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Innovation, OD

The New Normal – So How?

The Year of the Golden Rat has presented us with unusual challenges we have newer seen before. Again. The last Rat, the Earth Rat, had given us the financial crisis. This one has brought Covid.
So, what can possibly be good about this Rat? It forced us to create the New Normal!

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Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Is Group Coaching Possible?

Coaching is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person to be his or her very best.

Some months ago, the managing director of an MNC approached me to develop a team of four operations managers with some people and management skills. Three of them were promoted recently but have not had any formal leadership training. This is not unusual as we see this happen over and over again. He also shared that he would like me to conduct a one-on-one coaching for one of his managers. He wanted me to develop her leadership skills and especially her openness to change. However, the MD was afraid that this manager, let’s call her JJ, was not receptive to such intervention. We discussed and developed the plan to start with group coaching for his team of managers. This way, the one-on-one coaching for JJ could be “sold” as a logical next step after the group coaching experience.

Group Coaching for Building Trust

Group Coaching - Creating a Team to the Benefit of the Individual

Group Coaching – Creating a Team to the Benefit of the Individual

I adopted a structured approach, with predetermined content, a fix number of 3 hour sessions on a monthly basis. We started by agreeing on basic ground rules such as punctuality, confidentiality and commitment. During each session, I would cover a certain topic such as communication, feedback techniques, problem solving methodology or coaching for performance to equip these managers with practical skills and some tips out of my personal backpack. The session typically started by inviting each individual to share their own experience and, of course, issues encountered under the respective topic. Since the team was very small, it was easy to ensure everyone’s participation in the discussion and sharing. Our session did not end without agreeing on a commitment related to the topic and some preparation for the next meeting.

The first meeting was key for the success since I needed to get to know each one of them. And, it was carefully designed in a rather teaching than coaching manner since the managers needed to get comfortable with the process and with me, the coach. Being comfortable with each other does in no way imply trust. The group took a while to “warm up” to me. Only by the fourth meeting, I could see some results. Especially their commitment for trying out new behaviours at work had grown over time. Slowly, it became easier to discuss some rather personal topics. I recognised that is was of great importance to deliberate such topics in the group because they slowly built trust not only to me but even with each other.

Moving to Individual Coaching

JJ was holding back in the first 2 sessions. Only during the third session, she started to participate in the debate and even offered her own encounters on tackling some issues raised by her colleagues. By then, I could also sense that the other managers became more relaxed with her. I saw a growing trust and camaraderie among them. A matured leadership team who was able to use the collective wisdom of the group started to emerge.

At the same time, I recognised that each of the four was progressing at a different speed. I felt that I needed to give more space for some of them to speak, whereas the others were ready to move on. And, I was constrained by the available time. I did not want to jeopardise focus and fluidity of the session.
I discussed with the group and agreed that the remaining two meetings were to be done on a one-on-one basis. By then, all of them were very open to the idea and had no reservations whatsoever. The recently completed 360-degree leadership assessment came in as a great help for discussion. After the warm-up phase through the group coaching, it was very easy to work even with JJ on a one-on-one basis to come up with a personal development plan. We certainly had the coach-able moment.

JJ moved me with her parting words:

To be very honest, Amy, at the beginning I tried to avoid this coaching because I was not comfortable at all to go through this. And, I did not expect anything positive for myself. Now, I have to admit that this coaching did not only help me in my job, it improved my relationship with the other managers – we have a very good communication now, we have trust. Even our boss seems to react to what we shared with him about our learnings. Thank you very much.

Conclusion

Group coaching can benefit organisations and individuals (coachees) in many ways. Such benefits of group coaching for individuals include:

  • Peer Learning: some coachees may prefer a collaborative learning environment where they learn from the insights and contributions of peers. For coachees who are more introverted, the peer learning process may feel “less intimidating”. And, it provides more time for reflection and articulation of their insights.
  • Build Teaming Skills: setting aside time together for learning helps the group to deepen trust and collaboration among peers and across departments. At the same time coachees gain an understanding of the issues, motivations and intentions of colleagues and stakeholders. It also improves interpersonal support skills such as listening, questioning, coaching and feedback.

