Coaching the small stuff gets big results

PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MANAGER

A head of professional services realised that when his managers constantly came to him to solve problems, he became a bottle neck and issues got delayed, plus his workload greatly increased. He wanted his direct reports taking more decisions on their own and encouraging the same behaviour in their teams, making them all more effective.

During his Leading From the Middle programme he recognised coaching as a skill he could learn and apply right away. He saw it as a powerful tool to stimulate the thinking of his managers, but that it was also something he could use with peers, between teams and with customers. He took it slowly at first, allowing his team time to adjust to his new approach of asking questions rather than telling. Coaching on the job helped him become a better manager, who delegates more. He stopped taking on additional work by helping others think through issues and generate options for moving forwards, freeing himself up to focus on higher value activity. He also encouraged his direct reports to coach their teams and has seen confidence improve as individuals take on and succeed in more complex tasks.

An unexpected outcome was that learning to coach also extended his listening capability. Where before he would finish people’s sentences or just give them a solution, he now takes a step back and hears people out. He is more patient with his team – which is validated by his boss – and customers have also benefited – he listens more attentively to be clear what their issues are, which has helped him handle a number of difficult customer situations much more effectively.

Turning a bad situation into a good customer relationship

Senior Delivery Manager

A senior manager was asked to step in and sort out an issue with one of the company's biggest clients that had escalated into a serious problem. Remembering the techniques he'd learned on his C-Lab programme, he avoided engaging in a blame game argument and listened to the customer attentively and objectively. Taking responsibility for the situation he apologised for the inconvenience caused to the customer and proposed an unexpected way forward. The customer was surprised and also delighted and readily agreed to the manager's solution. In addition, the client relationship is now in much better shape and the risk of future escalations has been greatly reduced.

From high performer to high performing leader

DIRECTOR OF SALES

We worked with a data warehousing director of sales, who was taking longer than he had expected to transition from high performing account director to leading a sales team. He had spent his first twelve months in post doing what he did best – being the best salesperson on his team. Unfortunately, this limited team member autonomy and slowed down the sales cycle. Further, he was heading toward burn-out. He realised things needed to change significantly if he was going to make his target for the year. The pace of work wasn't sustainable and if he wanted his team to succeed, they needed to break out of the cycle of chasing every deal just to make this quarter’s number and start acting more strategically, which required him to stop micromanaging and start leading.

Through his Leading From the Middle programme he was able to step back from operational issues and trust his very talented team to do their job. He developed a sustainable vision and strategy which would enable long term success and cascaded this down to his team as clear goals, with milestones and a robust reporting framework. He coached and mentored individual team members in planning and problem solving but didn’t interfere with implementing solutions. And he made sure they had the necessary resources to do their job.

By the end of his programme he had aligned team goals with wider business goals and established longer term targets, not just for revenue but for targeting new clients where there was a good fit and prospects for long term and productive relationships.

It’s still early days for this director but he is getting results. He has a sound strategy for growth which is supported by his vice president. Team members are much more motivated, clearer about what they are doing and work with far greater autonomy. The director of sales is less stressed and confident he is moving in the right direction.

Working to a shared vision

UK COUNTRY HEAD

We worked with the UK country head of a global ICT company. Internally there was a culture of individuals and teams working independently or against each other. They wasted a lot of time and money competing for resources, where they should have been focusing on meeting client needs. His goal was to grow the company by £15 million over 3 years. He knew he needed to change the way they operated if he was to be successful.

The country head used his Accelerated Success executive programme to work with his management team to develop a 3 year strategy for the company, and to ensure annual business goals were aligned. During this process he came to understand how much influence quarterly financial targets had on what got done, and what didn’t. This prompted him to introduce a management team meeting cycle that enabled them to balance today’s demands with longer term goals. This in turn highlighted the need for better management processes, which would help maintain focus and improve the quality of the information available to his team. By introducing improved processes, reporting on business performance was more accurate and timely, and decision making on critical business issues was better and faster.

Not everyone on the management team welcomed this new level of visibility and accountability, therefore, through his coaching programme the country head also extended his capability in managing change at the individual, team and organisational level and learned that inspiring others to share his vision was about more than setting an income target.

