Coaching culture : Tangible Coaching ingredients as success enhancers for Leaders, by Laurent Terseur (guest)

As more and more organisations express their interest in growing a “coaching culture” amongst their ranks, I am passionate about exploring what a coaching culture can mean practically for leaders, in their own words :

  • Can they tangibly increase their teams effectiveness and deliver higher performance by adapting their style and tapping into the benefits of a coaching approach?

  • What specific coaching ingredients can they bring into their leadership approach?

  • What resources are required?

  • And where to start this journey?

I'd like to share some of my personal insights from having had the opportunity to work over the years with Senior Leadership Teams working on organisational and cultural change projects. Whilst a broader number of dimensions were key to the execution of this sort of project, I would like to focus here on those coaching inspirations which proved decisive in creating success. 


The context

Typically it can involve a new management initiative, in for example, a large division of an organisation, that receives a strong mandate to move away from serving one type of customer with non complex needs, and step up to efficiently cover larger and more international clients, and deliver them a much fuller range of products, services and geographies. 

The people's challenge

As well as recognising this new model for the organisation, the challenge is also about recognising the complexity of implementing such a change on the people's side. Making the most of it typically involves three major pieces of change :

1.  “Breaking the silos” (a frequent explicit leadership challenge in large organisations).
The model needed is more one of a global team with fluid cooperation and coordination across geographies and divisions.

The starting point is an existing staff and their leadership long being used to work as local teams, with a domestic focus often limited to a narrow range of products, and no communications with the group's other divisions.

2.  Building a competitive advantage through increased collective intelligence (a frequently implicit challenge)
Beyond the implementation of a new model and the related organisational changes, the intent needs also to raise the teams profile and behavioural standards, to maximise the opportunity through high degrees of cooperation, creativity and cohesion.

Typically there is a significant entrenchment, over a long time in an established culture of silos, which limits the Teams' vision of how to leverage the many diverse resources across the organisation in a coordinated and proactive fashion… let alone with the confidence that they actually have the requisite skills to perform it.

3.  Maximising everyone's contribution (a very frequent execution challenge)
To succeed, the implementation of the new model has to be owned by the teams, who would make it happen on the ground. 

This very articulated vision can be compelling but has to translate to what it means in day-to-day business terms for the staff and existing leadership : what exactly needs to be done differently ?

How people were engaged

The key actions to engage people that I aim to bring are:

  • Sharing vision :
    The new strategy and vision need to be quickly and consistently shared across the leadership by a series of face-to-face workshops and phone/video based follow-ups.

  • Involving the wider Leadership :
    During those first months, all the senior leadership and a large portion of the management need to be invited to contribute to establishing the medium-term strategic plan that would support the strategy. This approach enables both quality input and a high degree of buy-in, creating a solid bedrock for the change.

  • Energising and sustaining the effort :
    A strong emphasis needs also to be placed on energising and creating engagement and complementarities across the teams, between those who know the organisation from the inside and the key external hires helping to bridge the gaps in terms of knowledge and experience of the desired model. This will help creating a robust foundation and securing quick wins needed to buy the necessary time with the involved stakeholders.

    This sort of initiative typically indeed takes place over a substantial time period – generally a few years of sustained efforts and consistency to deliver the bulk of the value.

For example, during the first stages of the plan, the leadership must remain committed to:
-     keep sharing motivating vision and purpose,
-     maintain energy and engagement levels
-     set clear expectations and boundaries, and enforce them when needed
-     encourage empowerment across the whole command chain
-     dramatically increase the pace of exchanges
-     create forums for teams to communicate, exchange, voice concerns and help each other,
-     adapt compensation to reward the higher engagement and performance

  • Developing individuals and teams :

A number of key individuals in the Senior Leadership Team need to set the example of deliberately encouraging a genuine team coaching approach. This involves considering also a number of individual coaching relationships and the design of bespoke development efforts to address specific gaps as they are surfacing.

For example, following various feedback sessions and a purposeful use of talent reviews, specific coaching/training series are designed to:
-     foster more cooperation,
-     create empowerment and leadership across the client service teams,
-     overcome cultural differences and work efficiently as a global team


What success looks like for this type of project

  • Within the time needed – which may be over several years, the P&L impact will prevail as a key measure of success (I have seen examples in which the income in scope increased multiple-fold and made qualitative leaps, shifting from mostly an addition of uncorrelated domestic revenues to the desired internationally balanced and cross-fertilised set of revenues).

  • To use a sport's metaphor, the teams' credibility swiftly changes leagues, with a significantly increased recognition externally as well as internally across cousin divisions.

  • Many individual profiles in the staff switch from individual domestic performers to internationally mobile team leaders, or from experts/producers to respected leaders, setting as many attractive examples of internal promotion success and boosting employees morale and engagement levels.

  • As a result, talent retention dramatically increases - I have seen cases with no single talent loss over long periods - achieving a quite unusual retention success in the particular industry.

So, what sort of resources need to be tapped into in this sort of project ?

From my experience and observations, 

  • The senior leadership team need to maintain their confidence, their usual great competitive spirit and an unalterable faith in the success all the way through the project... Combining this with an overall unassuming leadership style and a real care for their teams and their success is a winning game.

  • Staff and managers need to tap into their courage and openness to change to take the leap of faith. Some, by leaving good positions in other organisations to join the project; others, already present in the organisation, by accepting to challenge the status quo and reinvent themselves, doing many things differently.

