In the second part of this mini series Mike explores coaching in the business environment.
There are as many flavours of coaching are there are types of ice-cream. Each has its time and place. And like eating ice-cream it is easy to fall into our comfort zone and repeatedly have the same flavour – just because we like it. I am sure you also like many other flavours; it is just easier to have the same favourite.
In coaching we often learn from one school or another. Many of us learn from peers who have had different training, some of us stick with the one flavour we were first introduced to. While this will work for us for a while, with certain types of clients it is not a universal tool. A hammer is very useful – but there are things it is not very good at working with!
The case study
A national charity has appointed a new Executive Director, let’s call her Cherie. The organisation requires change to survive, and was relying on public funding for approx 80% of its income. With budgets cuts looming and changes to the funding partners, the organisation was heading for interesting times.
The organisation had a declared strategic goal and an operational budget. The new director, while she was an effective communicator & politician had never developed a strategic business plan before. Cherie had a naturally co-operative style and was intending to use this style to develop the plan, gain commitment and move everyone forward.
The Coaching role – to help support Cherie and when appropriate, facilitate the management team to function as a team and to contribute to the development and deployment of the business plan. The team did not know that Cherie was undergoing a coaching programme at that time.
The plan that was agreed was in the following sessions:
Session 1 – Getting to know each other
The first session was to start the process of rapport building and to set the agenda for change. This was done on a one-on one basis. It was clear to me that Cherie needed a bit more than process and performance coaching – she needed training and skills development in some areas. This meant the coaching relationship would need to be very adaptive.
Change was going to be a big part of this work – Cherie had little understanding of the psychological impacts of change so I went through a number of tools that I felt would be of value to her. These included The Change Curve, Habit theory and a variant of Beckhart’s change model. We explored how and when Cherie could use these, her eyes lit up as she had realised what had been happening between her an another director “now I understand” she said “you mean all I need to do is….” I just looked at her and smiled.
Session 2 – Develop the plan
We reflected on the previous meeting and Cherie was delighted to say that relations with one individual had changed significantly. “all this time and it was that easy”.
Moving on to developing the plan, we discussed the personalities involved. Then recognising the strengths and weaknesses of each individual (SWOT analysis), we formulated a plan for change which had the greatest chance of success and minimised the opportunities for failure.
Session 3 – Facilitate the team
This session was with the whole management team, with the purpose of producing a business plan that met the requirements of the strategic plan. To develop ownership of the plan.
The session was run as an off-site away. The team were reminded of the strategic need for change by Cherie and I took over the process of group facilitation, working through an agreed process to produce a first draft of a functionally based business plan.
Throughout the day it became increasingly obvious that most of the managers were very protectionist of their own areas, and would not buy-in to the overall picture or goal – the words were there but not the actions. Using a range of tools, SWOT, SSCC, PESTLE etc I encouraged the group to see things from the perspective of others. We did this by swapping SWOTS etc and presenting the case of other departments. This did help some of the members of the management team.
It was useful to get to meet the people concerned as it enabled me to understand why Cherie was saying some of the things she did.
Session 4 – The Review
We (Cherie & I) agreed that there were still problems with the functioning of the team. I offered Cherie various collaboration techniques she could use in her weekly meeting. We explored ways of using the approaches and encouraging collaboration with others. Cherie pointed out that we were dealing with very strong personalities and that any effort to impact one would see the balance of power and influence move to another, having the potential to cause more difficulty.
Using a pro’s and con’s approach we sort options to achieve the primary goal – to implement the strategic plan. The outcome was to use general ideas from the team and encourage them to develop departmental plans and then for Cherie to ratify them into one strategic document.
Cherie agreed to delegate tasks to the team with the view that the material would be ready to collate at our next session. Delegated tasks had never been documented before – this was a new experience for all concerned.
Session 5 – Making progress
Feedback from Cherie showed slow progress from the managers. Some of the managers were using divisive tactics to undermine the process. Making commitments and not delivering, or using the inactions of others as their excuse. We explored ways of handling this behaviour, it was politically a difficult position for Cherie. Using scenario’s such as if you do this …. Will happen.. and the consequences are …
We took a number of approaches through the process. The result was a different solution for each individual.
Most of the remainder of the session was focused on the protection of the ‘mental sanity’ of Cherie. This was a tough time for her, feeling that there was little support from within the organisation. For her at this time the coaching process was as much a psychological support as it was a sounding board and provider of solutions.
Session 6 through 11 – Putting it into action
The whole situation was difficult, with individuals wanting Cherie to hold their hands yet not being proactive. The argument “we don’t know what we need to do” was used repeatedly, so training and coaching was offered to managers – none took it.
The format of this and the subsequent sessions followed a similar format, review on what had happened to date, set goals for that session, both reflective and skills provision approach was used.
Summary of style
While frustrating for Cherie at times, the style I adopted was balanced between a reflective style with giving advice and solutions appropriately. Only giving advice when Cherie was cornered and felt she had no safe route out. The environment was based upon trust and safety.
The agreed purpose of the coaching programme was to increase Cherie’s capability as well as provide support for Cherie through this significant change programme.
Some 2 years after the sessions stopped Cherie still calls me occasionally to talk through issues and challenges.
The change programme was implemented with some long term success in enabling the managers to think and act more strategically.
Some of the more problematic members of the management team have since left. On reflection these individuals were bullying Cherie, and having realised that Cherie was standing up for herself (and respecting values she felt important) and that their previous behaviours were no longer working.
The organisation is making steady progress towards it strategic goals. Most of the ‘difficult’ managers have since left the organisation.
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The Names of people times and places have been changed to protect my clients.