Benefits of group coaching for the organisation seem to be:

  • Cross-functional Exchange and Support for Culture Change: the conversations which ensue often create a web of relationships across teams. This leads to opportunities for the exchange of ideas and different perspectives across seemingly disparate groups. The new relationships often provide an important vehicle for culture change.
  • Return on Investment: many organisations have recognised the benefits of group coaching as a follow-on support to learning initiatives. It especially helps employees to apply what they have learnt and share feedback.
  • Scalability: For some organisations with an established or an evolving coaching culture, scalability is a key benefit of the group coaching approach. It can support cascading involvement of employees at all levels. For example, organisations may look to create group coaching for new managers or offer group coaching program to sustain the network & conversation after a training initiative.
BPR, Innovation, OD

Don’t Automate, Obliterate!

Our business simulation is intended to show the business impact of improving and even redesigning a rather simple business process – the effect of Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). Basic yet powerful tools come to play. Process KPIs as well as customer satisfaction and customer KPIs are a gauge for the degree of improvement. We have been running this simulation nearly a hundred times with teams from different industries. We had employees at various organisational levels. Yet, we have observed the following interesting behaviours:

BPR Simulation Key Learnings

BPR Simulation Key Learnings

  1. After experiencing the initial round of the simulation with intentionally sub-optimal process design, teams very frequently raise two requests: need more staff, need IT support.
  2. When given the chance to re-design the process, 90% of all teams tend to move their team members around to cover up process weaknesses instead of analysing and closing gaps.
  3. More often than not, teams focus on internal matters rather than customer requirements.

Our simulated process has a few intended flaws built in. The most time-consuming process step shows a backlog building up. That step can be easily improved with one very simple change that costs nothing whatsoever. This would lead to a much better flow. Additionally, this would give a reduction or even a complete removal of the backlog. However, only less than 10% of all participating teams find this “trick” without help by the facilitator. More than 50% of all teams try to add manpower to this task. Or, they opt for automating this step instead of looking closer and removing the obstacle.

There has been a significant increase in IT solutions during the business simulation since its introduction more than ten years ago. It is correct, that some tasks can run automatically just by using a hand phone. However, it does not make sense to automate a task that no one needs – after understanding how the process really works.

The sobering fact is, that teams tend to automate before understanding the process.

The sobering fact is that, teams tend to automate before understanding the process. If our business simulation findings would give any indication about real business process re-engineering (BPR) work, we would have to conclude that many IT solutions have been bought prematurely, many broken processes are still broken, just faster and many opportunities in business processes are still uncovered.

Why is this like that? It seems that IT support, an Android or iPhone App serve as silver bullets for many problems. Nowadays, Cloud-computing is the up-to-date method and can’t be wrong. Opposing against these approaches is like fighting against the time. Good old process mapping and process improvement seem like outdated approaches that belong to previous generations. Michael Hammer, the godfather of business process re-engineering, once said

Automating a mess yields an automated mess.

Simulating BPR – Conclusion

Our teams usually end their business simulation successfully. After learning and experiencing some eye-opening truth about the process, they are able to cut the lead time drastically, increase customer satisfaction to the highest level and have even fun doing so.

Only a small percentage of this improvement is due to IT support. Most of it is a result of understanding the process and optimising the flow using good old BPR tools.

Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Recognising The Coach-able Moment

In a coaching or mentoring relationship, finding the right moment for performing the coaching is critical. Often, coaching attempts go wrong because the moment is just not right. But, how do you know whether you are at a coachable-moment? Just ask yourself whether you have the right essentials for coaching someone: A sincere intention, a good relationship and suitable words.

What is your Intention for Coaching Someone?

Coaching Essentials: The Coach-able Moment

The Coach-able Moment

Having the right intention for coaching is paramount for success. Showing off your own capability and telling your staff that he is not there yet is the worst setting for coaching. A hidden agenda will surface sooner or later and will break any trust for a long time. Similarly, giving feedback to your staff immediately after a sub-optimal performance may not be in the best interest of the both of you. If you need to let off steam, because your staff has just tarnished your polished image in-front of others, stop here. It is a safe assumption that he did not do it intentionally and will perform much better next time – after your constructive feedback given at a later stage, when you are more relaxed and free from potentially hurting emotions.

