Executive Coaching

These are the worst things I’ve seen from both sides of the fence over the past 26 years. If you are a buyer of professional services – caveat emptor! If you are selling professional services, do everyone a favour and steer clear of this kind of behaviour.

1. Playing the day rate game (DRG) – price knocked down? Pad out the number of days or substitute cheaper staff.  Many buyers of professional services want to know the price per day for the service they are buying. The more experienced buyers will watch a consultant or coach at work and come to a judgement about the price they should be paying per day for that person.  The game comes into play because the supplier wants to preserve margin and the customer wants to reduce the price.

Both sides should really be discussing value. Without an understanding of the value of the end result, all that happens is a relentless focus on cost. Why not try a different question? How will this coaching assignment help my business grow and what impact should I expect?

If you focus on value you are more likely to get it.

2. Sell with the A team, deliver with the B team. Make sure you know who is actually going to do the work. A consequence of the DRG. The most impressive people are used to deliver the proposal to senior management and then a bunch of second-raters turn up for the assignment. Making assumptions here can kill the prospect of a great result. Evaluate all the people individually and make sure the names of the ones you want are in the engagement contract.

3. Revolving door syndrome. Another consequence of the DRG. You’ve got the team. The assignment is going well. Now their star player is needed on another assignment that’s in trouble. Your team members get frustrated because they are always bringing new people up to speed and as soon as they’ve done that the person leaves. Make sure you have the terms and conditions that suit you in your engagement contract.

4. Insensitivity to appropriate client norms – the partner turns up and spends the day braying at his mobile phone in your offices. He gets hooked up to your wireless network, but solely for the purpose of his own emails which are nothing to do with the your assignment. He also has his own meetings, with the guys that are supposed to be working for you, in your meetings rooms.

5. Arrive late on Monday, leave early on Friday. Whatever are you paying for? Make sure it is clear precisely what kind of engagement you are paying for. Particularly for coaching, much can be done by skype video phone. It is a valuable time saver for both parties.

6. It worked ok last time. Do they really know, from first principles, what they are doing or will you find out that they don’t? Particularly for those assignments with a technical element, make sure you are not your supplier’s guinea pig. Invest time with their other clients to ensure that you really understand your potential supplier’s capabilities.

7. Taking all the credit. Bet your staff love this habit! Make sure you get your regular briefings from your own staff. Let them get the credit. It will build their confidence and it will improve team spirit. If your advisors want to take all the credit, there is something wrong. Do you want to be dependent on them or do you want your own team to learn and develop?

8. Selling the next assignment before you’ve had results from the first one. It easy to tell who is under pressure to bring in more business! Advisors are often under pressure to bring in more business and you are their easiest target. When their head of sector wants meetings with you, make sure you know what it is about in advance and let them know what is and is not a priority for you.

9. Blame the client. They don’t know what they’re doing, so guess who ‘s fault it is – yours! At this point, there is only one mistake you have made and that was buying from these guys. You obviously did not do your homework.

10. The only thing they do on time is present their invoice. Classy! Time to look at your engagement contract again. What exactly have you bought? – Probably a number of days with a woolly deliverable.

11. Playing politics in the client organisation. If your staff all hate them, this might just be the reason. I knew a coach who had a very good relationship with the chairman of the client – introduced by a mutual friend – but who was hated by everyone else. He could not help himself but meddle in everyone’s relationships and talk about people behind their backs. Needless to say, his assignment didn’t last long.

When you are engaging outsiders to help you, making sure you know how it can go wrong is half the battle towards getting the result you want. Notice how most of the failure modes apply much more to consulting rather than coaching. Coaching not only benefits people at all levels, client engagement is a lot simpler and cheaper than hiring consultants to do it for you, with all the risks that the consulting approach brings.

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Executive Coaching

Trust in leaders is at an all time low because, as a general rule, leadership has not evolved as fast as people’s expectations of leaders. In the past politicians and business leaders could more easily conceal their bad behaviour. Today it just isn’t possible to the same degree. We are not as deferential as we once were. Fewer people just accept what they are told – even though a frightening number still appear to! We have legislation which forces companies to publish compensation arrangements and we have the Internet where consumers can publicise their bad experiences. During the 20 years where this has been happening, no consensus has yet emerged to replace the still all too prevalent command and control mentality of the past.