His management team became more aligned, motivated and effective and business performance reporting and management improved. The country head was communicating more effectively with individuals in his management team and was better at supporting them in their roles. Management team communication was more open, there was greater accountability, and difficult issues were addressed rather than swept under the carpet. There was also a visible impact on the wider organisation, with greater clarity of purpose and improved cooperation and communication. The bottom line was that clients were happier and business results exceeded plan.

Developing his own career he continued to take on additional responsibilities within the organisation and has since been promoted to a group leader position.

$1 million sale made by meeting a customer's true need

Consultant

A consultant who, as part of practising what he’d learned on our C-Lab programme regarding how to really pay attention to a customer to understand their needs, decided to change his approach with a low-value client. Instead of simply taking the customer’s order for a low-value product renewal, the consultant helped the client work out what value he wanted from the supplier. The outcome was a $1 million sale — a significant increase on the original value — a delighted customer, and an overjoyed sales account manager.

Learning to lead by not getting in the way of your team

Principal consultant

This highly skilled technical consultant and manager worked on the customer’s site with his project implementation team. He was the central point of contact for all issues, which while reassuring for the customer was frustrating for him as he couldn’t find time to fulfil his management duties. Additionally he was a bottleneck, with everyone having to wait in line until he could deal with their query, which slowed down response rates for resolving customer problems.

The manager wanted to take a step back, trust people to do a good job and monitor what was being done. He knew micromanagement was an issue for him and he had been trying to extend his delegation skills for 15 years but now he wanted his team to become the main point of contact for the customer.

By adapting his coaching skills he quietly began to put his plan into action. He began asking the team questions to help them think through problems and come up with some options for moving forwards. He is now able to refer customer issues directly to one of his team to deal with. He said:

It is a little thing and it has had a big and positive impact. It gives the guys accountability to do something and I will be there if they need me.

Furthermore, he encouraged the team to use each other as a resource and to work out problems together rather than waiting to escalate it. By encouraging them to think for themselves, the team felt more engaged and involved in the tasks, which had a beneficial impact on motivation.

Identifying high potentials in the team was also important – there is a real shortage of senior technical staff in the company, so developing his people has been a great benefit. The team has a wider skill set and capability, they are now better equipped to work on different projects with more responsibility than before and there is less reliance on the same few individuals to take on increasingly challenging work from the customer. As for the customer, they know the team members and engage with them better. They also recognize the valuable contribution team members make, which helps the manager justify their professional rates.

Having freed up some of his time, the manager was able to undertake senior technical work and be the manager. Additionally, he used his newly gained people skills to support valuable pre-sales work to help the company win more business. He also reported a better work / life balance, where he works fewer hours but both he and his team get more done, and make a far greater contribution to achieving company goals than before his programme.

Being heard without competing for air time

Senior Consultant

This senior solutions architect observed that he often attended meetings but was unable to make a contribution. He reported that meetings rarely had an agenda, usually ran out of time and often had too many people participating. As a result it was the people who interrupted and had the loudest voices that usually got heard. He found this frustrating because interrupting and cutting across others just wasn't his style. Further, he often had information to share that was critical for decision making. If he couldn't do this during the meeting he had to find another way to get this information to his peers, by which time is was usually too late. The tools learned on Collaboration Lab ensured he could establish new ground rules when it came to meetings - there is an agenda; air time is shared equally; everyone is invited to make a contribution and no-one is interrupted. He reports he is still astonished that people can say less during meetings but get more done and that meetings can be a calm, respectful exchanges of diverse thoughts.  

Growing the business while integrating three company acquisitions

Vice President Professional & Customer Services

A highly successful vice president of professional and customer services took on a huge challenge when she was required to integrate three separate company acquisitions into her global part of the business. She had so many top priorities, including continuing to grow revenue, that she didn’t know where to start. Working with us, she quickly understood she would need to step back and trust her people to tackle things themselves in their way – she could provide support but needed them to execute.

She also quickly identified who on her leadership team were the right fit, who she needed to develop to improve performance and who she needed to move out. It was tough stuff and took up far more of her time than she wanted but she knew that understanding the capabilities of her leadership team was crucial to their overall success and the continued growth of the business. Had she not tackled this she would have had to continue with the chaos of four different company approaches, clients receiving poor service, potential clients being put off by the confusion and her people getting more and more demotivated. All of which would have negatively impacted her revenue and margin.

