Development From WJM Associates, Inc.
March-April 2005 - Vol. 4, Issue 2
In This Issue
Welcome to WJManagement Advisor, a bi-monthly newsletter from WJM Associates, Inc., a global leader in Executive Coaching and Leadership Development. Delivered via e-mail and archived on www.wjmassoc.com, WJManagement Advisor presents issues and trends affecting the successful development of organizational leadership.
We hope you find WJManagement Advisor useful and welcome your comments. Send comments to .
You worked in the advertising business before becoming an executive coach. How did that experience help shape your views on coaching?
I started as a copywriter at Leo Burnett; was creative director on the Revlon account at Grey; and created the marketing strategy, name and look that launched Swatch watch. Throughout my career at ad agencies I noticed an interesting difference in the performance of teams. Within the agency where I was working, there were all these agency-client teams. And most were talented, smart and hard-working, but struggled to produce a mediocre result; while another agency-client team, no more talented, smart or hard-working, would produce marketing breakthroughs. What made the difference? I set out to identify the source of performance breakthroughs -- and how to coach others to generate it for themselves.
What was the difference?
The primary difference is what I call the “grip of the past.” Extraordinary teams place no limits on their performance; they are able to go beyond their history and their assumptions of what’s possible. At the same time, ordinary teams are caught in the grip of the past – what’s comfortable, what’s familiar, what’s conventional, what’s consistent with their perceptions and beliefs. They argue for their limitations. They are very reasonable.
Later, as I began to coach, I realized that, as an independent outsider with no allegiance to the past, I could help my clients overcome their self-imposed boundaries by asking the “uncomfortable questions” they wouldn’t ask themselves. Top performers have more at stake and have more expected from them, but their success gives them a stronger “grip of the past” to chip away.
How do you define the role of a coach?
A coach’s role is distinct from the role of a manager, teacher, doctor, therapist, friend or confidant. It is a relationship of equals, for the purpose of causing breakthroughs in the performance of the individual being coached.
I believe everyone wants to enhance his or her effectiveness and results in life, so I believe everyone would benefit from skilled coaching. Look around you. Who would benefit if you were capable of coaching them on some important goal? An employee? Colleague? Client? Spouse? Friend?
What are some basic pointers that you would offer people who want to become effective informal coaches?
Most people waste a lot of time and energy offering advice to people who don’t want it. An individual must be receptive to coaching. If coaching is requested or your offer to give it is genuinely accepted, then you have a basis for coaching.
Next, the coach must relate to the problem as though nothing’s wrong. He or she should listen to the situation, problem or goal that the individual being coached wants to achieve. It’s easy to get drawn into an emotional or dramatic personal saga, with good guys and bad guys. Stay above the fray. Don’t take sides. Your unspoken stand that there’s nothing wrong will provide the calm center necessary for effective coaching.
Hear the story, then ask for the facts. If there’s a lot of emotion around the issue, the person you’re coaching will have difficulty telling you the factual, measurable aspects of the situation. You serve the person by helping to separate fact from interpretation.
How do you accomplish that?
Speak in questions. Coaching is a creative conversation that leads to discovery. Coaching is not your good advice. It’s not about you sharing your experience or solving problems for someone else. It’s about asking questions -- even uncomfortable questions -- that open up an inquiry that leads to breakthroughs. Your answers shut things down.
It’s also important to remember that, no matter how horrific the story, the person you’re coaching is not a victim. Watch for people who blame everyone else for their situation -- clients, management, an assistant, the team, the economy. The route to a breakthrough is by interacting with people as if they are 100% responsible for their experience of their life. If you can’t do this, don’t coach them.
Any final advice for prospective informal coaches?
Once the person you’re coaching sees the situation in a new way or creates a new possibility for himself in the face of a difficult situation, then move the conversation to action. Coaching is about performance and results, so there needs to be action. Ask what actions your colleague promises to take, and by when. Both of you write this down. Ask him to inform you whether he keeps his promise, or not, and what results are achieved.
Above all, remember that no coaching relationship can succeed unless there’s integrity from both parties. Integrity includes all aspects of keeping your word to each other -- from confidentiality, to being on time, to doing the promised actions. The minute the integrity is broken, the relationship becomes ordinary and extraordinary results are out of reach.