Ricardo Semler wrote Maverick 20 years ago(?). Before that Tom Peters was evangelising on the power of liberated employees. My personal experience of management is that it mostly gets in the way. If you look at the performance of most PLCs you could be forgiven for thinking that the true purpose of their existence is to enrich management at their shareholders’ expense.

Politicians act in a similar manner, looking after their own narrow, short term interest at their electorate’s expense. The greatest mess – the current financial situation – was caused by a simple combination of de-regulation and greed. Watch the film Inside Job.

In contrast to politicians and financiers, values-driven organisations follow the law of precession. In doing so they make more money for their stakeholders over a longer period of time than those corporations solely focused on short term gain.

We may be coming to the end of an era in terms leadership. I know from the personal experience of designing and implementing self-managing organisations that generation Y will not put up with the shortcomings of old style leadership.

Back in 1996 when I had already been implementing self-managing teams on the shop floor for cellular manufacturing for nearly 10 years, I set up a self-managing factory with no factory manager. The whole place was run by a five person team – the people who had reported to the previous plant manager who had retired. Each month one member of the team would come to the monthly business meeting to report on their progress. That person would be well briefed and able to answer any questions about any department or function within the business.

It was this experience which gave me the insight that the leadership challenge is to create and maintain the environment in which other people can be successful. My job, very often, was simply to be there to hold the space. The guys didn’t need anyone to do their jobs for them, what they needed was the opportunity to show what they could do, given the chance. I reinforced the message I wanted the organisation to receive by promoting the guys who got results through their people. The people I took with me to corporate meetings were not those managers that reported to me. The guys I took were the ones getting the best results regardless of their position in the hierarchy. 16 years ago, in a conventional corporation, those kinds of actions stood out like a sore thumb. Today, if you don’t do it, you’ll lose the battle for talent.

Corporations are already noticing that Generation Y are asking more questions of their leaders. They want to know how they think, they want to know the reason why and the smart ones will only join those organisations that have the right answers. It is the battle for empowered, informed talent that will ultimately cause the evolutionary step that leadership needs to take.

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Executive Coaching

We are used to the elimination of waste in flows of material and information, but what about people?

The concept of being “in flow” is an ancient one with probably the I-Ching being the first written record about 2,500 years ago. More recently Mihaly Csikszentmihaly wrote Finding Flow, the psychology of engagement with everyday life. The basic message of the studies that the book is based on is that the more you are truly engaged with the things that you do in your life, the happier you will be. What the book doesn’t tell you is how to get there.

My belief is that if our organisations as a whole are totally in flow – material, information and people – then they, and all their members, will prosper.

Much has been written about “Just in time” and latterly “Lean” and their application to flows of information and material. It can be said that we know how to do that. Some organisations may lag others, but the expertise is out there. For people however, the picture is entirely different. Much has been written about “success”, but since so few people seem to have attained it, there must be something missing. And there is. Much!

Here is my chronological list of the 7 Muda of people:

1. Unresolved negative emotions.
Stuff happens to us on life’s journey and the unconscious mind represses things that might harm us until we are ready to deal with them. For may people they end up feeling blocked and unable to move on. In helping people to find their flow, this is where to start. The Taoists and Buddhists know that letting go is the first step. If you can’t let go, this is where you first need help otherwise everything else will be wasted or at best temporary.

2. Limiting beliefs
Another result of imprinting from life is the decisions we make either consciously or unconsciously about ourselves that severely limit our capability. Negations and comparatives are good indicators of limiting beliefs. The second step is to let go of our self-imposed limits. Again, many people are unable to do this without help, but becoming aware is a the first part of letting go.

3. Negative attitude and lack of an open mind
We may also have negative views about the outside world. We may perceive the glass to be half empty and yet we know that optimistic people live longer, happier lives. Remember that “I know” are the 2 most expensive words in the universe. We give clues about our view of the world in everything we say and do. Having completed steps 1 and 2 above may significantly improve your view of the world. Becoming open-minded may be another choice you have to make.

