Coaching has high impact on performance

two_figures_sharing_thoughts_1600_wht_9157Of course as coaches we knew that but research by Rebecca Jones at Aston Business School suggests that when compared to other workplace interventions coaching has a greater impact than training or 360 degree feedback.

She looked at 24 different studies of workplace coaching and found that it produced several positive outcomes such as positive attitudes, improved work behaviour, time management and overall performance.

Coaching achieved these in three ways: by using goal-setting, encouraging reflection, and providing tools to encourage the transfer of new skills.

She found that having multi-source feedback could detract from the coaching process (which is a surprise as I’ve found it to be a powerful tool at an appropriate stage in the coaching process).

However the facility of the coach to tailor an approach enhanced the process and the use of telephone coaching facilitated confidentiality (my colleague is a great believer in Skype for career coaching).

She also found that internal coaches may be more effective due to their insider knowledge of the organisation culture.  Past research has found that the more senior the client the more likely they are to prefer an external coach.

This was reported in Coaching at Work magazine Vol 9 issue 2.

In the same issue it was reported that executive coaching had once again become the province of senior leaders as organisations reserved it for their top executives.






Women in Leadership – too nice? too bossy?

women_calculator_desk_1600_wht_7996Leaving aside the whole issue of women on FTSE100 boards and the Norwegian Golden Skirts have women finally cracked the glass ceiling?

Well according to Herminia Ibarra and her colleagues, writing in the September 2013 HBR, persistent gender bias disrupts the learning process of becoming a leader.

They are talking about what they call “second generation gender bias”. Not direct discrimination but things like the paucity of role models for women, career paths and jobs that have become entrenched with a gender bias, and women’s lack of access to sponsors and networks.

They also talk about the double binds facing women. In most cultures leadership is associated with masculinity. The ideal leader, like the ideal man, is decisive, assertive, and independent.

Women, on the other hand, are expected to be nice, caretaking, and unselfish.  Research shows that female leaders who excel in traditional male domains are viewed as competent but less likeable than their male counterparts.

Yet research shows that female CEOs are trusted more than male ones and can add real value to teams.

Behaviours that suggest self-confidence or assertiveness in men often appear arrogant or abrasive in women. Female leaders who adopt a feminine approach to their work may be liked but not respected.

They are seen as too emotional to make tough decisions and too soft to be strong leaders.

Yet research carried out by Zenger and Folkman in 2011 on over 7,000 executives using 360 degree feedback, showed that women were rated higher than men at every managerial level.

However the higher in the hierarchy you went the more men there were. So were companies promoting the right people?

They used 16 competencies in their research, which they had identified as being the most important in terms of overall leadership effectiveness.

These were:

  • Takes initiative
  • Practices self-development
  • Drives for results
  • Develops others
  • Inspires and motivates others
  • Builds relationships
  • Collaboration and teamwork
  • Establishes stretch goals
  • Champions change
  • Solves problems and analyses issues
  • Communicates powerfully and prolifically
  • Connects the group to the outside world
  • Innovates
  • Technical or professional expertise
  • Develops strategic perspective

Comparing mean scores for men and women the women scored significantly (statistically) higher than the men on 12 of the 16 traits - and not just the ones that women are known to be better at.

They scored the same as men on connecting to the outside world. innovating, and technical or professional expertise. The only trait where men scored higher was on developing a strategic perspective.

So what’s to be done? Ibarra and her colleagues don’t suggest anything dramatically new or innovative.

Progressing to leadership positions means leaving behind your old professional identity and learning new skills (have a look at Charan’s pipeline model).

women_puzzle_pieces_1600_wht_7872That can be scary so having supportive mechanisms in place such as providing leadership programmes, mentoring and coaching (and I find in my coaching that women are less defensive and often respond better than men), and providing a support group or a safe space – perhaps an action learning group – can make a real difference.

Where did Scientific Management have its roots?

9780486147758_p0_v2_s260x420Most people who recognise the term Scientific Management will associate it with Frederick  “Speedy” Taylor and its application in the manufacturing industries in the 1880s and 1890s.

However research by historian Caitlin Rosenthal into slavery plantation records from the USA and the West Indies between 1750 and 1860 showed that plantation owners were already applying management techniques before the industrial North.