A positive spin-off from stepping back to support her team in this way was that she was better able to see and understand what she needed to do at a more strategic level, such as putting key area processes in place and scheduling to the end of the year, establishing weekly, monthly and quarterly operating rhythms and establishing a leadership team communications strategy. She also developed a deeper understanding of the various metrics the company used to measure performance and use the data more effectively in her team’s planning and decision making.

Inevitably, with so much to do, other things had to be left undone and some things are taking longer to resolve than planned. However, the vice president was in a position where she felt on top of the job for the first time in a long while and was able to prioritise what needed to be done and schedule in time when she or others would tackle it.

The result of her programme was that the new business sales cycle was much shorter, and upselling into existing client base and the growth of mega major accounts were both greatly improved, meaning that, despite all the disruption of acquisition and integration, revenue was up.

Getting the basics right for a step-change in business results

GLOBAL ACCOUNT DIRECTOR

We worked with a global account director who wanted to step back from his role and look at the bigger picture, enabling him to focus on making a real difference to his business. He had always made a point of responding to emails and voicemails promptly but realised this meant he spent his time reacting to other people’s agendas. He needed to identify his own agenda for the team and free up his time to deliver to that. At first he thought there just weren’t enough hours in the day and that high stress levels went with the territory.

Through his Leading From the Middle programme he developed working habits that got better results for him, his team and for customers. He got clear on the long term strategy for his part of the business, made sure team members understood their objectives, which would deliver the revenue. He became more goal focused and learned how to prioritise more effectively – now HE decides what’s important. His team worked to his lead and are clearer on what is expected of them. They now spend more time thinking about how to engage with customers and partner organisations, to ensure they deliver the best possible service. They are also learning far more from customers and partners about how to continue to improve.

The changes the account director has implemented have become the norm for his team. Now that he is truly goal-focused and has learned to prioritise, he spends more of his time helping the team win new business and achieving higher margins. The team gets the deal in this quarter as planned and doesn’t let it slip to the next. This translates directly to increased revenue and profit for the company as a whole.

Data discoveries lead to preventing technical escalations

Line Manager

A line manager used the techniques learned in C-Lab to uncover hidden data regarding serious escalations on a high-impact project that was costing the company a significant amount of executive time, lost margin and seriously affecting customer satisfaction and confidence.

The manager discovered a technical lead could spot scenarios in advance that would lead to a serious escalation for his team. However, the technical lead did nothing as he didn’t recognise it was his responsibility to step in and help in this way. The line manager helped the technical lead connect his own lack of action with the highly visible and painful escalations which went all the way to the top of the organisation. Subsequently line manager and technical lead put a process in place which acted as an early warning system to prevent technical escalations. When we checked on progress 3 months later the project hadn’t had any technical escalations, where previously they'd averaged 3 or 4 a month.

Focusing on high value activity

PRACTICE LEADER

When leaders learn to focus on what adds most value in achieving business goals, they focus others around them too. That’s what happened when the leader of an overseas consulting practice in a rapidly growing market came to us. As part of a global company, his practice of 350 people had been set very challenging growth targets, and he wanted to free himself up to focus on strategy and empower his management team to take ownership of the operational side. His team was already working flat out, just not always on the right things, and there were too many problems and distractions throwing them off course.

Through his Leading Form the Middle programme we focused on helping him learn on the job how to grow the capability of his management team, enabling them to take the lead on operational issues. First steps included extending his delegation skills and how to pass important tasks onto the right people, at the right time and in the right way. As the programme coincided with the performance review cycle, we also worked on developing his coaching and feedback skills. We planned sessions with his people before he undertook them in the field, meaning the results he got were better and faster. In addition, by paying attention to how he extended his own capability he was able to pass what he learned on to his team, helping to grow the company’s next generation of talent.

We helped the practice leader learn how to engage his management team in creating a compelling vision for the practice, which was closely aligned with the direction of the organisation. He led his team through this process and then tasked each manager with repeating the process with their own team, thereby engaging more people in the new direction. As a result, team members got clear on how the practice aligned with the company globally, and what they needed to do individually to achieve practice goals. In the year of his programme the practice had its best year ever, is now highly focused and continues to exceed targets.

From overstretched ‘fixer’ to trusted adviser

PRINCIPAL SOLUTIONS ARCHITECT

Following his C-Lab programme this principal solutions architect used the techniques he’d learned to influence the outcomes achieved by people he works with, despite not having line manager responsibility for most of them. He was able to be more reasoned in discussions, asking lots of questions to help others think something through for themselves, rather than telling them they were wrong or giving them his solution. This resulted in better problem solving and decision making and in his more junior colleagues taking more responsibility for getting things done.