After Jerry was done with his presentation about DiSC to one of our important clients, I felt the urge to tell him that I did not like his arrogant style of delivery, talking down to the audience. Although, it was clear to everyone that he knew his stuff, he could have brought it across in a nicer way. After all, Jerry was younger than most of the clients in the room and he did not know anything about DiSC until a year ago, when I started to teach and coach him. I was about to take him aside and tell him one or two things about his station in life … but I was stopped by my partner, who knew exactly what was about to happen. Today, I can easily admit that I was in no mood to give any constructive feedback, let alone good coaching.

After all, coaching is the process of letting someone know that you care about him. (Practical Coach)

What is your Relationship with your Coachee?

Your relationship with your coachee plays an essential role for selecting the right moment, the coach-able moment, and especially the right words for coaching. Whereas it is nearly impossible to perform any coaching for someone whom you meet the first time, all other types of association allow effective coaching. Be it a good friend whom you want to help or be it your staff or your mentee you want to support and see the person grow professionally.

Trust is the basis of the relationship. Building a trusting relationship requires sufficient time and dedicated effort. Sometimes we’re tempted to hurry the process or neglect this stage altogether. When we do, we deny ourselves out of the valuable coaching experience and decrease the likelihood of success.

I did not spend enough time to build relationship with Jerry since he joined, because he has been on telecommuting and we only meet when we are at client’s site. If I had set aside time to build rapport with Jerry, my feedback to him about his delivery of this DISC session would have been much easier. And, he would trust what I say to him.

Remember, coaching is about caring for someone and developing them. When you have a supportive relationship, you can speak your mind freely. You already know that the other person will see the positive intention in your words, independently of whether they agree or not.

Which Words Should be Used to Give Feedback?

“Eh how come your hair is so messy? You are so busy till you never have no time to cut your hair, ah?” is a personal message you only pass to a very good friend who trusts you a lot.

Our language is full of words that have a disempowering effect. As a basic rule, turning our words and phrases into a positive notion will help to gain acceptance for feedback without hurting the coachee.

“Why are you always late for meetings. You have to be on time” is a strong message in a disempowering language spoken with the typical Singapore word “always”.

Firstly, avoid “always” and “never” when you give feedback. Hardly anyone is that bad.

Secondly, turn retrospective blame “Why are you always late for meetings?” into prospective good behaviour with “What can you do to contribute to our meetings in future?” Discovery questioning is a powerful, forward-looking technique that avoids one party losing face and emphasises solutioning rather than blaming.

Thirdly, don’t generalise feedback. Link it to a certain situation so that all ambiguity and with it the dispute about it is limited. State Situation – Behaviour – Impact (SBI) like in

“Yesterday for our meeting with our clients, you arrived 15 minutes after the stated start time. I am concerned, this has presented an unprofessional image to our clients.”

Conclusion

Coaching is about believing in someone and then taking action to help that person be his or her very best. Do try to use the above tips to create the coachable moment before you coach.

Read also: The Best Coach I Ever Had

Leadership, OD, Staff Development

Revisiting Management by Walking About (MBWA)

MBWA - Management by walking about

Management by walking about

Some twenty years ago, just after I was hired by General Electric Capital and tasked to implement something as strange to a bank as continuous improvement in their newly acquired, yet dusty German banking environment, life was not walk in the park anymore. Gaining the skills for the new job with the help of the outstanding GE Capital people development engine was challenging but rewarding.

Putting these skills to work was the real test. Even the nice title as director and AVP did not help much, when I needed to “sell” the idea of improving and innovating the business to fellow directors who were already doing great. More often than not, I found myself having nice frameworks on great PowerPoint pitches but no clue how to approach them. A real hard nut to crack seemed to be our Sales Director, Gerald.

Immediately after I joined, Esther, our HR Director appeared at my office. I thought, something bad must have happened. Why else does the HR Director pop up in my office. No, there was nothing. And, some minutes after she left I had already forgotten what the chat was about. I thought, she was checking on the rookie. And, I disliked this encounter since I did not like people checking on me and I certainly did not enjoy small talk. To my surprise, Esther came back again and again. Nearly every week she sat in my office to have a chat. This was her way of management by walking about. How annoying.

vocOne day, I thought I put her to a test and explained my problem with approaching Gerald to her. This was my try to turn small talk into something useful for me. And, I wanted to find out whether there was more than just hot air. To my surprise she immediately knew what I was talking about and she seemed prepared for this conversation.

