Tag Archives: Coaching

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.

Germany – industrial & industrious

germany_flag_flying_500_wht_513Having just got back from Munster in Germany I read with interest the Sunday Times In Focus piece this week “So how did Germany become the new champion of Europe?

The reporter was based in Bestwig, about an hour from Munster in Westphalia, a region where, according to the strap line, firms thrived because of innovation and good labour relations.

Citing VW as the world’s most profitable car company, German football teams dominating the Champions League whilst being mainly supporter-owned (and with the lowest ticket prices but largest attendances in Europe), and workers enjoying pay rises, Germany clearly stands out in the EU.

The essence of the report was that when the UK was creating wealth through super-banks and light touch financial regulation and the US was into dot.coms, Germany stuck with its industrial roots and engineering excellence. At the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies they put it down to Germany’s history and culture as much as the way the economy is managed.

Old- fashioned it might have seemed sticking with its industrial heritage, employers having obligations to the workforce and the community (imagine that!) and unions and employees having the right to influence decisions and sit on the board. But it’s turned round Germany’s fortunes since the 1990s when it was called the “sick man of Europe” and was dealing with re-unification.

There is also the tradition of Mittelstand companies, similar to our SMEs but with up to 500 employees, often family owned, and specialising in high quality products. In fact across all companies competing on quality seems to have been a more important consideration than price.

Sennheiser the audio company is a good example of these type of businesses which employ 70% of the workforce and over 80% of apprenticeships with strong links to the communities. They typically give grants to send apprentices to university so they can go back to the company when they graduate and also provide in-house education.

Competition from cheap labour has put a premium on quality and innovation and it seems to have paid off. There is also the respect for craftsmanship and engineers which we have largely lost in the UK. And our relationship with Trades Unions is different from what happens in Germany.

When I was in Munster I visited the BASF coatings factory nearby in Munster-Hiltrup with a group of Work and Organisational psychologists (I remember buying BASF audio-tapes back in the day, now they produce high quality paint finishes for cars).

P1010013There we learnt about the way workers are employed in teams of 10-16 like autonomous working groups. They have a group coach appointed by management and a group speaker (Gruppesprecher) selected by the employees. Twice a year they all sit round together and agree which targets and objectives they have achieved and these are presented to management. The workers are awarded bonuses as a team so they rely on the group process and peer pressure to motivate all members of the team to contribute.

They also use IDEA management to produce innovatory ideas. At the plant I visited they had 40,000 suggestions a year from the 4,000 plus staff of which 20,000 were acted upon. All the teams are given an hour each week to discuss these ideas.

In addition there are spaces for meetings in the now disused parts of the plant  which have been renovated for this purpose including an outside In Forum area for meetings where this photograph was taken.

I wrote previously about how German company BMW had dealt with an ageing workforce. It’s just another example that shows that collaboration between management, unions, and employees can work in effective and positive ways.

Leadership – the dark side 

Businessman Psychopaths, Narcissists and now Machiavellian types, somewhere in an office near you, or maybe even running your business,according to Holly Andrews and Jan Francis-Smythe, writing in the Professional Manager.

In an earlier post on sociopaths and narcissists; “Leadership – do you have what it takes? I drew attention to some US research on Narcissistic types by Shnure about their impact in organisations. Now Andrews and Francis-Smythe, at the University of Worcester, see these personality types as even more of a potential threat in the current economic climate.

Describing these extreme personality types which make up the “dark side triad“: narcissists have an exaggerated sense of self-importance – “It’s all about me“; psychopaths are also ego-centric and lack empathy; Machiavellian types also  manipulate others for their own purpose, shows there is some overlap but all essentially exploit others in some way.

Narcissists can be charming and even psychopaths have superficial charm which gets them into positions of power. So the authors set out some suggestions to help organisations cope with these extreme personality types starting at the recruitment stage. They also point out that they are not making clinical diagnoses even though they are using some terms found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders.

