Case Studies from Organisations
Much of my work involves working to improve communications between people in organisations. This is perhaps a reflection of the fact that the vast majority of organisations experience problems in this area from time to time. In some organisations the problem is so serious that it has a significant effect on the performance of the organisation, ultimately reflecting in its efficiency or the bottom line. Even highly successful organisations often find that addressing communications issues can enhance their success still further.
This was the case with a large organisation I worked with. Highly successful and world-renowned as leaders in their field, they nevertheless recognised that a great deal of time was being lost addressing the consequences of problems caused by poor communications between individuals and across departments.
I first researched the situation, convening informal groups with employees at different levels and quickly realised that much of the problem was cultural in nature. The organisation had "grown-up" with a particular way of doing things that might have worked well when they had relatively few employees and a fairly simple structure. However, the company had grown significantly in recent years but no one had ever thought to look at the policies and procedures they had in place for communicating with each other. Managers were suffering under what they experienced as a barrage of information and senior executives had failed to distinguish between "transmission" and communication. There was an over reliance on electronic media, especially e-mail and a failure to recognise the value of the personal touch in certain situations.
Having analysed the problem and helped management to be aware of the issues, I set about agreeing objectives and then put in place a programme of activities designed to achieve them. For its part, the organisation put in place a review of the value and usefulness of communications. Everything was subjected to scrutiny and aspects which no longer served a useful purpose were abandoned. New policies were agreed and put in place. For my part, I worked with certain key individuals on communications skills coaching, including work designed to increase the clarity of communications whilst reducing the volume. Executives were taught to use "headlining" to emphasise key messages upfront and to make detailed information easier to access.
Improving Your Ability to Manage People
Managing people is one of the most challenging aspects of work yet many people who get promoted into management roles achieve this on the basis of their abilities in their chosen role, rather than their skills as a manager. Indeed, may people find themselves feeling ill-equipped for the challenge of managing teams, with their diverse ranges of abilities, personalities, 'hang-ups' and needs. No surprise then that much of my work involves coaching managers to develop their abilities and their confidence as leaders.
Gerard was the Operations Director of a company employing over 200 people. He left school at 18 with few formal qualifications then travelled the world, taking casual work to pay his way and ending up eventually in the US. Now aged 20, he attended a selection day for a firm of Stockbrokers. Part of the process involved candidates being given $30 and being told to go away and make as much money as possible with it by the end of the day (this was of course the 1980s!)
Somewhat dismayed and feeling doomed to failure, he went and sat in a bar where he was approached by a guy selling cigars from a box. He quizzed the guy and discovered he had bought them down at the docks where sailors landing from Cuba would make a bit on the side by 'importing' the cigars. Gerard went down to the docks, bought a box of Havanas and went round the fashionable bars at lunchtime selling to execs in smart suits. By 3pm he had turned a profit of over $200, easily beating the other candidates and landing a job as a trainee.
He went on the build on this success and became a highly successful broker before recognising that he had to get out to preserve his sanity. On his return to the UK he had several sales roles before joining his current firm, eventually becoming UK Sales Manager before being promoted to Ops Director, in charge of all Operations, including Sales and Customer Services.
A success story no doubt but when Gerard came to me he was low in confidence, rather down and feeling somewhat overwhelmed in his new role. Worse still, he had been accused of bullying by a subordinate who had made a formal complaint against him. This had further lowered his confidence because there was now a question mark against his ability to manage people effectively, something that had never been a problem when he led the sales team. His firm suggested he might benefit from working with me and funded his coaching, based on training and development activities I had undertaken for them in the past.
The first thing I did was invite Gerard to tell me his 'life story'. I wanted to get to know this man, understand his perspective on life and importantly, on himself. I quickly realised that Gerard did not see himself as successful. He told his story, including the incident above, in a very 'matter of fact' way, failing to acknowledge that, in my opinion, it was a pretty remarkable story! In his mind and throughout his career, Gerard had been 'lucky'; it had been a case, according to him, of 'right place, right time', even on occasions, 'blagging' his way into or out of situations. The long and short of it was that Gerard felt he was a 'fraud' who had 'got away with it'; at times he had been 'fooling' his various employers, only now he had been 'found out' - he couldn't really manage that level of responsibility and this was 'proved', he said, by the serious complaint now lodged against him.
A key tenet of Coaching is that what you believe becomes your reality. Gerard's beliefs were becoming overwhelming and he was reacting to that 'reality' accordingly. Sure, there were new challenges and stresses in the job but importantly, it was his belief that it was too much for him that was doing the damage. If he really were out of his depth then yes, that would have been an anxiety-provoking and therefore stressful, even depressing, situation to be in. Gerard imagined failure, job loss, money worries and never being able to get a decent job again. It was this imagined future that was doing the damage. Robbed of confidence, stressed, short of sleep and tense, he probably was making poor decisions and sometimes reacting badly with his staff and peers. Fortunately, his fellow directors recognised the situation for what it was and asked me to help.
It was no use merely challenging Gerard's reality. For one thing he was a tough and experienced negotiator and I probably would have lost! More importantly, that's not how I work. I feel I have to honour each individual's right to be who they are, to do otherwise is plain disrespectful. But what I could do was invite Gerard to take a journey with me to a different place outside of himself. I asked him to take a look at various points in his lifetime, from the point of view of a bystander, inviting him to share with me what he saw from this perspective. We then began the process of taking stock, of auditing his skill set, taking this with us as we returned to the present day. This process was literally quite shocking for Gerard and he became quite emotional at times as he began to know himself as never before.
Next, I spent some time 'shadowing' him at work, observing him in his interactions with others and later looking with him at the process in terms of communications and the 'six point' breakdown of interactions. In part, this includes looking at what he was feeling, what he imagined they thought he was feeling, what he imagined they were feeling and so on. There was important learning here for Gerard in terms of how his lack of confidence was increasing his defensiveness and how this was tending to make others more aggressive in their interactions with him. He, for his part, was responding in kind.
We also did work on recognising both overt and hidden needs in others, teaching Gerard to respond more appropriately and completely as he learned that what people ask for isn't always what they want. He also began to see how managing his sales force had required aspects of himself that he found easy to relate to in others. He realised that he actually found less confident people to be more difficult to manage, until he realised why; he perceived their 'neediness' as a pull on aspects of himself that he had always chosen to deny. Working with me in the coaching process, acknowledging his own needs as our relationship strengthened, actually helped him to resolve this issue when dealing with others. He accepted that, as a senior manager with a great many staff, there would be times when they would look to him for emotional support. Unless he acknowledged and responded to these needs, he might be seen as, at best 'cold' but at worst, perhaps a bully.
In a matter of two to three months Gerard transformed his management style. He was able to resolve the complaint against him by asking for a chance to have a frank and open discussion with the complainant in which he acknowledged and regretted his previous approach. He apologised and offered support in the future.
Gerard went on with his colleagues to take his organisation to great success, floating it as a PLC before leaving to take a role as Chairman of a not-for-profit organisation that works to fight social injustice. He recently asked me to do some work with his new senior management team and true to form he asked for a discount!
Page modified May 5 2013