SUCCESS STORY
An Integrated Approach to Strategic Business Coaching
by Ernesto Olascoaga

In 1983, Volkswagen devised the concept of an IT company that functioned as an internal service provider. In 1998, VW-GEDAS became gedas, a separate business entity and one of Germany's leading system integrators, serving clients inside and outside the VW Group.

In 2006, under the direction of new CEO, Federico Casas Alatriste, coaching was used by gedas Mexico as an integrated approach to redirect efforts toward three major business imperatives: Exploring new markets, targeting new clients, and improving strategies and work methods. At the time of the coaching process, gedas was in the process of merging with T-Systems to become gedas, a member of T-Systems.

The Partnership

Laura Ceballos, human capital manager, and María Eugenia Díaz Mercado, organizational development coordinator, conducted a 360-diagnostic process to identify the leadership competencies required for the company to become more competitive in the global marketplace. They then partnered with business coach, Dr. Ernesto Olascoaga to design and implement the change process, which had two major goals. First, that all managers understand the company's strategic imperatives. Second, that they work as a team to implement efforts to grow in a competitive market.

The Challenge

With three main clusters of needs, the first revolved around the business imperatives. The second related to developing the coaching competencies of top management, and the third to developing leadership and management competencies in middle management. Detected in the 360-diagnostic were a lack of both teamwork and entrepreneurial attitude. In addition, business results were below annual goals.

The Approach

Design Principles

The coaching process was designed according to the following principles:

  • Communicate key business imperatives to all participants
  • Gain commitment from stakeholders
  • Develop awareness and link significant action to each coaching intervention
  • Include follow-up
  • Review and celebrate progress in a formal closing
  • Define next steps with follow-up commitments

Top management agreed to lead the process using the collaborative research approach suggested by David Coghlan, in which each learning cycle follows four stages: Diagnosis, planning, action, and evaluation.1 Awareness of relevant issues is encouraged during each cycle, which affects four subsystems: Individual, interaction, team, and organization.

Strategic Initiatives

Top managers identified the initiatives that they considered most critical to the business imperatives. These were then plotted against the list of middle managers. For each of the eight initiatives identified, a top manager was designated as its team sponsor and members of a small group of middle managers were assigned as team members. The coaching process was designed to drive the development of required competencies and to provide support to each team.

Kick-off Meeting

In June 2006, during the kick-off meeting, the CEO explained his vision for the company and the implications of the three imperatives. Then, each sponsor presented the main objective and expected deliverables for the respective initiative. An open discussion followed these presentations, and it became clear that deliverables for each team should include a detailed analysis of the current and desired situation, as well as an action plan.

The coaching process and objectives of the process were then explained to all teams. These were:

  • To develop the coaching competencies of top management
  • To develop the leadership and managerial skills of middle management
  • To practice the new skills in the strategic initiative teams
  • To achieve the deliverables in each initiative with the result that the company would align and move towards the business imperatives

The Coaching Process

The coaching process considered the interventions of both the top-management team and middle managers.

The Top-Management Team

The top-management team participated in both group and individual coaching. The Caliper Profile was used to help each sponsor understand his/her motivators and behaviors and to devise an action plan for consolidating strengths and managing behavioral opportunities.

Each sponsor had four individual coaching sessions with the business coach. These were built around the individual's development plan. The team profile was used to help team members understand the opportunities they had to improve and to provide support to the sponsors of each initiative. During several sessions feedforward was used. This methodology emphasizes future opportunities rather than rehashing old events.2

Middle Managers

Using the 360 diagnosis, five competencies were identified that were important for the middle managers to develop: Alignment to strategy, leadership skills, service orientation to clients, development of high-performing teams, and change management. A one-day workshop was structured for each of these topics.

The Coaching Model

The chart below shows the coaching model.

The Value Delivered

Coaching Process Follow-up

Each team met as necessary to work on the initiatives. The sponsor was available as needed and functioned as the team guide. Each sponsor had several individual coaching sessions around his/her leadership, which included improving support for initiative team members. Sponsors also provided coaching to their teams.

Dr. Olascoaga held three sessions with each sponsor and his/her team to review progress on both task and team process issues. During the sessions, teams discussed the learning experience, and identified practical applications of included concepts and exercises. They reviewed their progress, identifying possible improvements for the next workshop.

Comments and suggestions from middle managers and sponsors were analyzed during top management sessions, and two-way communication was encouraged between top and middle managers.

Coaching Process Evaluation

In addition to session evaluations, a final evaluation was included at the end of the last workshop. Most teams reported improvement. The following table shows the average results from each team.

Issue

Level of improvement

Trust

37%

Support

41%

Open communication

32%

Listening

30%

Strategic goals understanding

35%

Commitment to goal achievement

26%

Conflict management

26%

Use of skills and competencies

32%

Follow-up of action plans

42%

Commitment to quality

27%

Image projected to co-workers

27%

Achieved results

38%

During the last team coaching session, participants analyzed which expectations were achieved and which were below their expectations.

They recognized improvements in the following:

  • Satisfaction for participating and delivering results through a strategic project that challenged their assumptions
  • Awareness of leadership strengths and weaknesses and learning process for competencies development
  • Interdisciplinary team performance
  • Change management
  • Market understanding
  • Customer service orientation
  • Strategic thinking
  • Commitment to explore business alternatives
  • Global potential
  • Celebration of initial results
  • Clarification of implementation plans

Expectations not met included the following:

  • Participation of some team members
  • Co-ordination and support from some sponsors
  • Some projects did not achieve the required level of results
  • Time spent on each project

Suggestions for improving the learning process included the following:

  • Clarify objectives of strategic initiatives earlier
  • Develop common vision for each project
  • Identify resources required for each initiative
  • Identify empowerment levels required to speed up the change process
  • Increase the interaction among top management and middle management

Celebration

Top management suggested keeping track of the level of progress and making a formal evaluation of each team in order to award a symbolic prize to the best team. This helped organization leaders reinforce awareness, feedforward, and recognition skills, and team members appreciated and enjoyed the process.

Follow-up

Though the merge with T-Systems affected the expected implementation, most teams are applying their strategic initiatives according to the action plans. Top management will initiate the next collaborative research cycle and has identified specific coaching needs for 2007. The plans have been approved to reinforce the needs of key leaders and teams in order that they continue acting on the strategic imperatives.

1 Coghlan, D. 2001. "Putting 'Research' Back into OD and Action Research: A Call to OD Practitioners." Organization Development Journal, 20 (1), 62-65. See also, Coghlan, D., & Brannick, T. 2001. Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

2 Goldsmith, M. Feb. 2003."Feedforward" Executive Excellence; 20, 2; ABI/INFORM Global pg. 15

Ernesto Olascoaga(Mexico), is the founder and CEO of Grupo Visión Global (GVG), a consulting firm since 1976. With more than 30 years of experience as a business coach and consultant, Ernesto specializes in strategic change management, leadership development and process redesign for collaborative work systems. Read more about Ernesto in the WABC Coach Directory. Ernesto can be reached by email at eolascoaga@gvg.com.mx.

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