The consultant became a trusted advisor to others, who they valued as someone who could be a mentor that would work with them, think things through and get results, rather than a hero who stepped in to solve problems when things went wrong.

Great leadership in good times and bad

REGIONAL DIRECTOR

We worked with the regional director professional services of a global data warehousing business. He had been hugely successful in setting up and growing his part of the business, however, the global board were now demanding tighter cost control and a focus on sustaining recent growth.

The director’s challenges were primarily around mindset and leadership maturity. His strengths in the start-up situation had been his blue-sky strategic thinking and entrepreneurial flair. For his people, rewards and prospects were good and they readily put up with the turmoil and pain of rapid change. However, his people now feared for their jobs and he needed to provide stability and consistency and focus on retaining core business.

Through his Accelerated Success executive programme the director quickly saw that to control costs and retain staff he needed to build a culture of collaboration between his and other functions, something that had not previously been a priority. He developed a new set of strategic goals that were aligned with those of other functions and the business as a whole, and paid much more attention to how he communicated with other function heads and with his own management team. He also worked with his management team to refocus their teams and reassure them that they had a long term future with the company.

He was able to steady the ship, reduce costs and instil a sense of confidence across the region. Staff retention has been very good and his part of the business continues to grow rapidly, exceeding revenue targets year on year.

Collaboration achieves a more productive outcome

Senior Technical Consultant

A talented key player, much in demand with customers and colleagues, this consultant set high standards for herself and her team. She played a critical role in high profile contracts, worked hard and cared about her contribution. Able to analyse complex data quickly and come up with a solution, the consultant of often felt frustrated when her colleagues couldn’t keep up. This was exacerbated when up against a deadline and often led to her being aggressive and confrontational when the team needed to make a decision on how to move forwards. Not surprisingly her direct approach alienated both colleagues and customers.

Behaving in a professional manner was always important to her and she wanted her Leading From the Middle programme to help her promote harmony, not discord. We worked on the theory that, if she wanted her customer to go somewhere with her, first she has to go to where they were. Therefore, instead of telling the customer ‘the answer’ to a problem she began to help customers understand issues before she recommended potential solutions. This wasn’t an easy or overnight transition, it took time, hard work and patience, but by setting small goals and reviewing her progress regularly the consultant was able to turn things around.

She is now more collaborative and less confrontational. In customer meetings she listens more and says less, and she continues to provide thought leadership and advice by enabling, not directing. Customers benefit from a more pleasant working atmosphere, more positive results, and report a feeling of ownership, learning and knowledge about their project.

After a number of years in the company she was delighted to win her first consulting excellence award.

Thinking critically to piece together a winning proposal

Principal Solutions Architect

This solutions architect used what he’d learned on C-Lab to help a team he was part of think critically when putting together a customer proposal. He was influencing rather than mandating and it took him a number of iterations but he eventually taught the team to focus on understanding what the customer needed, rather than going with their assumptions as they had done in the past. As a result the final proposal was a better fit for the customer, easier for them to understand and ultimately successful. The team also has a framework to use for all future proposals.

Big picture thinking brings focus and clarity

VICE PRESIDENT CONSULTING SERVICES

This vice president for consulting services used our executive programme to enable him to step back from the day-to-day, lay everything out on a map and plot strategy. Something he struggled to find the time and head space for previously. Taking this big view enabled him to identify the key items he needed to focus on in the context of the “big pipeline”, the important things that needed doing.

He was then able to focus on single issues, develop clarity of message and consistency in how he communicated messages.

My calendar is full every day, every week. During sessions I take time to go back to the plan, look backward and look forward, which is hard to do when my calendar is so full all the time. I have to listen and make sense of what each country is saying and reflect on whether it is in line with the big picture.
 The sessions help me build consistency of message so that I can take my team with me and then they cascade this down to their teams.
 I can't prove this empirically but I believe there is a relationship between the thinking I do during the coaching sessions and the results in the international area. This is the only part of the business that is growing.

A simple and very powerful use of his time has enabled him to truly focus, which has made a huge difference for him, his team and the business as a whole.

Increasing business revenue through strategic leadership

Vice president EMEA

We worked with a VP EMEA of IT professional services. He had spent his first couple of years in post troubleshooting and adding in new functions and was achieving 15%+ growth per year. He now wanted to focus on being more strategic to improve the customer experience, achieve even higher growth and gain buy-in from the global board for longer term structural changes.

