Plain and Simple: Powerful Guidelines for Coaching in Troubled Times, By David Noer

Posted by Dr. David Noer

A long-term client, whom I thought I knew well, surprised me by breaking down during a recent session. The tears and emotional anguish were in polar opposition to the conservative culture of his firm and his past rational, controlled behavioral pattern. We had previously worked on issues such as his interactions with his board, relationships with his subordinate vice presidents and a post-merger strategy. Now, as a result of the economic meltdown, his business was facing massive layoffs, his personal wealth had significantly eroded, the viability of his firm was uncertain and his past leadership was being openly questioned. The context of our coaching relationship had precipitously changed from "traditional" business issues to dealing with his sense of relevance, purpose and societal contribution. This wasn't an isolated incident. As the financial crisis deepens, I'm finding that the context of more and more of my coaching interactions is moving in this direction. Since many of my colleagues are also facing this change, I'll share four guidelines that have helped me help my clients in these troubled times.

1. Help is defined by the helpee, not the helper.

I learned this deceptively simple phrase from the late Pat Williams, (founder of the Pepperdine MSOD program) and, over the years, have increasingly come to appreciate its relevance to a coaching relationship. When a client is caught up in a crisis of purpose, competence and self-esteem, facts, figures, models, 360-degree feedback reports and flow charts don't help-in fact, they get in the way. The currency of the realm is feelings and emotions, not facts and figures. Logical analysis and rational planning may help the coach feel competent, but they will only make the coachee feel worse. Anyone who has had an argument with a significant other and attempted to defuse their emotional issues by logical analysis to prove that they "shouldn't feel that way" will understand that you don't solve a "heart" (emotions and feelings) problem with a "head" (data and logic) process.

In a coaching relationship, the more a client's "heart" issues are responded to by the coach's "head" solutions, the wider the empathy gap. What is necessary before helping the client move forward are the basic skills of empathetic listening, reflecting feelings and emotions, and the ability to form an authentic, nonjudgmental, helping relationship. I deal primarily with top managers, and including their family, I'm frequently the only one they feel they can open up to. In these unsettling times, we can often be of more service to our clients by simply giving them empathy rather than supplying them with our "scientific" tools.

2. Don't be compulsive about boundaries.

I once worked with a bright but inexperienced coach who lost a valuable client by, when in a very teachable moment, disengaging and indicating that the client needed to talk to a licensed clinical psychologist. Business coaches should not practice therapy; most are not licensed or trained, and that is not our business purpose. If we are doing our job correctly, we are, however, engaged in a client-centered helping relationship and that is, in itself, therapeutic. We don't have to be licensed clinicians to be good listeners, reflect feelings and emotions, and help our clients articulate debilitating feelings. It is essential to know and adhere to our limits, but it is also important that we don't let artificial boundaries limit our abilities to help our clients. Another Pat Williams saying is "...to meet your clients where they are, not where you want them to be." In a time of business discontinuity we need to have the skills to meet them in the messy and unpredictable world of uncertainty and personal doubt.

3. Don't be a solution in search of a problem.

Most business coaches have a favorite technique or approach. Whether it is a diagnostic tool, an analytical process or a structured behavioral rehearsal process, we all have preferred mental models that guide us. Unfortunately, I have found that, despite diagnostic evidence to the contrary, too many coaches become locked into a single technique.

I recently followed a coach into a textile manufacturing company. My client was the vice president of manufacturing and was facing a massive downsizing triggered by a strategic decision to move operations to China. What he needed was help in dealing with the layoff survivors and in teaching his managers to facilitate venting sessions and formulate a positive vision for the remaining work force. What his original displaced coach kept pushing was a 360-degree feedback process. No doubt 360-degree feedback would, at some point, be useful for this vice president, but given the current environment, it would at best be a distraction. In order to be relevant to our clients, we need the discipline to engage in a diagnostic process and the skills to have a contingent repertoire of coaching interventions.

4. Make the client an individual, not an organization.

Almost always, helping the individual client helps the organization in the long term. However, in the short term, as when the best solution for the client is to help them leave the organization, the connection is not so clear. I have very few iron-clad rules; however, one that has been of great help is to always contract with the person. I don't turn down assignments if my fee comes out of a "corporate" account, but I strongly prefer it come from the budget of the individual client and, if not, I make my costs very visible. In a time of restructuring, mergers, downsizing and financial crisis, most executive clients are examining their life and career goals. It is not possible to engage in an authentic helping relationship if the coach has divided loyalties between the organization and the individual client.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (February 2009, Volume 5, Issue 1). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Coaching for Engagement and Retention

Posted by WABC

By Beverly Crowell and Beverly Kaye

In today's tough economic times it seems pretty crazy to be talking about employee engagement and retention. If so, then crazy is what all smart managers need to be a little of right now. Today, more than ever, employees are stressed out, wigged out, and even a little freaked out by what's happening in the economy. News reports detail who is losing what, where, and when. Distracting? You bet! Intimidating to those with good jobs? Most definitely!