4. Lack of alignment with true purpose
One can be forgiven for thinking organisations want everyone to become more “rounded”. All that happens is people become more stooped, more stressed and more unhappy. If you have the right people on the bus, they need to be sitting in the right seats. If you are in the wrong organisation you may need to choose to leave. If you are in the right organisation, but in the wrong place, it is time to tell someone.

5. No clear plan
Having ditched your baggage and having found your true purpose, you need to plan how you are going to achieve it. You need to have that plan in front of you every day. The first step in planning is to determine a clear goal. Again, if you are in the right seat on the right bus, there should be a lot in common between your goals and your organisation’s goals.

6. Wasting time
Having got as far as a plan, the question is how much time are you investing to implement it and to achieve your goals. Until people complete a truly detailed time analysis, just like they would to analysis an operation in a factory, they never discover just how much time they waste. Even just writing down what you’ve done, every half hour, can make a big difference – provided you are honest. Having cut out the self-sabotage factors earlier in the process, you should do quite well at this exercise. If not, you may need to go through some of the previous steps again to access deeper layers of your personal onion.

7. Inability to get on with others
Many people get promoted because they are good at their technical job. They then have to deal with people! Many technically good people have low emotional intelligence. Making them managers takes them out of flow without giving them the new skills they need. Their lack of managerial skill also upsets all their sub-ordinates. The sum is that you have lost a good technician and everyone else now performs at a lower level because they are upset. The good news is that not only can you measure emotional intelligence, you can also improve it. You can now have technicians that are happy, and happy with others. Without the leverage that comes of working with others, life is much more difficult, and therefore wasteful, than it needs to be.

Most organisations come nowhere near the achievement of the Total Flow state. What would happen if they did? By using the right tools and techniques with the right people in the right sequence it is possible to bring your entire organisation into flow and thereby into sustainable prosperity.

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Executive Coaching

I’ve lost count of the number of long-serving employees at client companies who’ve told me that my programme has been the first time they have really been involved in creating the future for themselves and for their employer.

The main restraining factor is fear on the part of the executives: scared of wasting time and money; scared of “it” not working; and scared of being held accountable. My message to executives is be careful what you wish for. If you think engagement won’t work, then it won’t. Your mindset will be totally wrong.

The other fear factor, mixed in with a bit of ego, is the fear of losing control. There are quite a few executives who at least enjoy the illusion of being in control and it is this illusion that prevents them from allowing anyone else to possibly outshine them. After all, it IS their job to come up with all the good ideas isn’t it…?

The problem is, that unless an organisation is really ready for an all hands meeting it will not be able to digest the outputs from the meeting in a constructive manner. Best not to do it then? If I couldn’t add 1% of sales to net profit as a result of an appropriately designed all hands meeting, I’d be sorely disappointed. What is it costing your organisation, not to do this?

The coach has two roles here, to assuage the fears of the executives whilst creating the environment for the success of both employees and executives. One big tip: include all the disciplines, particularly purchasing. Like engineers, these guys are uniquely placed to evaluate the costs and benefits of ideas on the spot.


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Executive Coaching

Don’t corporations love their KPIs and balanced scorecards? In the year 2000 I was involved in a project to apply six sigma, to the design process, at a well known mobile phone handset manufacturer.

Their notice boards were covered in pieces of dark red paper. I asked what these were. Apparently everyone had their own “vital few” KPIs. Since all the KPIs seemed to be different that actually meant there were hundreds of vital few KPIs. The management wanted a focus on the vital few and ended up with a trivial many. Can you imagine wasting your life away in these kinds of charades?

My own preference, which has its grounding in theory of constraints (TOC), is for what is known as a hedgehog strategy. To implement a hedgehog strategy, the organisation just has to choose one KPI. Just one. And, according to TOC you have to subordinate everything else to driving performance on that one measure – better get it right then!