  • Everyone, regardless of roles and seniorities, has to keep working hard but differently. The most decisive change agents are the individuals and the teams who manage to make the time to reflect and be creative, observe, be agile and learn all the way through.

  • Many, in particular those leading virtual and transversal teams, need to learn to take more of a coaching approach with their colleagues and pass on the empowerment they are personally receiving. For doing so they have to shift their mindset and become confident that by giving they wouldn't lose anything; they are investing to reap the benefits of more collective intelligence in return.


What specific coaching ingredients help to make the difference ?

In this sort of change project, I identify at least 7 decisive coaching ingredients that work each time they are used, in different combinations and approaches :

1.     Consciously creating space to dedicate quality time and attention to the different teams and individuals.

2.     Providing clarity and certainty by “contracting” :

a.     Setting clear expectations and targets, involving the teams inputs
b.     Sharing clear progress markers and measures of success across the timeline

3.     Showing appreciation, attention and consideration :

a.     Dedicate quality management time to individuals and teams
b.    Making every virtual leader understand what was their role about, and realise how much more senior and motivating it was than what they initially thought
c.    Giving them wider public recognition within the organisation
d.   Deliberately celebrating all progress as they were being made and regardless of their size

4.     Accentuating the positive, encouraging and stretching :

a.     Deliberately giving encouragements, acknowledgements, accentuating the positive as often as possible
b.     Stretching individuals and teams to grow and go bold, demonstrate responsible but ambitious leadership

5.     Giving autonomy :

a.     Empowering teams and individuals, so as to ensure there is Leadership across the whole organisation
b.     Giving space to express themselves within clear boundaries with clarified roles and rules of engagements

6.     Fostering cooperation :

a.     Making sure everyone involved would be recognised
b.     Communicating about the differences and making them all understood

7.     Encouraging learning:

a.     Last but not least, accepting the principle that there will be a learning curve, and spending dedicated, personalised leadership air time whenever and wherever a gap needs to be bridged
b.     The latter makes great impact whenever the leadership identifies that individuals and teams each are presenting different strengths, challenges and needs in the change process, and manage to adapt the support given accordingly


What I take away

@@A considerable amount of intuitive learning exists and is waiting to be extracted from live, practical experiences of change.@@ This particular summary supports in my view the evidence that Leaders can successfully draw on a more coaching orientated approach to contribute to change.

As I am reflecting on it, two key learning points stand out for me :

     1.     Leadership presence :

The coaching ingredient that I see as a the most important for Leaders to reflect on is the notion of Leadership Presence :

Great Leaders set a clear vision and share it widely. And when it comes to execution, I believesustainable success requires they too avoid the pitfall of arriving with a fixed, unique agenda for everyone. Instead, Leaders who are eager to seek inspiration from coaching can reflect on :

  • What conditions they need to create, so they can trust their teams for having the capability to become change agents, in their own style and at their own pace?

and

  • How they can give them the quality space to unpack this capability?

That quality of Leadership Presence, consciously ensuring that as much space as possible will be deliberately created to dedicate quality time and attention to the different teams and individuals, is I believe the first enabler to a coaching culture.

     2.     Collective intelligence :

Great Leaders seek to make a positive difference by winning both the hearts and minds. I believe Leaders will powerfully increase their chances to achieve this, if they consciously invest in fostering more Collective Intelligence by :

  • Growing the teams' systemic awareness of their internal and external interactions

  • Leveraging the different forms of intelligence and skills as much opportunities for cross-fertilisation

  • Fostering fluid collaboration and synchronicity

  • Calling out teams' wisdom and showing trust on their ability to self-organise within the agreed boundaries

  • Encouraging the emotional connection to the vision as a means to sustainable performance


Other things to consider that’s beyond the scope of this paper :

Whilst this paper aims at sharing insights and observations from practical experience and to help to make the concept of growing a coaching culture more palatable to Leaders, it is important to point out that differences obviously exist between the respective roles and positions of Leaders and Coaches and their ethical implications.  I look forward exploring in another paper these differences.

Let me leave you with some questions to reflect on… 

If you read this as a Practitioner, a Leader or an Executive using Coaching to accompany change,

  • What are those practical situations you have experienced ?

  • What worked well, that helped implement successful and sustainable change, and was inspired from coaching approaches ?

  • What did you observe, that helped ensuring that the exact needed level of attention would be dedicated to everyone whilst coping with the overall volume of the projects, size of staff, etc ?

  • How do you think leaders can increase their own awareness of their existing coaching strengths and get hungry for growing them more ?

  • Given they are in a different role than the one of an external Coach, what ethical safeguards Leaders should have in mind when they apply coaching-inspired approaches ?

How to connect with Laurent Terseur:

Laurent Terseur is a former senior executive with a genuine care for people and over two decades senior experience in multi-cultural, highly competitive corporate environments, first as a group treasurer in pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, then in sales and leadership roles in the corporate and investment banking divisions of Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Barclays.

Laurent is an APECS Accredited Executive Coach and an ICF Professional Certified Coach. He coaches individuals and teams, English as well as French native speakers. His practice integrates insights from cognitive neurosciences and systemic coaching, and is informed by his track record in building highly collaborative and effective teams, his business acumen, and his multi-faceted understanding of matrix organisations. 

Hecan be contacted at laurent.terseur@gmail.com