All employees, even the best and brightest, can't help but be affected by the economic downturn— wondering what's next, who's next, and if it will be them. In fact, the stress is thought to be greater and last longer for those who survive cutbacks. Those who are not at risk of losing their jobs have to pick up the slack created by a leaner workforce and increasing responsibilities, as well as take part in restructuring and realignment.

Organisations are spending big money in annual employee satisfaction surveys and action plans to sustain a workforce that is engaged and productive. These action plans generally create new programs, resources, changes in policy, and some measurable, short-term victories. An organization we've been in touch with recently found that lack of career development opportunities was cited by employees as a key source of dissatisfaction. A team was assembled to address the problem and as a result, a state-of-the-art career resource center was created. Great news, except for the employee who asked his boss if he could go to the center one day and heard, "You don't have time for that right now. I need you to get the work done at your desk."

For this manager and many like him, engagement and retention consists of the annual employee satisfaction survey and the "tedious" action plan that has to be created as a result. What he fails to realize is that all the best plans can and will fall short if they aren't supported. That's where coaching for engagement and retention can create a sustained and measurable difference.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, disengaged workers cost the U.S. economy more than $300 billion annually. The task of re-engaging those who "quit and stay" falls on the shoulders of the leadership and management team. While many managers know the importance of engaging this talent, the "how" is often left up to chance.

Coaching for engagement and retention reduces the risk and empowers leaders in any organization to tap into their employees' discretionary effort and bring that energy into the workplace. When the coaching relationship is directed at these issues, it helps managers find simple, yet meaningful, ways to engage this talent beyond everyday distractions.

A skilled engagement coach must begin by understanding the unique employee engagement and retention challenges of each manager. This work is done through the manager, not directly with individual employees. If employee engagement, satisfaction, or culture surveys are readily available, the coach can work directly with the manager to study the results and identify key issues and opportunities. The good news about these surveys is that they provide a great place to begin analysis because individual managers can learn about the engagement needs of their team. They are only a start, however. The true value comes from frequent conversations. Surveys set the tone, but it's the conversations that set the direction.

Managers have a huge impact in retaining and engaging people. Employees want this relationship. They feel engaged by their work and cared for by their organisations when they are able to have open, honest, two-way conversations about their ideas, careers, motivations, and challenges. They need managers who listen to their perspectives, offer their own points of view, and provide encouragement, guidance, and opportunities. If individuals feel heard, understood, and valued by their manager, they commit more of their energy and enthusiasm.

One of the difficulties that a coach will most likely encounter is that although managers have the best of intentions, they feel that time is their enemy. Coaches must work with managers to help them realize that time isn't the enemy, but their perceptions are. The reality is that engagement builds or diminishes in every interaction between a manager and an employee. So it's often not just about doing more, but "doing with purpose." Purposeful engagement, simply put, is the ability to focus on employee talent in every interaction. It's the realization that, as a manager, you don't necessarily have to do more to engage your employees, but you need to commit to specific actions that meet the engagement needs of each employee. The ongoing challenge, however, is that what employees want or need is as different as each person, so no "one-size-fits-all" approach will work.

Once a manager accepts this responsibility, the coach can serve as a resource to generate ideas based on what managers are learning in their conversations and interactions with employees. The coach works with the manager to demonstrate the difference between engagement and performance. Managers and employees alike are accustomed to talking about performance-what engages us is a different story. Good engagement conversations can feel like you're "peeling an onion" with the objective of getting to the true motivations of each employee.

An employee wants more opportunities to learn and grow? The manager might consider the following:

  • Conduct a career conversation to learn more about their unique skills, interests, and values. Offer your perspective, discuss trends and options, and co-design a career action plan.
  • Link employees to others inside or outside the organisation who can help them achieve their professional goals.
  • Take time to mentor your employees. Share your success stories and failures. Teach organisational realities and let your employees mentor you too.