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Executive Coaching

You must have heard that the customer is king! I remember receiving training on total customer satisfaction and I’m sure the cubicles of dilbert land have been thoroughly hosed down with such nonsense.

Of course in such organisations we were constantly exhorted to work harder, show the right attitude, etc. One day, due to our appalling delivery performance, one of my customer service team was taking a particularly personally abusive call from an extremely angry customer. Unable to take any more abuse, the young lady concerned, one of my best, put the phone down on the customer.

The angry customer phoned the company president. The angry president phoned the VP for customer service. The angry VP ordered me to discipline my team member or take the consequences. The customer was always right, regardless of how they behaved. It took two years of hard work to fix delivery performance. Ironic when we discovered that many of the problems were caused by management interfering in the jobs of the people who were supposed to running the day to day operations.

The fact is, that unless the company looks after its employees, they will not look after the customers and therefore the customers will not look after the company by continuing to give it their business. The customer is therefore not king, your employees are. Treat them royally and they will do the same for your customers.

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Executive Coaching

As a director of a function or department it is still possible to achieve passable performance without having mastered the art and science of delegation.

For many, their appointment as director is a recognition of technical prowess in their field. Whether you are the most experienced engineer as Development Director, the most skilled negotiator as Procurement Director, or the best deal closer as Sales Director, what you actually are is Master Technician. You have reached the top of the silo.

It’s been a few years now, and you are a trusted director with a good track record when suddenly, the MD moves on – and it’s your turn.

You know the company inside out, or you thought you did. You know your colleagues well, or you thought you did. You know what the business needs, or you thought you did. It’s funny how a change of position leads to a change of perspective.

In your old job you were master of everything, but suddenly, your “everything” just got ten times bigger.

For the new MDs I’ve coached, it has always been mastering delegation that has brought both them and their subordinates the most satisfaction. Delegation mastery has three components: the rules of the game; the tools and techniques; and the people skills. You only have to conduct 360 degree appraisals to understand that good subordinates want accountability, they want timely follow up – how else do they demonstrate to themselves and others that they are doing a good job?

You’ll know you’ve mastered delegation when you have the time to properly consider the strategic elements of your new job.

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Executive Coaching

We’re used to oxymorons such as military intelligence and government action, but it is unusual to find a contradiction inside a single word. And yet, in many organisations, people in authority don’t have any. CEO syndrome arises when people believe they act with authority when in fact they don’t.

The danger behind CEO syndrome is best illustrated when we consider that the queen believes that the whole world smells of new paint. If you have ever taken part in anything even remotely resembling a royal visit, you’ll know what I mean. The tale of the king with no clothes is another example.

The rise of political correctness has made it increasingly unlikely that people will tell you what they really think, whilst at the same time the continuing financial crisis makes that sharing even more important.

The answer is to give authority rather than to take it. Rather than act unilaterally using power of position, turn the organisation upside down and find out what it is that your people need to do their jobs well. You will only need to solve one problem to start bringing the barriers down, but of course you only need to do nothing to reinforce them.

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Executive Coaching

Most executives are only truly in their comfort zone when they know the answer. Many even insist it is their job to know the answer. It didn’t seem to matter whether I worked for them, worked with them or had them work for me, having to know the answer seemed to be a common theme.

Almost by accident, I came to believe that questions were actually the answer. Throughout my career I often was headhunted into industries I knew nothing about. Obviously that didn’t happen against my will, but it did mean that I had to approach business challenges from a different perspective because I had no industry-specific knowledge to fall back on.

I had to ask questions and I had to trust people. I found on the whole, that people responded much better to being trusted, and to being asked to give advice, than they did to being told what to do.

Looking back it was also interesting to notice that in the companies with poor management, answers were subjective, based on opinions, rather than on facts that could be verified.

When it came to setting goals for the year, I remember being shocked when my boss told me he only committed to achieve goals where he absolutely knew how he was going to do it. I pointed out that I didn’t know how to achieve any of mine. I’d just accepted the need to improve and I’d accepted the challenge to find a way to achieve the performance required. Of course, when you don’t know how, you have to ask questions.

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