He was already an accomplished leader and knew where he wanted to go with the EMEA business but needed to focus on how to achieve big changes at a granular level. His Accelerated Success programme gave him quality thinking time, where he could stand back and look at this in detail, challenge his assumptions on how it operated and extend his leadership style and approach.

As a result of his Accelerated Success executive programme the VP is working more strategically than in the past. He regularly articulates his vision for the business and sets clear goals for his teams. He has socialised his plans for restructuring with the global board and EMEA country managers, and has successfully engaged two countries in structural changes as key steps in achieving his strategic vision. He has also recruited key players to his management team who can help him get there. His EMEA business achieved unprecedented success in the year of his programme, exceeding target by more than 20%. Since his programme finished he has been promoted to a new and more challenging role within the organisation.

Achieving results through others

Senior Business Consultant

We worked with a senior consultant, leading a virtual team across EMEA. He wanted to build a high performing team but instead found himself constantly jumping on a plane to resolve operational issues faced by individual team members. He spent so much time on everybody else’s job he never seemed to have time for his own. Despite all his effort, therefore, he was having little impact on business results.

His Leading From the Middle programme enabled him to make a shift in thinking about his role as leader. He worked on how to achieve results through others rather than doing it all himself. He established a common purpose with the team and developed an effective communication strategy, greatly reducing the endless country hopping. He also learned how to delegate and assess team member’s will and skill, in order to achieve the results he wanted in the right time frame.

He developed his people to do more of the right things, which freed him up to focus on high value activities in his role. As for results, he went on to exceed his targets in this and subsequent years and has since achieved two promotions.

Better results through everyone contributing

Delivery Assurance Manager

While leading a call to agree a common process for tracking projects and ready to implement his template which had been piloted and modified, this manager remembered what he’d learned on his Collaboration Lab master class. He therefore held off from going with his solution and got everyone on the call to share insights, risks and concerns. As the meeting continued and hidden data came to light, the Delivery Assurance Manager realised his own template, which he was heavily invested in and proud of, wasn't going to work. The group kept working and ultimately generated a revised approach that the whole group was bought in to. Working together in this way ensured a new corporate initiative had been well thought through and was supported by stakeholders. It also strengthened the group’s ability to collaborate in future.

Stepping up to new challenges

DIRECTOR OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT

We worked with a newly appointed director of business development. The role was a new position in the company and it was a radical change from his previous job as a consultant. Despite it having been a number of years since he had directly managed a team he now had to build and lead a new department, which had two years to be successful and meet revenue targets. He knew he needed to develop new capabilities to step up to the challenge and was concerned about how to bring the best out in his team.

Initially he behaved as though everything was important but his Leading Form the Middle programme enabled him to step back from the fire-fighting and he was able to stop wasting time on jobs that were of low or no value. He also quickly realised he had to set specific time aside to think about strategy and the longer term in a more structured way.

An important step for him was to improve communication and collaboration with his peers on the management team. He improved his understanding of the sales directors’ pipelines and their plans for the next 12-24 months, and focused on integrating business development into the flow of information. Through doing this, he created a framework that minimised the number of gaps in communication that had frequently led to problems for other members of the management team in the past.

Building these peer relationships enabled him to provide real leadership for his team too, getting them to think about the bigger picture and what they were trying to achieve with each prospect. In particular, he was able to greatly reduce the amount of time they spent working on leads that were of no real substance, freeing up their time to focus on genuine prospects. The whole team is much clearer about what is expected of them, and they come across more professionally to prospective clients because they are well prepared for sales calls. As a result they provide more and better quality leads for the sales teams.

The director of business development is enjoying himself more and reports:

I’ve got much better use of my time and better use of my day, without working ridiculous hours. I can delegate in a thoughtful and planned way.

And his boss said:

As an organisation we are in a much better position to execute for the coming year. There is also more potential to develop the business development role – there was no blue print for this role before you (the director) took it on. Now other countries are putting in this role and they are coming to the UK for guidance.

His approach helps his boss in other ways too. Their one-to-one meetings are highly focused and tackle priority issues, they have a shorter list of things to discuss when they meet, which are the right things for the business to drive growth. They have also cleared time to focus on developing the important strategic alliances that will help them.