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Playing on a Bigger Stage - A Branding Firm Expands, Winning Ovations from Partners and Clients
by I. Barry Goldberg and Martin Thoma
The Business/The Organization
Thoma Thoma is a branding and marketing consulting firm founded and owned by Martin and Melissa Thoma in Little Rock, Arkansas. The company had spent the past three years restructuring its services and repackaging itself as a "brand growth consultant." As activity began to increase and its new positioning gained traction, the leadership team understood that in order to make the leap to bigger markets and clients, they would have to re-engineer everything from basic beliefs to key processes and organizational accountabilities.
The two principals suffered from what might be termed "entrepreneuritis." Since they had founded and built the company, they knew how to do every job in it--so they did. It was clear to the entire team that the two newly promoted directors would have to mature quickly, establishing and maintaining accountability for their departments, if the principals were to relinquish their habitual hold on details. The principals needed to focus on the big picture if the firm was going to live up to its full market potential.
The principals knew that creating this envisioned change would take sustained effort and unprecedented persistence. Barry Goldberg, executive coach and founder of Entelechy Partners, had recently shared his vision for a year-long coaching process for leadership teams with Thoma Thoma's principals. They all agreed that Barry would coach the group and each individual for a year, integrating concentrated off-site team experiences with bi-weekly individual leadership coaching.
While the Thomas and their team had some ideas about what they wanted to accomplish, the design of both individual and group development plans clarified those challenges. Using The Leadership Circle Cultural ProfileTM, the organizational challenges were the first to be clarified:
- Thoma Thoma was such a nice place to work that everyone took it for granted. Even employees indicated that more demanding performance standards would be beneficial.
- While the vision was clear and compelling, employees lacked confidence in the company's ability to execute in a purposeful manner.
- Employees valued the firm's commitment to work/life balance. However, they also agreed that additional drive would translate into increased productivity and client satisfaction. Those ends could be accomplished without turning Thoma Thoma into the sweatshop stereotypical of the industry.
Each of the four individuals involved in the coaching process also established an individual development plan based on personal strengths and opportunities. Issues common to the group included:
- Discomfort with direct communications concerning work standards, deadlines and internal processes.
- A desire to apply linear processes to creative development, gaining significant improvements in scale and efficiency.
- Significantly differing business perspectives between the creative team and account management.
- The need for clear accountability, including the transfer of more responsibility from principals to directors.
The four clients made their own behavioral contributions to each of these group issues. They also had opportunities for individual development. Perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change, however, was their willingness to work together to alter collective patterns of behavior through their individual participation in the program.
The Leaders' TrekTM for Thoma Thoma started in April 2005 with a three-day offsite session focused on group coaching. As the team engaged in real work, coaching interventions centered on the first two individual development goals listed above. The team was coached on giving and receiving difficult feedback. Working very specifically with Speech Acts, the group engaged in re-engineering key processes through direct communication and clear agreements.
The major outcome of the "BaseCampTM" experience was that the entire leadership team took responsibility for organizational change. They brought their new, well-practiced skills back to the office, where individual coaching centered on unique development plans for each executive. Creative Director Derek Wacaster explained, "My coaching work focused on building greater confidence and taking larger ownership of my position--things critical to my success. From the very first session, I experienced an internal change that resulted in richer interaction with my teammates and significantly enhanced my contribution to the firm."
By involving the entire leadership team, this coaching format had a major impact not only on individual development, but on specific relationships among the team members as well. Common frameworks for bonding patterns, balance and communications delivered a growing set of tools for dealing with new issues. Common language and newly honed skills allowed the leadership team to become independent and self-sustaining, assimilating new capabilities very quickly. As a result, ever deeper material could be explored in coaching without creating dependency on the coach for sustained behavioral change.
The Value Delivered
The value of the Thoma Thoma team's experience with The Leaders' TrekTM can be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively:
- Roughly one half of operational duties previously held by principals have been successfully delegated to directors. Work continues in this regard.
- All key processes have been re-engineered as "scripts," and ownership for each process is vested in a "producer/director" who is accountable for process execution.
- All employees now understand and embrace the focus on quality work completed on deadline, and exhibit a high appreciation for that value in the work environment. (One employee declined an offer at a competing shop for considerably more money.)
- Principals are focusing on higher leverage strategic activities, spending much more time and attention on developing relationships with client CEO's.
- Implementation of new discipline in the firm's sales process has improved its close ratio from roughly 30% to nearly 60%. Thoma Thoma is more focused on pursuing the right opportunities, grooming its referral network and ignoring low-potential pitches.
- After three months on The Leaders' TrekTM, Thoma Thoma increased its monthly sales target by 70%. From May 2005 through October 2005, it hit the new target five months out of six, missing it by only 10% in September.
Throughout this period of increasing business and financial performance, employees report more energy, greater enthusiasm, higher morale and growing esprit de corps. And Thoma Thoma is still viewed as caring and nurturing--an exceptional place to work.
About I. Barry Goldberg
I. Barry Goldberg is the founder of Entelechy Partners. His coaching practice focuses on senior leadership teams and high-potential executives. Barry holds a Graduate Certificate in Leadership Coaching from Georgetown University.
More about Barry Goldberg.