410WJzBZ-tL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_The article includes a list of references but if you are interested in this topic I recommend Why CEOs fail: the 11 behaviours that can derail your climb to the top and how to manage them” by Dotlich, Cairo et al. This is based on research and the work of Robert Hogan who developed a psychometric questionnaire to measure these “dark side” factors and should be essential reading for all HR managers and would-be company directors.

Adrian Furnham’s closing keynote address at the 2010 ABP conference focused on CEO derailment. Apart from toxic personalities he suggested that there also need to be a group of people happy to follow them and a supportive culture. An idea echoed by Ali Kennedy in the weekend newspapers who said that politicians were essentially “sociopaths with good intentions” working in a “psychologically corrosive atmosphere“.

From a coach’s perspective these can be difficult clients to say the least. Lacking in key areas of emotional intelligence they can be charming but don’t like to be challenged.

Helping them to be more self-aware and understand others is a start but their goal is likely to be even better at what they do (exploiting others) which poses an ethical dilemma. (It is a bit like providing social skills training to psychopaths: counter-productive if it means they just get better at fooling people).

So how successful are psychopaths at work? Researchers in America trying to find psychopaths who were successful in life asked their colleagues in the American Psychological Association who specialised in Psychology and Law if they recognised any amongst their clients or acquaintances.

51OAaYUszbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU02_-1Hare’s definition of psychopaths is;”‘social predators who charm, manipulate and ruthlessly plow their way through life … completely lacking in conscience and feeling for others, they selfishly take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without the slightest sense of guilt or regret.’ (His assessment checklist is commonly used to determine if someone is a psychopath and is described in Jon Ronson’s book “The Psychopath Test”.

They received replies from over a hundred people and asked them to describe these “psychopaths” and complete a diagnostic tool for that person (creating a remote profile). They concluded that there was evidence to suggest there were such people as “successful psychopaths” (not sure if unsuccessful psychopaths were just those in prison or who hadn’t been caught yet).

The key difference between successful and standard psychopaths seemed to be in conscientiousness as the individuals described by the survey respondents were the same as prototypical psychopaths in all regards except they lacked the irresponsibility, impulsivity and negligence and instead scored highly on competence, order, achievement striving and self-discipline.

For more information go to Hunting Successful Psychopaths.

Post first published in 2010

Employee Engagement – the dark side

Surely having employees highly engaged is a good thing isn’t it?

Recent research suggests that whilst high levels of work engagement ie high levels of energy and involvement in work, are good for the organisation – this might be at the expense of other areas of an employee’s life.

Engaged employees create their own resources, perform better, have a positive impact on colleagues, and have happier clients.

But “over engagement” can have negative consequences creating workaholic behaviour in employees so that they regularly take work home. In a Dutch study work engagement was positively correlated with working overtime. This in turn disrupts work-life balance leading to poor health outcomes.

In some cases the inner drive to work hard, even when the person doesn’t enjoy working overtime, can lead to burnout. People forget to rest or maintain their personal relationships.

So there is definitely a dark side to employee engagement. Research shows that more engaged employees are more likely to experience work-family conflict.

High levels of engagement might also have negative consequences at work over time. Highly engaged employees who are enthusiastic about their jobs may take on additional tasks and it’s well-known that supervisors would rather assign tasks to keen employees.

The end result is that the engaged employee becomes over-loaded and begins to suffer ill-health and job performance declines along with the level of engagement.

Leaders are key influencers in employee engagement and because it is contagious engagement can spread across work teams. So leaders have a responsibility to be considerate and use a more transformational leadership style whilst providing social support and coaching.

Source: European Journal of Work and Organisational Psychology V 20 No 1 Feb 2011

Is performance management the answer – again?

I can hear you yawning from here! Performance Management seems so 90s, or was it 80s, and 70s as well? In fact performance management under different labels has been around forever yet very rarely is it done well.

And it’s been confused with performance-related pay and what with the bankers and all that doesn’t sit well with most managers in the real world.

But Octavius Black, CEO of Mind Gym, is adamant that what he calls “dynamic performance management” can increase productivity by 15%, achieve sales targets 29% better and increase customer loyalty by 18%. But he concedes, in an opinion piece in the Times Business section (3/1/11) that few organisations would adopt such a solution even though it’s straightforward enough.