They used accounting techniques such as depreciation, and standardised efficiency measures relating to both the land and the slaves.

As scientific management requires high levels of management control over employee work practices its not surprising that plantation conditions were conducive to such an approach.

There was no labour turnover as slaves couldn’t quit;  and plantation owners re-allocated their labour supply as they saw fit.

Thomas Affleck, a Scot, had studied agriculture at the University of Edinburgh before moving to America, getting married and operating several plantations in the South.

His Cotton Plantation Record and Account Book and Sugar Plantation Record and Account Book, became models for other plantation owners. (Click here for further information on these books).

In them he described how to calculate depreciation (which experts previously thought came with the building of the railroads in the late 19c).

Slave-owners also developed  a measure called the “prime field hand” . Prime field hands were assigned certain capabilities such as expected daily output.

Workers were measured against this standard and given values such as “half or quarter hand“.  These were used as benchmarks to compare productivity.

There may be indirect links between slavery and the Industrial Revolution, and between the plantations and the early cotton mills to which they were tied.

Rosenthal says that one of Taylor’s associates, Henry Gantt, who had worked at Midvale steel, was born on a plantation although there is no evidence he was involved in its management.

The brutal exploitation of people who were slaves was an extreme example of employers treating people as human capital with often absentee owners relying on the metrics to manage their investments.

It seems historians have known about the ledgers and account books from which Rosenthal drew her conclusions for a long time but this has never emerged in the management literature. Perhaps people were too ashamed to draw attention to it.

This seems so long ago now but there is still a school of thought which treats people as human capital which produces economic value.

And when it comes to downsizing or mergers or aggressive takeovers do the accountants with their spreadsheets and the HR people with their performance review data think of employees as human beings?

Some companies are still using scientific management techniques, albeit with modifications

Triple Strength Leadership

open_head_phrases_11588Sounds a bit like an advert for kitchen rolls doesn’t it?

Well according to Nick Lovegrove, a director at McKinsey, and Matthew Thomas,  executive director of the Intersector Project, it’s what we need i.e. executives who can move easily between business, government and social enterprises.

They argue that the biggest problems facing us in coping with constraints on resources, or controlling spiralling health-care costs, require business, government and the third sector to cooperate.

So “Tri-sector” leaders (that sounds better) who can bridge the culture, values, incentives and purpose that separates the three sectors are invaluable in solving those problems.

But how do you develop such leaders? I remember many years ago being interviewed by a consultant for an HR  job in the Auto industry (in which I had worked previously). I was then head of HR for a local authority and his first question was : why have you been wasting your time in the public sector?”

Lovegrove and Thomas believe we need to incorporate tri-sector issues in academic and executive training and use exchange programmes so that mid-career managers can build up networks.

Tri-sector experience has also got to be seen as a development priority for business leaders.

Perhaps the more difficult aspect of this idea is that individuals will have competing motives and possibly conflicting professional goals.

They are concerned with wealth creation for themselves and their families which is more attainable in the private sector; they may also want leadership on a large scale and a position of influence – which working in government can offer.

They may also have a strong sense of purpose or mission which is the main focus of the non-profit third sector. But the cultures and career prospects and different earning potential can create barriers.

Tri-sector  leaders are likely to be more idealistic than purely self-interested and more pragmatic than entirely selfless – an interesting mix of pragmatism and idealism.

It also seems that, among the younger generation at least, these leaders want to move on without necessarily completing their careers in any one sector.

The authors say developing  such leaders is very difficult in the USA where there is so much friction between the three sectors.

Business executives consider government as bureaucratic and inept and NGOs as ineffective; public servants think private enterprise executives just want to make as much money as they can as quickly as they can while those in the third sector think nobody cares.

Is it any different in the UK?

Main Source: “Triple Strength Leaders” in HBR September 2013

Size Matters (3)

single_colored_chair_rotating_anim_500_wht_10055Andy Yapp, at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, examined the impact of ergonomics on people’s ethics.

They wanted to know whether or not your workspace would have an effect on your honesty.

What they found was that the bigger and larger the space and seating, which encouraged expansive gestures, the more likely it was that people would pocket overpayments, cheat on a test, and break the rules in a driving simulator.

In the first test they deliberately overpaid people for participating in the test and found that 78% of those with the bigger chairs kept it compared with 38% of people working in cramped spaces.

