Coaching at the top

Man On Mountain TopI was recently at a talk organized by Cambridge Network where Louise Makin was presenting her 4 years at BTG and the great transformation she managed to undertake in this company.  The first part of the presentation was factual: the company was financially in a very bad shape when she was first offered the position of CEO and she managed to lead a deep transformation in the culture and running of the company itself. A heterogeneous group of different business models and modus operandi that was carrying over £30M of losses in 2004 became a successful money making organization in 2008 when the company managed to acquire Protherics and it is now in a very strong position with £60M in the bank.  While the presentation continued into the more human aspects of running the company Ms Makin explained the continuous difficulty of running a public company where every decision has to be communicated to the market that ultimately will take decisions about buying or selling shares in the company.  She also made a great analogy in choosing the right team between the day to day running of a company with the aim to succeed and being part of an endurance sailing and running race.

She described how at the beginning decisions were tough:  redundancies were unavoidable and causing low morale. As the strategic plan proceeded it was obvious that the strong management team she put together had the right attitude and determination to succeed.  I found interesting her definition for these people is of being great givers: people that were and are truly interested in giving to the company energy, skills and full dedication without necessarily measuring their personal return.

Several times she mentioned her loneliness in running a large organization and the difficulty of sharing her doubts and insights in an environment where uncertainty can surely cause panic and instability to the market.

In my experience, once you make it to the top of an organization, you tend to share similar feelings and experiences, a great analogy to when you climb a mountain on your own.  You get to the top and, as you look around, you realise you are alone.  Many people, particularly those that report directly to you tend to assume you have something extra and they expect that extra from you, all the time.  You do not or cannot share with them your doubts and uncertainties and the pressure on you keeps growing.

In a situation like the one described above an Executive Coach can help a CEO or a top executive in their decision process, acting as a sounding board, a trusted person that can truly facilitate the decision process of the executive being coached while maintaining total confidentiality.  The main task for the coach is to ask questions, powerful open ended questions, without offering any input, suggestion or advice.  Coaching can make a big difference in the way you as the executive are running your business: best results are achieved when the coach manages to stay out of the content, that is the day to day drama, the decisions, the workload and source of stress and concentrates on the process, the coaching process of getting you toward your business goals.

Does it sound too abstract? Try it to believe it.

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This post was written by massimo on 10 March 2009

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Is your team performing at its top?

Is your company using teams as part of the development or sales organization?  Are your teams operating at their top performance level?  A group of people working together are not necessarily a team, particularly when they all do the same, or very similar, job in parallel with each other.  Often people introduce themselves as members of a team: but what is a team?  The book “The Wisdom of Teams” from Jon R. Ketzenbach and Douglas K Smith (Harvard Business School Press) defines a team as small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they are mutually accountable.

If we think about a football team each member has a precise role that operates in various positions on the pitch (complementary skills), have a common aim (scoring in order to win) and are mutually accountable (the team wins or looses, not the individual).  In the working environment a well performing team delivers results that are well beyond the sum of each individual.  Members of a team tend also to be more motivated, effective and focussed.

A new formed team can sometime fail to take off, particularly in the current economic climate, when the morale in many companies can be below average.   In some cases small groups of people are taken from various companies being downsized, they are put together and asked to operate as a team (for development, design, marketing, sales) from one day to the other.  In other cases a team becomes dysfunctional, due to politics, personal conflicts or friction among members: this can waste precious energy and resources causing long lasting damages for the companies where it operates.

Team coaching can offer a helping hand to ensure the prompt and effective start for a new team or the smooth continuity for a dysfunctional one.  The coach’s role is to manage and control the process and stay as much as possible out of the content, regardless of the kind of team being coached.  Fundamental steps to a successful team coaching is to concentrate and work on the team as an organism per se, avoiding details such as what should be done by each member of the team.  The output of a successful team coaching session will have to establish, to an adequate level of details, the following key factors:

  • A common purpose or mission for the team
  • A common performance goal
  • A commonly agreed working approach
  • A commonly agreed mutual accountability

In those cases when a team is run by a leader the approach to team coaching can take two fundamental directions:

  • The leader is coached together with the team as an integral part of it and for the duration of the coaching he/she has equal rights in the development of the above key outcomes.
  • Team and leader are coached separately: the latter can provide input to the team coach before hand, while following an executive coaching program to help him/her focussing on his/her key goals.

The team coach is usually an individual external to the organization although some larger companies are recruiting their own coaches or training internal personnel to be a coach.

Team coaching uses the same basic techniques and methodologies to other coaching practices while being distinct in two ways:

  • It works on the team as a whole: in some cases each individual or at least the ones causing difficulties might require one to one coaching in addition to the team activity.
  • It operates in 1-3 sessions lasting half day to a day instead of a larger number of shorter sessions.