He says managers need to have a performance conversation which has 5 ingredients: setting suitably stretching goals, giving frequent feedback, differentiating consistently, providing commercially acute coaching, re-shaping jobs to play to people’s strengths, and passing responsibility for success to the person being managed.

When 100 business leaders were asked to score their organisations against these criteria only four gave their companies more than half marks. Black claims that CEOs are frightened of looking stupid so the last thing they want to embrace is the latest fad from HR, an area which they least understand. Well Octavius I’m not sure about it being the latest fad, as I said at the start, and shame on CEOs who aren’t interested in their “greatest resource” even though it’s hard to find one who came up through HR.

Sadly all too often HR departments are involved in transactional activities and more interested in driving processes than changing behaviour. Black quotes one HR director who was delighted because he had almost 80% of performance goals submitted on time. I’m pleased to report however that Black believes that HR people with psychology backgrounds are more likely to apply real scientific insight to the challenge of maximising human performance!

He says that in the USA there is a growth in HR analysts who research and evaluate what actually makes the difference. On the whole however it appears that managers are still left to work it out for themselves. Some are naturally good at people management but others, and often those who have come up through technical routes, less so. And even the good ones will shy away from those “difficult conversations” about poor performance or missed promotions.

Giving constructive feedback is not something that comes naturally to most managers, and not just here in the UK – we have come across the same problem in the Baltics. Even having to explain that someone is “below average” is tough – especially as three-quarters of us believe we are above average (think about it or ask a statistician). Hence his reference to differentiation. If everyone is rated the same then high performers feel aggrieved. Managers (most of them)  are only human and everyone likes to be liked but giving what they see as bad news is stressful and many would rather be seen as a “nice guy” (See “It doesn’t pay to be too nice“)

Not long ago I helped a pharma company  to communicate to their staff why the performance ratings had to be re-calibrated. Everyone had been getting ratings in the higher bands for years and the distribution curve was so skewed that staff just expected the highest ratings as a right. Breaking the news wasn’t easy and caused a lot of anger among staff. Black cites Unilever as a company which has done something similar. Their CEO says; “there is now a higher degree of differentiation with a higher upside and a lower downside”. Unilever has just been voted “Britain’s most admired company”.

Black believes the answer lies with middle managers (of course there may not be too many left after all the years of de-layering) who will change their role from allocation of resources and quality control to one where they have “courageous conversations, establish boundaries, unearth motivations, give hope, manage mood, listen beyond words, and give praise and counsel wherever it’s due.” He believes a psychology qualification might be more useful than an MBA.

Black believes his idea of “dynamic performance management” is the magic bullet most appropriate for an era when managing talent is the key to survival and success. So you can put away your books on business renewal and BPR and start studying psychology!

Danger – Jealousy at work

Jealousy and envy are closely related but jealousy is usually when you wish you had something someone else has got eg a pay rise,or a plum project, and envy is when you haven’t got it and when you wish they hadn’t either.

Envy is about feeling inferior, being resentful, and wishing ill-will to others. It also tends to be more about being competitive.

Jealousy can also be aspirational or inspirational in encouraging you to better yourself so that you can also achieve what the other person has.

Research in USA by Professor Robert Vecchio suggests that 3 out of 4 people have witnessed jealousy at work and up to 50% of people have become involved in it in some way.

People who are more envious of others at work are more likely to be the ones who use “social loafing” (not pulling their weight) to even up the score. They are also more likely to be looking for other jobs.

People with a strong work ethic who are sensitive to work issues are more likely to get emotional about them as much as people with low self-esteem who think work is all about being competitive.

Generally woman are more likely to be jealous about social relationships; men to envy others in a competitive way.

Lack of consideration by supervisors can lead to jealousy and it is more likely to happen in a small office. People who work in large offices tend to assume that unequal treatment is because of bureaucratic inefficiency.