Another employee doesn't feel valued by you or the organisation? Build loyalty by trying the following:

  • Recognize employees for a job well done. Offer praise that is specific, purposeful, and tailored to each employee.
  • Notice your employees. Pay attention as you walk down the halls and say hello to them by name.
  • Get honest feedback and a clear picture of how you look to others. Do you have any high-risk behaviors that may be getting in the way of your efforts?

All your employees want to work in an environment that they love. Try implementing some of the following:

  • Have fun at work. Do something new or different, or create an environment where it's okay to laugh and smile.
  • Show enthusiasm for what you do; it will encourage others to do the same. Disengaged managers will have a tough time engaging their employees.
  • Values define what we consider to be important. The more employee values align with their work, the more they will find it meaningful, purposeful, and important. Ask your employees, "What makes for a really great day?" or "What do you need most from your work?"

So much of coaching for engagement revolves around commonsense approaches to good leadership. Alas, common sense is often uncommonly practiced. The coaching partnership can do more than provide insight to managers; it can also be the motivation managers need to do what they know should be done. Managers with engagement coaches often remark that it's the coaching that reminds them to put these commonsense strategies into practice.  Here are some examples of the actions managers in one organization implemented:

  • Helped a "disengaged" direct report open up about real concerns, which led to productive career discussions about future options and receptivity to performance improvement ideas in the sort run.
  • Conducted a series of relationship-building phone conversations with remote employees, combined with intentional in-person get-acquainted meetings when onsite to build trust and rapport with new direct report staff.
  • Conducted monthly debriefings after each closing period to identify what went well and what could be improved the next month.
  • Created motivational Monday morning e-messages to the group as a way to get the week started positively. The manager received many compliments from the team for doing this.

The true mark of success happens when managers assume the role of engagement coaches in their organizations. While managers can be the catalyst for good engagement and retention, it's the employee who must step up to identify what actions they can take to find more satisfaction in the workplace. Managers with a good handle on engagement can empower employees to take control of their own workplace satisfaction.

Engagement and retention are critical in today's workplace. If the coaching relationship goes well, it will extend beyond the individual manager and his/her team. It will impact others in the organization. Coaching for engagement and retention can create managers who think of their talent first and employees who truly commit to bringing the best of their capabilities to the organisation.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 2). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

Beverly Kaye, Founder and CEO of Career Systems International, is an internationally recognised authority on career issues, focusing on retention and engagement in the workplace. She is the author of Up Is Not the Only Way: A Guide to Developing Workforce Talent (Davies-Black, 2002[1997]) and the co-author of Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay (Berrett-Koehler, 2001 [1999]) and Love It, Don’t Leave It: 26 Ways to Get What You Want Out of Work (Berrett-Koehler, 2003).

Beverly Crowell, Senior Consultant for Career Systems International, specialises in the fields of employee engagement and retention, career development, and coaching. She currently provides employee engagement and retention coaching to senior leaders in the healthcare and food service industries.

Contact the authors.

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A New Twist on an Old Concept: Return on Crisis (ROC)

Posted by WABC

By Omar Khan and Maggie van de Griend

We've heard people saying "don't waste a crisis." There's something to that. When facing a crisis, we're inevitably invested in it, whether we'd like to be or not. The crisis influences the competitive landscape, our customers, our teams, our financial options, and so on. So how do we get the most out of the investment, the challenge, and the potential opportunities? How do we lead in order to get the best possible return on crisis (ROC)?

Leaders may wish the financial crisis hadn't happened on their watch. On the other hand, one of the key ways leaders are known is by the impact they have on a situation, on the value they add to whatever status quo is around. For leaders eager and willing to show their mettle, this may even be the best possible time. Winston Churchill once said that his entire life had been a preparation for this moment. "This moment" for him was World War II. For business leaders today, it may be what we are calling The Great Recession.

Why Do You Believe Getting a Return on Crisis Is Possible?

Return on crisis is possible. In fact, some of today's major companies were formed during deep recessions, including GE, Hyatt, Burger King, Federal Express, Microsoft, CNN, Intel, and Wikipedia. Some famous companies were born during the Great Depression, among them HP, Revlon, Fortune Magazine (marvelously ironic) and Motorola. And companies like Google and PayPal were able to drive dramatic growth even during the "bursting of the technology bubble."

Crisis does not have to demotivate our teams—it can, in fact, be leveraged better than any other circumstance to foster community when people are focused on a truly important, common bull's eye (if not utilized in this way, it can sadly lead to unproductive panic...a real danger many companies face today).