Coaching can substantially improve the team’s and individual’s performance, having a track record of absolute minimum return on investment of 200%.  Can your company afford to keep its teams operating under their top performance?

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This post was written by massimo on 15 January 2009

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Setting Goals for Your New Year’s Resolution?

As the festive season approaches and everybody is busy with their Christmas shopping it becomes natural for many to sort out and complete just the essential tasks while postponing the rest to the New Year.  Don’t we all feel as if, in the New Year, days will have 30 hours and weeks will be 10 days long?  We are all convinced that we can catch up with all things we left behind and postponed.  A sad fact of life is that many plans do not even get into execution mode or, when they do, they get overridden by more urgent activities: by mid or late January we are back at square one.

New Year’s resolution for some businesses might be the implementation that new strategy, growing sales, cutting costs, gaining market share, improving morale, resolving personal conflicts, launching new products and contributing to an early end of this recession.

Personally we want to be better organized, loose those extra pounds accumulated with excessive drinking and eating, spend more time with friends and family and even having time to plan that long awaited holiday.  In the current economic climate we might have to plan about dealing with redundancy and finding a new job.

Setting goals, powerful goals, for your business and life is difficult and it is even more difficult to focus and achieve them when we have busy lives with lots of interferences.  A promise you made to yourself it is often a commitment that can be ignored when you feelfading away the energy that initially inspired it.

This is why an increasing number of individuals from all walks of life seek help from a professional coach. Being a specialist in setting goals, helping you to formulate and define them so that they can be inspiring for you, the coach can improve dramatically your focus and ensure you will achieve or even surpass your expectations.  Each goal should be realistic, e.g. you know you can achieve it, but at the same time it should be stretching your will, e.g. if it is easy to achieve there will be no challenge in going for it and little satisfaction once you achieved it.  Whether the goal is business or life related it is important to set proper strategies to define how it will be achieved and build, week after week, a set of actions to be completed toward the goal achievement.  Professional coaching, with its inspiring and self learning approach, truly involves you and your commitment to a more successful career, business and personal life.

At MaGa Coaching we are offering our experience and expertise to people in senior management positions that would like to achieve more in their professional life and in their company together with individuals that are equally inspired in achieving more and look for professional help to do so.

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This post was written by massimo on 19 December 2008

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Help for business management: consultant or coach?

Many businesses, from sole traders to medium and large organizations, are taking measures against the recession facing us. Some of them will thrive, others will carry on business as usual and others, perhaps a percentage larger than average, will eventually close down.

Those directors and business owners who are analysing their businesses to formulate a strategic plan are often encountering some recurring, well known problems:

  • Inadequate organization that sometimes duplicates tasks, costs and generates inefficiency
  • Malfunctioning communication that causes information overflow for certain people and lack of information for others
  • Inefficient management that often lacks on focus and correct prioritization of tasks
  • Personal conflicts that cause friction and further lowers the already strained morale.

In many cases hiring an external professional (EP) to help with current management issues has its advantages:

  • The EP can offer a detached view to problems and the daily routine that most employees and managers usually have
  • The EP will be unaffected by the “we always did this way” kind of mentality
  • The EP will be willing to solve problems and sort out the causes involved in them irrespectively of historical events within the organization

For many years the a business consultant was synonymous with the above indicated EP. More recently a growing number of professionals moved toward a different way of helping companies and their business: becoming a business coach.  A business coach can help identifying, addressing and solving company problems. This is done by supporting the business owner or the management team to implement a solution that suits their company, management style and available resources in terms of people and capital.

A consultant, whether an independent freelance or part of a consultancy firm, tends to be highly specialized and specific in the tasks to be carried out. Nonetheless many people that used a consultant for their organization have complained about one main aspect of consultancy practice: consultants are in fact analyzing problems very well, with tools and methodologies that are not necessarily obvious or well known, but then they deliver a report that states what wrong and eventually how to address it. Another aspect of consultancy that can be often overlooked is the quality of people found in the organization they are consulting. Not every manager or entrepreneur has the same business school preparation that most consultants have. The suggested solutions might be difficult if not impossible to implement with the available resources and so the whole plan falls apart.

In a coaching approach problems are truly solved by the manager or the executive being coached. The coach will not simply suggest a solution expecting an automatic implementation. In fact suggesting is definitely the last thing that coaching offers: it supports the client to reach the solution with a structured and properly organized conversation, guiding the client to take action and ensuring these actions deliver the expected results.

While consultants are an excellent way of addressing business issues and problems providing specialized help in very specific sectors the business coach will help focussing on existing, perhaps under utilized skills and talent pulling the solution from the inside, in a very cost effective way.