Like top performers on the playing field or concert stage, growing numbers of business executives today receive coaching. What was formerly viewed as a resource used principally in remedial situations has become something of a perquisite for high-potential candidates as leading businesses everywhere look to accelerate executives’ development up the corporate ladder. Trisha D. Scudder, a member of WJM Associates’ executive and organizational development faculty, has helped nearly 200 C-level executives become extraordinary leaders, motivating managers and more creative thinkers. She also believes that many business executives can be effective informal coaches to their friends, colleagues and subordinates.
Last issue, we discussed how conflicting values can adversely impact both the cohesiveness of a management team and organizational productivity.
Team cohesiveness correlates highly to cultural integrity and productivity. Culture is shaped by the behaviors and decisions that management makes every day, and is the result of tradeoffs made between inherently conflicting values.
While the unproductive behaviors of individual executives can negatively impact team cohesiveness and productivity, management frequently recognizes the problem and takes corrective measures, often through executive coaching. The real problem, however, occurs when otherwise capable leaders do not function as a real team.
The impact on productivity is significant, but rarely obvious … and certainly not recognized. The symptoms are generally low trust and unresolved conflict, which are largely ignored in the interest of civil relationships. Often there are other “secondary gains” that work against resolution as well.
Online Assessment Tools
In the absence of data that demonstrates the impact that executives’ lack of cohesiveness has on productivity, there is no motivation to do the work needed to take the team to the next level. One way to provide this data is to conduct a series of individual, group and enterprise-wide surveys using online assessment tools. The Internet makes it easy to collect this information quickly, confidentially and securely, whether people work in the same building or on different continents.
Depending on the level of the management team and the scope of the project, it’s common to employ two or more of the following types of instruments:
Team Effectiveness Self-Assessment, where members of a management team evaluate how well they work together.
Gallup’s StrengthsFinder® instrument, a tool that measures the unique talents of each team member, and profiles the collective strengths and deficiencies of the team.
Customized Peer Review, in which team members evaluate one another on their leadership behaviors, skills and emotional intelligence competencies as well as on their impact on the cohesiveness of the team. The peer review often extends to include subordinates and other stakeholders to become a true 360-degree assessment.
Emotional Intelligence Self-Test, which gauges how effective executives are in each of the emotional intelligence competencies: self-awareness, ability to manage emotions, self-motivation, ability to relate well to others, and ability to coach/mentor others.
Customized Employee Engagement Survey, a broad, enterprise-wide instrument that probes three or more levels down in an organization to measure both the effectiveness of the organization in the key competency domains and the level of employee engagement.
Culture “Audit,” an online questionnaire administered to the organization’s top 50 leaders to assess the culture as it is today versus the culture that is required to achieve their market leadership strategy. This audit exposes the values conflicts that are the root cause of trust, conflict and commitment issues affecting productivity, and provides a useful framework for resolving the differences.
Structured intelligently, these instruments provide benchmark proficiency scores covering each of the key organizational and leadership competencies, against which progress over time can be measured quickly through our proprietary system. This has a powerful impact on rates of change. And all of these assessments yield both quantifiable results and subjective insights into the mindset of the organization that can be compared by location, business unit and other dimensions.
One of the keys steps in conducting such assessments is to measure both the level of satisfaction or effectiveness of the organization or leader in each factor and its importance to enhancing productivity.
For example, employees may be troubled by recent changes in your benefits or compensation programs and give them a 50% proficiency score, but these factors most often do not receive high importance ratings. On the other hand, the frequency and sincerity of recognition for a job well-done may be a very important motivating factor to employees, yet your firm’s culture may be such that managers feel they don’t need to offer such praise because such work is “expected.”
The combination of proficiency scores and importance ratings enables factors to be prioritized according to the probable impact on organizational productivity. A sample matrix follows:
The power of the data is in the specific solution set employed -- the interrelationships among the assessment tools.
Recently, we surveyed one of the global units of a major corporation that was in a state of transition. The survey included a half-dozen units managed by senior executives responsible for the U.S. operations. The company was undergoing a merger, so there was a lot of stress among all levels of management. All of the U.S. operations were in the same location and required lots of cross-functional work, so these were not isolated groups at all.