She started with a series of questions that appeared to be back to small talk again. Questions to find out what I knew about Gerald. There was not much. She offered some information about Gerald to me. I learned about his favourite football club FC Cologne, his kids, their age, their hobbies etc. Everything was new to me. She nailed the conversation with a hint: “Wait until FC Cologne wins and then approach Gerald. But make sure you talk football before you get to your points.”

I did. It worked. The project Gerald and I started in Sales together was so successful, that our project leaders had to present it to the GE Capital HQ in Stamford, Connecticut.

During one of the following “small talks” with Esther, she coached me on how to build relationship with people of different personalities. I easily understood why, on the outset, it was hard for me to talk with Gerald.

And, I learned that Esther did not have any agenda when she did her tours through the office. She listened to employees and watched processes in order to find development needs. Usually, she did not offer solutions. But she offered a questioning technique that brought us to discover solutions on our own. She was providing coaching to us as a true Employee Champion.

Esther took proactive effort to listen, empathise and understand the employees’ and management’s needs, indirectly she increased our commitment and capabilities. For me, the rather useless small talk had turned into a quality conversation – after I was able to open up, after developing some trust. I learned to value our partnership. In retrospective, I have to admit that a good portion of my success at GE was due to Esther’s intervention, the informal chat and especially her listening ear. I was lucky enough to meet a few more Esthers in my professional life whom I owe a lot. These mentors are not necessarily our bosses. They are just people who care about us.

Coaching is the process of letting people know, what they do matters to you.

Practical Coach, MPC

key-learningsOver the years, I tried to adopt some of their coaching techniques like Management by Walking About and I certainly got some small success stories. And, I recognised that it is usually much easier to be excellent in my subject matters than in people management. However, the only mistake is to stop trying.

And, what about you? Are you doing your MBWA? Why not?

BPR, Leadership, OD

No One Makes Mistakes on Purpose

“Bob is not doing his job. Always mistakes. What should I do with him?”
“Mary has messed up our relationship with a key client. I had to step in to save the day.”

Having done a multitude of projects in all kinds of private and public organisations, we have frequently encountered these and other remarks by managers about their staff. Although the comments are usually based on symptoms that come in the disguise of facts, starting a project, especially an improvement project, with this type of mind-set is generally a bad omen. It sets the wrong focus and leads very often to failure.

Instead, we should keep one very simple assumption in mind that I try to use as a guide for myself:

No one makes mistakes on purpose.

Or, can you really imagine your staff going to work in the morning with the question in mind “How can I mess up my workplace today?” Very unlikely.

No one makes mistakes on purpose

No one makes mistakes on purpose

Visionary and management consultant, Dr Deming has put this in numbers with “95% of the time, mistakes are caused by the system and not the worker”. With this humble assumption in mind, the focus moves from blaming people to blaming the system and avoids emotional melt-down. Whilst people do not like to be told that they are the cause of the problem, they will most likely be very supportive when they have a chance to participate in improving or redesigning the process causing the problem. And, truly enough, when looking objectively for root causes, they do present themselves as part of the system or the process resulting in another belief:

If we fix the system, people will do their job.

To fulfil this quest, real leadership is needed. If someone is not doing his job, it is the task of the leader to find out why. The leader should ask questions like:

Can Bob do the right job with the process and tools he has? Or, do we try to run a lousy process in a difficult environment with good staff? Is Bob on the right job or is your recruitment process flawed? Does Bob have the skills, knowledge, experience and the attitude to fulfil his Job Description or is this not even specified? Is Bob motivated to do so, i.e. do the KPIs guide him in the right direction? Are there KPIs at all?

Is Mary up to the task she has got or is she put on the position because she used to be good in another job and got promoted as no one else was available? Did she get all the support needed from the leader and from her colleagues to handle this difficult client?
It is very likely that flaws in the system are found by looking carefully and impartially. And, who is responsible for the system if not the leader?

In conclusion, there might be a variety of reasons why Bob and Mary make mistakes. Looking for these reasons would benefit not only them but the organisation.

And, remember, when you point the finger at someone, four other fingers point back at you. (Nizer)

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