Common mistakes made by companies that can create difficulties include aiming for across-the-board measures that are dangerous. Judgments should be made on a value basis, not just a cost basis. So if a business unit is performing particularly well, a key brand delivers a big chunk of profitability, a sales executive has historically high closing rates but needs to travel to deliver this, or a service team excels in customer retention and loyalty, perhaps the organization should invest more in these areas rather than less.

The Container Store doubled its training budget postcrisis, arguing they couldn't afford to lose a single customer. But they focused this on service and sales. Non-business-critical investments should indeed be deferred. But that can't be decided by applying an across-the-organization axe.

There are risks as well. For instance, what if a particular newly formed team must perform for the business to have any chance of thriving, and that team is wasting time in pointless go-arounds and ineffective decision-making processes? Perhaps a team engagement conference based on business and interpersonal dialogue and relationship building should be a mandate during these times (even if other conferences in the company have been cancelled).

What if an organization loses the top 10% of its talent because they have decided to find a smaller shop with better work/life balance, head out on their own, or use this year for that long-awaited educational or travel sabbatical? What if a large part of the organization's institutional knowledge, know-how, and key relationships walks out with them? Maybe this is the year to improve employee value proposition.

What about the slump in productivity when people are overworked and under-rewarded? Finding innovative and affordable ways to say "thank you" should be an imperative during these periods. Such engagement and recognition of those who are delivering in tough times is now front and center, and rightly so, on leadership agendas around the world.

To get ahead of the curve and to improve ROC, there is one practical step that all companies would be well advised to take: gather the senior team to decide how they intend to lead at this time. What are some critical "big hits" not only in terms of playing defense but also in terms of making 2010 as productive and profitable as possible?

The team may also have to assess the quality of its own interaction. One of the largest costs in companies comes from the pass-off chains between departments and functions. Members of the team may have to investigate their relationships with each other as well as ensure that their energy is going toward leading the business in key ways for critical outcomes, rather than being squandered in turf protection or agenda promotion.

Equally, they may wish to look at things they can do to improve the business. For example:

  • How can they strengthen customer loyalty?
  • How can they make a compelling case to current non-buyers?
  • What new products or services can be created in light of emerging realities and needs?
  • How can unwanted turnover be reduced, while non-performers are replaced with top talent?
  • What are key corporate makeover areas that were always put on the back burner for lack of slack time?
  • Those with decent balance sheets also now have a chance to make acquisitions and to be market leaders as markets consolidate.

In short, if organizations don't take on some of the deeper destroyers of value, the hit they'll take in terms of "opportunity costs" and temporarily hidden costs (e.g., loss of talent, employee burn-out or apathy, customer defections, poor execution of key strategies due to infighting) will be far greater than any of the more obvious costs they may be taking out.

With ROC, our fundamental message to leaders is to seize the opportunities in this crisis that will bring people together, get them to own the challenges of today and to co-create solutions, thereby being "fit for growth" as the economic tides turn and we learn to create the future in these extraordinary contexts.

Let's really engage our leaders, our customers, our stakeholders. Let's make sure our organizational behaviors at this time are paving the kind of future we aspire to. Arguably at this time, that's not a merely "nice to have," but the very essence of the leadership required.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (June Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1). Copyright © 2012 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

Omar Khan is senior partner of Sensei International, a global leadership consulting firm.  He is the author ofLiberating Passion: How The World's Best Global Leaders Produce Winning Results and The Global Consultant. Contact Omar.

Margreet (Maggie) van de Griend is a senior partner at Axialent. Her consulting and facilitation are aimed at creating business value through effective corporate culture and human capability. Contact Maggie.

If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.

Business Coaching and the Credit Crunch, By Colin Gautrey and Katie McGuidwin

Posted by WABC

As the credit crunch bites, pressures are growing within businesses around the world. Corporations of all shapes and sizes are feeling this tension. For some it is the soaring cost of supply; for others—dwindling demand. Some unfortunates feel the pain at both ends of the supply chain-and even in the middle with spiraling credit costs! While the causes may vary, few can dispute that the strain on corporations is increasing rapidly.

The executives in these corporations are naturally working hard to help the organization to survive. Yet in these tough times, they also have to be more careful about protecting their own positions. When the environment stresses the company, its executives will often disagree about the best way to respond. The tension created can cause some unfortunate and unwelcome side effects—an increase in political maneuvering among senior executives. This is especially likely if the CEO does not pay attention to the problem. While organizational politics is nothing new, the ability to handle this dimension is suddenly of much greater importance.