From the employee engagement survey of these six U.S. operations, we found that while the employees in four of the groups were miserably disengaged, two were highly engaged. So how could people in the same organization, in the same location, have such totally different engagement levels?
The two executives with the highest levels of engagement received by far the highest scores on their emotional intelligence competencies, while the other four received mediocre scores. That confirmed in a very powerful way that emotionally intelligent leaders could still find ways to motivate their people in spite of stressful circumstances.
When management teams see data like this, the motivation to change -- to become a high-performing team and to further develop their leadership skills -- becomes compelling. Without that kind of inspiration, it is difficult to influence senior executives to do the kind of work that will transform their cultures. And at the end of the day, that is their real purpose as the organization’s “cultural trustees”: to create and preserve an environment that enables their people to thrive and achieve market leadership.
Terrence Overholser is founder and CEO of ManagementCentral.com, and a WJM Associates faculty member. WJM-ManagementCentral is a strategic partnership that focuses on the design and delivery of assessment-based solutions that enhance organization and leadership performance.
Chairman & CEO
Research shows that people join companies because of the company, but leave because of the manager.
Sadly enough, this happens because the relationship with the manager was not well formed in the beginning. Goals were unclear, work styles conflicted, or incorrect assumptions were made about priorities, skills and authority.
The first few days of a new job can be simultaneously exciting, anxious and stressful. First there’s the task of adjusting to life in a new town, state or country, if relocation is part of the picture. Next there’s the issue of assuming your new responsibilities, which may be broader than before, in a different industry or both. Finally there’s the matter of getting to know a whole new cast of stakeholders, colleagues and subordinates -- and learning to work with a new boss.
Moving into a new job without creating an effective relationship with your new boss is like trying to build a house on a foundation of sand -- you just can’t do it. That’s why, when we provide on-board coaching to newly hired executives, our first priority is to help our clients quickly establish a solid relationship with their new boss. In fact, we advise our clients to schedule a meeting with their new manager early on -- in week one, if possible -- to:
- Determine their boss’s communication preferences, work style, and management likes and dislikes.
- Achieve clarity around their two or three most important objectives.
- Learn about their scope of authority, accountabilities and resources.
We encourage our clients to prepare as formally for this meeting as they would a presentation to the board of directors; it’s that important to their success. We tell them to take notes, write a summary, and meet with their boss a second time to review what they heard and gain the boss’s buy-in. After that, there should be no surprises.
If you’d like to follow this approach yourself, here are some points to consider:
Ask how your boss likes to communicate. Some people like e-mail, others prefer voice mail, and still others like the old-fashioned tête-à-tête. Do meetings need to be scheduled, or are “drop-ins” okay? Does your boss like to receive calls on her mobile phone? What about evenings and weekends? Does she like to receive frequent updates on progress, or only if something’s going wrong? Learn definitions of key words (how soon is “urgent”?)
Identify your main priorities. What are the two or three things that you must achieve in order to be successful? Learn about each objective: the timeline expectations, a clear picture of the expected outcome, how success will be measured, and the resources you’ll have available. Also find out what has been tried before. What organizational barriers exist that might be roadblocks? Who are the key supporters of this initiative? What stake do they have in it?
Know Your Scope and Accountabilities. Incongruence often exists between new leaders and their boss regarding scope of authority. Policies or guidelines as simple as signature authority levels, if not discussed, can wreak major havoc. Learn about your contracting and signature authorities. Inquire about your hiring and termination authority. Learn about the policy process. Are policies set in stone in this organization, or are they relaxed? Do you have authority to establish policies (e.g., the department’s dress code) or do you have to go through Human Resources?
Finally, ask for your boss’s opinion of the people who report to you, and get an organization chart. If one doesn’t exist, create one with your boss. Reporting relationships with new leaders can be very fuzzy. A boss who says “Joe will still report to me on the strategic planning project, but otherwise you’re responsible for him,” is not uncommon. But it is essential to understand the parameters of your authority.
Headquartered in New York City, WJM Associates is a recognized leader in the fields of executive and organizational development. WJM has a Faculty of over 300 experienced executive coaches and consultants delivering coaching, assessment and other organizational effectiveness services throughout the world. To learn how we can assist you, visit www.wjmassoc.com, contact one of our Account Directors toll free at 1-877-667-4647 or email us at ..