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This post was written by massimo on 27 November 2008

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Coaching For Redundancy

Cambridge is one of the strongest business centres in the country: nonetheless many companies are and will be affected by recession more than others. While some of the best known names in the high tech scene have firmly locked their head count others realized they need to reduce costs, often by laying off part of their staff.

It is a fact that only about 20% of people, 1 in 5 individuals, actually enjoy their job. It happened that many of us, at some point in our lives, fell into jobs almost by accident or (lack of) opportunity and then get stuck with them for a long time. On the other hand most of the clients I have worked with in my career, once they have been made redundant have moved on to something better. For some people redundancy can have detrimental effects on their self confidence and hinder their future employability.

Redundancy can push individuals out of their comfort zone but many of them, with a little help, can transform an unpleasant experience into a positive change. Going through a challenge makes you even more resourceful: coaching is great to capitalize on the positive and thrive.

Coaching is an excellent tool to help staff being made redundant and the results are all positive and measurable. A coach can help the employee to set goals within their working and private life and explore those possibilities that were perhaps hidden or latent. The coach can also be:

  • Inspiring them to think out of the box and explore what he/she really wants to do
  • Supporting them in the low moments that can be caused by uncertainty and discomfort
  • Encouraging them to go the extra mile, to be bold and challenge their own pre-set limits

To date our company helped people on both sides of employment: organizations that wanted to help their personnel and also individuals that once made redundant felt they needed a boost in their confidence and possibilities in order to move on and look for new challenges.

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This post was written by massimo on 4 November 2008

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I Shall Be a Coach

Coach is the buzzword of the last few years. All of a sudden we are literally surrounded by coaches. A term that was once used just by sport trainers and team managers is now synonymous of many more professions. A non exhaustive list includes Life Coaches, Personal Coaches, Career Coaches, Speech Coaches, Voice Coaches, Performance Coaches, Crisis Coaches, Team Coaches, Business Coaches and Executive Coaches just to mention the best known ones.

For many people the transition between Instructor, Trainer or Consultant to Coach was just matter of changing their business cards. For others, arrived at an age when they feel they have enough experience to be Mentors in some discipline, they also call themselves Coach. So what happens to us coaches when we get mixed and confused with people that, with all due respect for their professionalism and experience, are not coaches as such but they manage to confuse our prospects? We are going to meet a misunderstood and uninformed audience.

When attending networking events I find interesting that some people are surprised of finding out how I work and the kind of outcomes that they should expect from my services. I explain that “I help managers and business owners to improve their business, develop their staff and increase their sales”: the fact is that some people simply cannot do all by themselves.

Coaching, at least the coaching methodology that I practice is about asking questions, listening to the answers and asking more questions until a solution emerges. Solutions always involve actions: that’s the most effective part of coaching.  Finally coaching is about getting you into action: rather than leaving a should do but…” attitude that simply helps procrastination and stress derived from lack of results, coaching instills a “do by such and such date” mind frame that gets you moving and achieving results.

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This post was written by massimo on 30 October 2008

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Coaching What?

Coaching has been around for some time, many decades: the term is usually very common and well understood when talking about sports coaching. At the same time definitions like life coaching, personal coaching, business coaching and executive coaching are much more recent in history: many people fail to recognise the term or have a very vague, often incorrect, idea about what that mean. While in the US the concept of personal coaching has been around for 20 years or more the in UK and the rest of Anglophone countries people with 10 years of experience are considered absolute gurus.

The sport coach is usually not the super expert or the retired champion: he is somebody that surely knows the sport but also has the right knowledge, techniques and personality to inspire and motivate the people he/she is coaching. We know of football, tennis, rugby or other sport coaches and some of them are real celebrities: behind a great champion or team is always a great coach.

A professional personal coach is an individual that usually mixes a broad background of experiences with one, often several, coaching qualifications that allow him/her to coach effectively a range of clients. Some coaches specialize in very specific subjects like career or self esteem while others tend to have a more general approach. In my experience business and executive coaches need to have the right management background, in order to have a common language with their client when coaching is centred on business.

Coaching, in its simple definition, is about asking questions, the right questions to help the client doing the appropriate thinking around his/her situation that often involves a dilemma his/she is trying to solve. For these reasons a coach should refrain from giving advice. Advice is my solution to your issue: you might like the advice and take it on board but it is proven that in the long term real solutions are the ones you identify by yourself. Once the right solution or direction has been identified then coaching is about action, getting the client to commit to a set of actions that will help delivering the results and achieving the goal.

So if you have a friend, a colleague or a relative that says “I would (should) really loose weight (or do more exercise, or socialize more or sell more) but…I cannot (I don’t have time, it’s the wrong moment)” then the right suggestion might be: “sounds like you need a coach”.

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This post was written by massimo on 21 October 2008

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