a small number of coaching assignments that I have taken on, it has become apparent to me and to the coachee that the realisations and changes required by this type of coaching is not consistent with their view of themselves and of their world. In such cases we have agreed to discontinue the work. The requirements of openness, looking inwards at oneself, admitting to vulnerabilities and taking the responsibility for producing and implementing an action plan that may include behaviour change, is sometimes a step too far for these people.

We must also consider our own egos as coaches. We cannot deny that we have them but we need to be able to put them to one side if we are to truly focus on the needs of our coachees. We are there to listen to, support and challenge them to work on their real issues and objectives – not to massage our own egos or self-importance. All too often in the arena of sport we can see the ego of the team's coach or “manager” being placed ahead of the needs and achievements of the team – particularly when success arrives!

One aspect of this coaching role, that I find particularly challenging is the use of experiences or any anecdotes from my past which I think might stimulate new thoughts for the coachee through my example. In sharing my experiences and vulnerabilities with them I need to check with myself that I am doing this for their benefit and not for my own. It may give them the confidence to deal with an important issue for them but that assessment should be made on a case by case basis.

Keeping in my mind that the success of anyone that I coach is their success rather than mine, is an important aspect to bear in mind.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Leadership Dilemma

Imagine the situation: Your organisation is currently struggling. Revenues are down, profits are down and if the current trend persists, the business may end up making a loss at the end of the year.

While putting the brakes on expenditure may be the only option the business has, depending on how this is approached can make a big difference to the motivation, commitment and engagement of managers and staff who have to implement it.

If you did not have to think too hard to imagine this situation, you may find it useful to read on...

Consider the following scenario:

Last year, your business invested in a leadership development programme for its middle and senior managers. The focus of the programme has been on developing the skills, capabilities and behaviours of the management cadre to lead and empower their staff more effectively to generate greater engagement and change the organisation’s culture.

The results of the programme have been tremendous. Key business measures have shown improvements and the culture of the organisation has changed to become more customer focused and proactive.

However, because of the economic climate the organisation has not been making the required profits and the leadership team decided to put an embargo on all unnecessary spend. The directors decided to take control over the purchasing of all “consumable” items such as stationary, printing inks etc and all managers have to get approval from a director before they can purchase anything.

What will be the impact of such an apparently ‘micromanagement’ approach? Managers will suddenly feel that they cannot be trusted to make the right decisions and staff become frustrated because they can’t get the tools they need to do their jobs properly.

The consequence of this is that in an instant all the good work that the organisation did in investing in the leadership development of their managers becomes undone. This is because the managers perceived a lack of congruence between what they had learned and were expected to do (i.e. develop trust, empower their staff etc) and the behaviour of the directors who are into command and control.

This issue is not about what the directors of the business were trying to achieve but how they went about it. Clearly action needs to be taken to control costs during difficult times, however by stripping managers of their decision making authority will simply alienate and demotivate them. So what advice can Developing People offer?

  • Managers need to know what’s expected of them e.g. to reduce costs.
  • Maintain your manager’s motivation and commitment with trust in their decision-making abilities.
  • Set realistic targets and budgets so managers feel empowered to deliver the new targets and budgets without draconian measures that WILL reduce morale.

If businesses approach the engagement of managers in this way, trust and performance is more likely to be increased despite the economic difficulty. If you act now, managers will be primed and ready for when the economic pressures ease and the organisation returns to growth.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The increasing interest by Directors in coaching

A recent survey has indicated that directors in more than 75% of the FTSE 100 companies are involved in some form of 1 to 1 coaching programme. Most of these programmes use coaches from outside the organisation because of their objectivity, ability to be both supportive and challenging and their focused coaching ability.

The amount of external coaching activity available has been increasingly rapidly, but how can we know that these coaches provide a value added service to help their coaching subjects, to perform more effectively in the jobs?

One worry is that this expansion of activity could debase coaching standards. Anyone can set themselves up as coach in the UK and charge hefty fees in a “profession” that has no formal regulatory body with one professional accreditation instituition. There is also the complication of the various different types of coaches who offer themselves for hire.
Some are closer to being mentors or expert business advisers or consultants. Others provide a more personal “life coaching” service which concentrates more on the non-work aspects of the coaches life and pressures and less on the subjects business issues.
There are also a number of coaches whose experience base comes from a competitive sports background and who focus very strongly on performance technique, achievement, data measurements and making quantifiable progress in specific business performance objectives. Some provide face to face coaching sessions – others do so over the telephone.

