HSBC is a worldwide leading banking company with 25,000 employees and 2,000 managing directors in México. In 2007, HSBC started a coaching program as part of its leadership talent development strategy. HSBC created a poll for five young executives to monitor the first coaching program in HSBC México. Three coaches from different firms were selected, among them Enrique López de los Ríos of Capital Estratégico, who describes here the coaching model that was used in this experience. For this article, the author asked one of the executives of the poll his testimony about the process, the results and the "Return On Investment" (ROI). The executive's name is Martin Barrios, who at 33 is Electronic Banking Sales Director.
"The prize seemed punishment."
That is what Martin Barrios thought one night near the end of 2006 when he received an email telling him that HSBC was inviting him to start a coaching process. The notice was not good for Martin, an executive working on the 29th floor of HSBC tower in Paseo de la Reforma Avenue in México City. Martin, a 33-year-old executive, had recently been appointed director of Electronic Banking of HSBC. He was leading a team of 16 persons.
"On the one hand, they tell me I'm a great element, with a great future in the organization. They promoted me and then, suddenly, they send me to a psychologist! What did I do wrong?" Martin did not know anyone who had been in a similar process. Later on, he realized that the bank uses coaching all over the world.
The first task for Martin and the other four coachees was to choose their coach. He had to interview three professionals from different companies and finally chose me. For Martin, it was very important to choose someone with a professional business career, someone he would feel confident talking to about personal and business topics. In his own words, Martin said he chose me because I challenged him with his own questions. As he said, "Enrique told me: ‘I won't have answers for all your questions; instead I will have questions for all your questions.' In that moment I realized that he would help me, because with his questions he provokes me and challenges me."
There were three main challenges. First, to demonstrate the "ROI" of a coaching program and to extend it to more than 2000 directors of HSBC. Second, to accelerate the management maturity of a group of recently promoted, young, high-potential directors. Third, to challenge this group of international young executives who were already successful without coaching.
With Martin and the other four directors, I used a coaching model to develop leader talent, which was supported by four transformation levers: perception, emotion, experience and learning.
The four levers connect constantly and continuously. With the perception lever, the coachee learns how to interpret reality in a different and enriched way. With the emotions lever, the coachee learns how to live his/her emotions and to generate energy to live life from them. With the experience lever, the coachee learns how to live in the present time adding value to his/her circumstance and his/her reality. With the learning lever, the coachee learns how to learn and to process the experience.
Figure 1: Transformation Levers
We programmed 20 weekly sessions during 2007, each using the following four steps:
Step 1: Creating "context"
The first few minutes of the interview were dedicated to building rapport and creating the right atmosphere for the coaching process (i.e., comfortable and trusting).
Step 2: Inquiring
Next, the coach asked questions about an "issue" brought to the session by the coachee. The "issue" represented a troubling situation with which the coachee did not know how to deal. The task of the coach was to discover the structure of the issue by asking focused questions that explored three different fields: language (meanings and beliefs), body and emotions. Frequently "issues" corresponded to the coachee's professional or working life, but not exclusively. Issues could relate to other themes, such as health, family, patrimony, dreams, beliefs, future, past, passion, life project, career, etc.
Step 3: Intervention
With all the information gathered by the coach in step 2, the coach then designed a specific technique to help the coachee explore alternatives. The technique was designed from the resources of the "arsenal" of the coach. The purpose was to help the coachee to broaden his/her view of the issue and to bring to light new possibilities.
Step 4: Learning
The last step used in the method implicated what the coachee would do to his or her life, be it a new vision or new options. In this step, the coachee designed a specific task to reinforce what had been learned.
- Preliminary interview: This first session was informative and had the purpose of focusing the process and creating intention to the goals. This first approach helped the coach understand the situation of the coachee and the coachee to understand the process and to set goals.
- Competencies description: We used the DISC tool (a product of Human Perspectives International), which shows characteristics of the person's behavior in four tendencies: dominant, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. Martin´s DISC profile marked a trend to D (dominant), which meant that he was a results-oriented person. He was also oriented to I (influence) with a tendency to convince or influence others. The result of this combination is an excellent profile for sales. Less developed were S (steadiness), which meant that he was less stable with relationships and circumstances, and C (conscientiousness), which meant that he had not developed control aspects and follow-up.
Figure 2: Martin Barrios' DISC
- Radial valuation: Coaching is a process that helps people develop competencies to become leaders or better leaders. That is the reason why radial valuations are very helpful in the process. In this evaluation we surveyed collaborators, colleagues, customers and Martin's boss to evaluate him according to the competencies and values that we show below.
- Meeting with the boss: In the middle of the process, the coach had an appointment with the executive´s boss to report advances. In this meeting, members of the Development and Learning department of HSBC México were also present. This interview also had the purpose of hearing feedback from the boss as well as the development and learning team to focus the second half of the coaching process.
- FOCUS: Based on the tools referred to previously, the coaching process was focused on four main chapters of the coaching model: knowledge, solution of the problem, social relationships and business results.
Figure 3: FOCUS
- Life project: Coaching works in the future, and as a systemic model it involves all the coachee's life areas: professional/work life, personal life, family and social life and patrimony. That's why this coaching process considered designing long-, mid- and short-term objectives in the different areas of the coachee´s life.
- Business project: As the central topic of the coaching process, the coach helped the coachee work with the mission, vision, values, strategy, long- and short-term goals, as well as the structure of the business of the coachee.
The Value Delivered
In Martin's words, "The process was focused on developing communication and leadership skills, as well as the relationship with my team and the way I managed my emotions. The coaching process helped me to improve my relationship with customers and to improve my leadership skills. I designed my goals in the long- and short-term."
Martin took advantage of the process. He learned how to "release the helm." It was difficult for him to let his collaborators make decisions. "I always wanted to assume the responsibility by myself and put people beside." Martin said.
Martin also said, "During my coaching process I paid more than what I would have paid in a good business school updating program." And the results Martin achieved increased by 90 percent in only eight months. "I also achieved a new shared vision. I renewed the decision-making model of my team, I also helped rotate my people in a positive way and bring people with added experience to HSBC."
Some months after finishing the coaching process, Martin Barrios still appreciates the changes. "Now I am more visionary, I turned the organizational chart. Now I develop people. Before the process I was arrogant. Now I give my support. I don't help." In the list of goals Martin made with Enrique, there is only one more to achieve: buying a house. "But I will get it this year!"
HSBC at the moment is adding more directors who are being coached, and it is working to improve the process.