As business coaches, we are well placed to be able to assist our clients in this respect. By taking this reality seriously, we can help our clients to weather the storm, both the credit crunch and the political maelstrom. Over the last few years we have been working with a number of colleagues around the world unlocking the subtleties of corporate politics. What we have achieved is rapidly being viewed as a ray of hope for integrity—the hope that honest people of integrity can survive and thrive in tough times. When we first sat down to plan our new book, Political Dilemmas at Work1, little did we realize just how timely this work was going to be!

In order to help our clients, we approach the development of their political skills in three steps.

Step 1: Understand the dilemma

If people in an organization are feeling the pressure of the credit crunch, it is likely that as the top executives compete, our clients will find themselves in one or more dilemmas. By codifying these dilemmas, it is much easier for our clients to come to terms with their situation and begin to think clearly about what they can do for the best. Some typical dilemmas include:

Turf Wars: Two powerful people are fighting to win control of your function—and you are caught in the middle.

Political Rival: You've always played it straight and gotten good results. Now you're up against a strong and cunning political rival who seems determined to derail your success.

Spin Doctor: The president is due to arrive, and your boss has told you not to reveal a serious flaw in the proposal. He said to use a bit of spin.

These are just a few of the many dilemmas we have outlined in our book. The critical point is that our clients need to get clarity on their position, so that they can begin to make robust decisions.

Step 2: Investigate the detail

Once they have begun to understand the dilemma they face, we then move to the details. Often this can be elusive, yet any attempt to unravel the complexities of the human behavior behind the dilemma is useful. Some of the key areas we get our clients to focus on are:

The Players: Going beyond the obvious, who are the key people actively or passively involved in the position you find yourself in?

The Agendas: Specifically what are they hoping to achieve from the position they are assuming, or the action they are taking?

The Motivation: What is driving the players to do what they are doing? What are the payoffs if they succeed?

We have to be realistic. Many of the questions that we ask our clients are difficult to answer; however, having them think about these questions sets off an automatic chain reaction in the mind and the actions of the client. Often they become highly motivated to pursue the answers because they know the importance. Our clients are highly educated and successful executives, and sometimes they can use their gut instinct or intuition to get a fix on the answer. That's okay if we have to move quickly, but it is never a substitute for fact. One lesson that many learn here is that they have paid insufficient attention to building and/or maintaining their political intelligence gathering system.

Step 3: Plan the action

Not surprisingly, often the awareness created by the previous steps is sufficient to allow the executive to launch into action. This impulse needs to be held in check a few moments more, because we want them to think through their options in a strategic manner. By doing this, they can avoid unhelpful side effects and find easier, more direct routes to influencing the right outcome. Some of the key areas we focus on are:

Strategic Stakeholder Management: Use a simple and effective tool to plot out the key people involved in your goal and analyze their position before planning your action.

Broker Honest Exchanges: Cultivate a relationship of openness and honesty, and manage your action to achieve this quickly.

Contingency Actions: Think through the action you are about to take and determine what counteractions others may take. Is there anything you can do to limit the impact of these actions?

Build Political Capital: Build longer term action to ensure you have a strong network of political allies ready for when you need them. Building allies when you are in crisis can be difficult.

When we challenge our clients in these four areas, they always find quick and simple actions that they can take to improve their situation; relieve their stress and get more help. At senior levels, being inactive in the political realm is not an option!


In our practice, using the approaches above, we regularly help our clients to achieve multi-million dollar results, and careers advance rapidly. With the current credit crunch we are starting to see more people struggling to survive, and the steps above become more critical than ever. As business coaches, we believe that we have a responsibility to our clients to help them thrive in the political domain. In addition to helping them personally, we also help their organizations to succeed.

This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (2008, Volume 4, Issue 3). Copyright © 2011 WABC Coaches Inc. All rights reserved.

1 Gautrey, Colin, Dr. Gary Ranker and Mike Phipps. 2008. Political Dilemmas at Work. John Wiley & Sons: Hoboken, New Jersey.

Colin Gautrey and Katie McGuidwin
Colin Gautrey is author, coach, facilitator and expert in the practical use of power and influence in the workplace. Colin has coached top executives around the world, run workshops for international teams and always gets results. Latest book: Political Dilemmas at Work, John Wiley & Sons (with Dr. Gary Ranker and Mike Phipps) www.siccg.com; www.politicaldilemmasatwork.com. Katie McGuidwin has completed a Master's Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and is now pursuing her PhD in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at the Marshall Goldsmith School of Management, Alliant International University. More about Katie in the WABC member directory. Contact Colin and Katie.
If you wish to reproduce this article in any material form, you must first contact WABC for permission.