If you are the object of jealousy or envy:

  • Focus on the good things in your job (count your blessings) to bolster your self-esteem
  • Be humble – don’t flaunt your success
  • Don’t get involved in the drama
  • Help others to achieve and be as successful as you

There are also things organisations can do:

  • Create more of a team culture
  • Encourage cooperation rather than competition through incentives
  • Encourage a more participative style of leadership – encouraging input
  • Recruit emotionally mature people
  • Use high achievers as role models, mentors or coaches

And the office romance? Jealousy about sex or romance is a 3-way relationship; the focus of your attention plus the rival, which can produce feelings of loss, distrust or betrayal. But that’s a different posting.

It’s ALL about Trust

colored_puzzle_connection_1600_wht_9893Maybe it’s because of the elections but every time I open a paper or magazine at the moment there seems to be an article about trust. Whether a columnist having another (justified) rant about bankers or politicians, or Simon Barnes, the Chief Sports writer for The Times, with his take on Jose Mourinho just after his team beat Barcelona, previously judged to be the best team in the world.

He goes on to talk about  coaches and their role in great success stories:  Sir Alf Ramsey’s refusal to drop Stiles during the 1966 World Cup at the risk of losing his own job; Sir Clive Woodward on the 1998 world tour paying for a decent hotel for the team in Cape Town; Bill Sweetenham turning round the fortunes of the Great Britain swimming team from flops in Sydney to winning six medals in Beijing. All these he puts down to belief, and trust – absolute mutual trust.

In an earlier post; “Do you trust your boss?, I referred to research and articles which showed a very low level of trust in bosses, possibly because of the MPs’ expenses scandal. This is potentially catastrophic for organisations as we come out of recession but still face face massive spending cuts and higher taxes, regardless of which party wins the election.

In his book; “The 5 dysfunctions of Teams (Josey Bass)”, Patrick Lencioni makes a persuasive argument that to be an effective team its members first need to have absolute trust in each other and are able to set aside personal agendas for the greater good of the team. Put simply Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions model goes like this:

  1. Absence of Trust: team members need to trust each other on a fundamental, emotional level where they are comfortable being open with each other about their weaknesses, mistakes, fears and behaviours. This is important because
  2. Fear of conflict: … teams that trust one another are not afraid to engage in passionate debate about key issues. They are not afraid to challenge, disagree, or question each other in order to make great decisions. This is important  because
  3. Lack of commitment: teams that engage in unfiltered conflict are able to achieve genuine buy-in around decisions even though they might initially disagree. Team members see that every option has been considered . This is critical because:
  4. Avoidance of Accountability: teams that commit to decisions and standards of performance don’t hesitate to hold each other accountable for those decisions. And they don’t rely on the team leader to do that but go straight to their peers. This matters because
  5. Inattention to results: …teams that trust one another engage in conflict, commit to decisions, and hold each other accountable are more likely to put aside their individual agendas and focus on what is best for the team. They don’t put their departmental politics, career aspirations, or need for status to get in the way of team results that lead to success.

He doesn’t pretend it is easy and developing trust in the first place can be a big ask if you are used to working in a highly competitive environment or a blame culture, where feedback from peers is not the norm. But what is the alternative if you work in an organisation which needs real teams ie groups of people who are interdependent rather than a set of individuals who just happen to report to the same boss but do their own thing?

Most people like working in teams as they provide support and a social context to work but effective teamwork doesn’t just happen without leaders who provide support and resources – and who can be trusted!

Leadership pantomime?

A recent article in the Sunday Times asked “what qualities are needed to become an NHS leader” (ie apart from having a skin like a rhinoceros or attracting headlines through being engaged to the NHS Chief Executive)

And if you read as far as the “How to get to the top” bullet points at the end you may despair at the advice to “understand the numerous changes in the last decade“. So if you think it’s sometimes a bit like a pantomime (“Oh no it isn’t!”  I hear you cry).

And staying with the dramatic arts enhancing your  confidence and well-being, are you operating in your first, second or third circle? A top voice coach, Patsy Rodenburg from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, has written a book on “Power Presentation” which is well worth a read.