They also observed illegally parked cars in New York and found that when a driver’s seat increased by 1 standard deviation from the mean the probability that a car would be double parked increased from 51% to 71%.

The researchers say that when we have more space we can adopt more expansive postures and these often project high power whereas people working in constrictive spaces where they have to keep their limbs close to their bodies project low power.

The findings were not influenced by the height of the person nor by how corrupt the person might have been before the experiment as they were randomly assigned. The posture was the only variable.

This is interesting as I would have thought that people working in constricted or uncomfortable environments might be likely to cheat just to get back at their employer – a kind of organisational justice.

But we also know that power corrupts.

Yapp and his colleagues admit there might be cultural differences e.g. Asian norms of modesty and humility are inconsistent with the power posturing.

The research replicates that done at Columbia University on the size of desks (and they also looked at illegal parking in New York).

I also posted on the size of CEOs’ signatures based on some research at the University of Maryland.

Main source:  “Big chairs create big cheats” HBR November 2013

Intact teams perform better


If any of you are familiar with the late Richard Hackman‘s work on teams you will know that generally speaking the longer teams work together the better they get.

Harvard Professor Robert Huckman and his colleague Bradley Staats from the University of North Carolina have also been researching teams across a range of organisations: military, corporate, healthcare and consultancy.

They found that too often managers liked to shake teams up to keep them fresh. Hackman’s found that the one exception where this can work is in R& D work where adding new members to a team, even by adding less experienced members, keeps things fresh as they ask questions no-one else does.

Basically there is a learning curve for teams just like individuals. they generally do better as they become more familiar with each other.

Research with Oxford University professor David Upton on over 1,000 projects involving over 11,000 staff in a Bangalore-based software services firm found that:

  • when familiarity increased by 50%
  • defects decreased by 19%
  • deviations from budget decreased by 30%
  • performance increased by 10% as judged by clients

The message is that managers should try and keep teams together and encourage familiarity between employees so that collaboration is easier.

Research from non-business areas shows that:

  • Leaders of Special Ops teams such as Navy Seals try to keep the teams intact as they believe it helps them cope with dynamic environments
  • In Pro basketball teams familiarity reduces bad passes but teams with too much familiarity committed more errors – perhaps because opponents could predict their moves.
  • In aviation 73% of commercial aviation accidents occur on a crew’s first day of flying together. NASA found that fatigued but familiar crews made only half as many errors as rested but unfamiliar crews.
  • The performance of surgeons who work at multiple hospitals varies from facility to facility – perhaps because of differing degrees of familiarity with the OR teams at different locations.

Main sources: HBR September 2013 & Richard Hackman

Is working from home more productive?



Marissa Mayer made the news when she banned employees at Yahoo from working from home.

Recent call-centre research by Nicholas Bloom at Stanford University  found that allowing staff to work from home over a 9-month period led to happier, more productive staff, with fewer of them leaving.

The company originally thought that productivity would drop but that would be offset by saving money on office space and furniture. In the event the home-based staff completed 13.5% more calls than the office-based staff.

The researchers thought that 1/3 of the productivity increase was due to a quieter environment with the remainder du to the home-workers working longer hours.

The home workers started earlier and had shorter breaks and because they weren’t commuting worked until the end of the day.

Sick days also plummeted (so more like self-employed workers in that respect).

It may be that because call-centre work is more robotic and easily measured that such big benefits were found. It might be different for creative or knowledge workers. And if there is low morale people might start slacking.

So was Mayer right to ban home-working? We don’t really know what the situation was at Yahoo but it generated negative publicity when she had a nursery built next to her office with an element of the Queen Bee syndrome.

Not everyone wants to work from home. It seems that younger people, whose social life often revolves around work, are less likely to want to work from home compared with older workers who are married with established families.

In the call-centre example the home-workers self-selected so might have been more motivated to start with. Some opted to go back into the office at the end of the 9 months and these turned out to be the poorer performers.

The biggest resistance appears to come from middle management who worry about losing control of people working remotely.

Perhaps the best solution is to let people work a couple of days a week from home, especially in bad weather or as in London when they held the Olympic Games. These could be mandatory days or on a rotation.

Main source: HBR January-February 2014

from SGandA


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