So how is a director, leader, manager or professional in an organisation able to find their way through this complex and dispersed coaching marketplace in order to find the right coach for them? What key questions should they ask themselves or any prospective coaches in order to establish who might be the right sort of coach for them?
The things that the subject should consider for themselves are these:-
  • Are their needs primarily in the business area, or in their non-work life or a balance of both?
  • Are they looking for solutions to specific business issues and do they do they need an industry or functional specialist – in which case you may need more of a business mentor or consultant.
  • Are you looking to be told the answers to your problems or are you seeking to find solutions to your own issues with some one else’s help. In the former case you may respond better to a directive coach/consultant but in the latter case you would be better off with a non-directive coach.
  • If you wish to be pushed and motivated to work harder to achieve your performance goals then you may enjoy working with a sports experienced coach.

Having answered these questions for yourself then you should look for 2 or 3 coaches with the sort of profile, experience and approach that suits your needs and ask them for their answers to these questions. You should ask for personal references to talk to who have been coached by these coaches and make your own assessment of the personalities, integrity, confidentiality and support and challenge approach that they have to offer you.

We at Developing People would also recommend that ask about their fees and for an estimate of how many coaching sessions you may need to undertake. If they say that you can achieve significant change and improvement in 1 or 2 sessions then this is not realistic and you should reject them. Alternatively if they expect you to sign up to more than 6 or 7 sessions right from the start before you have even got into a deep and meaningful discussion with them about your needs then this is excessive.

Remember that the choice of coach is yours – you must feel that you can be open and honest with them and be able to trust them. This relationship is all important to help ensure that coaching can be successful for you.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

How do you get middle managers engaged in a culture change programme?

Developing People work with the leadership teams in many organisations, most of which are wrestling with the need to change.

This drive for change can come from a variety of sources both internal and external. Internal drivers can be a new vision and strategies for the business, new service approaches or new products, the need to up-skill managers and staff, or the need to replace employees who have left or for management succession planning purposes. External drivers can derive from marketplace changes, new technology, increased competition, Globalisation, changes in Legislation or relevant Regulations and last but not least the effects of the recession on business trading and finances.

Regardless of what these drivers for change are, they are usually first understood and articulated by the top leadership team in the organisation. After all it is a key part of their role and responsibility to develop their vision for future and the strategies and action plans that will produce the desired change. However the top team cannot bring about these changes by themselves and they need to enlist the support and commitment of all employees in the organisation - starting with the middle managers below them.

Recognising this need is a key first step and then comes the challenge of getting the middle management team on board.

The sorts of stages that the top team need to take the middle management through are these.

  • Awareness of the need to change
  • self-awareness of where they stand and their role in this change process
  • an understanding of what, why, where, when and how things need to change
  • involvement in supporting, challenging and agreeing the core changes
  • commitment to playing their part in communicating and implementing these changes
  • drawing up the change plans and timetable
  • starting the journey of actioning and implementing these changes whilst bringing the rest of the employees and key stakeholders "on board".

This may all sound logical and straight forward but successfully implementing the change programme is far from being easy.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Developing a leadership team for business growth and performance.

Developing People were recently asked to help an established leadership team to assess and develop their management and leadership skills in order to help them step up to successfully take on the next stage of business growth.

The business is SE Electronics, a Global Distributor of high quality branded microphones and sound equipment. This UK based business has exclusive sourcing and distribution rights to market leading sound equipment. Manufacturing in China, SE Electronics is now broadening out its distribution network into the huge US, European and Far East markets.

The business was founded in 2002 and the senior leadership team comprises 3 young Directors, two of whom have been with the business right from the start. All three are passionate about music and have moved on from performing in bands and sound production to get deeply involved in the technical side of sound projection and production. They love the industry, they love the product and they are great friends. They have also been successful in growing the business to its current level, mainly through their passion, hard work and native intelligence but they recognise that this experience is probably not enough to ensure them success in achieving the business growth that they desire.

In approaching Developing People Ltd, SE Electronics were seeking help to achieve their aim of building their leadership and management skills and effectiveness as the executive team in order to achieve their business growth.
We did this through the process of:
  • assessing the strengths, weaknesses and personal development areas of the 3 Directors
  • reviewing and guiding them on any skill gaps, role, relationship and communication improvements.
In the early stages of this work, we interviewed each Director using a set of structured interview questions about their experience, background, motivations, approach and objectives for this work. This data was supplemented by completion of Psychometric Profiles such as 16pf and Myers Briggs should help them with their self-awareness and with their understanding of each others strengths, weaknesses and preferences.

The top team are keen to share this information with each other and to agree amongst themselves their roles and relationships in the business and the future vision, strategy, objectives and implementation plans to achieve their aim.

Further down the line the work we do with SE Electronics could also cover:
  • business vision, strategy and plans
  • implementation of this business strategy.
  • development of an effective organisation structure and culture for the business.
  • selection, development, motivation and building of an effective team and individuals to support business growth.
We have agreed measurement criteria with them, by which we jointly assessed the impact and value of the personal and team development work that we are doing and also use to monitor and guide the work as it progresses. If other new wants and needs emerge as we progress through each stage of this outline programme then we will make the necessary adjustments as they become clear.