Executive Coaching

toptem-coachingFar from a nice chat, coaching can be extremely valuable to business.

But how do we measure this? How can you know you are getting value for money?  Quite simply, the value is in the time and space to think, facilitated to ensure clear progress is made. We rarely take time to step back, stop and think. We face a challenge, we find a solution and we run with it.

It’s no wonder with this pattern of working that we often end up realising months have gone by and we have not thought about overall performance, strategic direction, personal goals etc.

By taking that time to think with a facilitator, we become more effective, find ways around our fears and areas where we might lack confidence. It’s a difficult one to quantify – but think of a manager suddenly having the confidence to manage a poor performing team. Imagine you, at your best, performing with greater efficiency and focus. It’s all extremely valuable.

Jelly Bean Diversity

How can we measure the value of coaching?

As with any activity where it is difficult to quantify impact or benefit, the key is in the original objectives. It is only when we know what impact we are aiming for that we can measure whether any activity has been successful. It is for this reason that coaching objectives need to be aligned to business needs.

Consider exactly what you want to see happen and how you would know if it had happened.

Let’s take an example of a senior executive who is performing well in many areas, but struggling to build relationships with key players and influence change. This scenario is a perfect opportunity for coaching. Training in this instance would provide knowledge about what the executive should do, but coaching will more rapidly get to the heart of existing barriers and how to move past these.

To measure whether coaching has been effective in this scenario, we could define some clear objectives. For example, “by the end of a six month coaching programme, this executive will have:

  • Built positive relationships with departments X and Y, demonstrated by a 10% increase in the number of projects they are working on together
  • Influenced change in at least two areas where they were previously frustrated with a lack of progress
  • Created an action plan to move the department toward their vision over the next 3 months”

Maximising your coaching session

So as long as you set clear objectives and measure the business benefit of these throughout your coaching programme, you can be clear on the ROI of the coach.

To maximise the value you gain:

  • Define your objectives, being really clear about what would be different if the coaching was effective
  • Start with an open mind, then give your coach prompts on what is working well for you
  • Keep evaluating what you are gaining from the time and money invested
  • Calculate the financial impact of the changes you have made since meeting with coach – whether that is time saved, more productive meetings etc, you should be able to estimate an amount
Read More

The Six Capabilities of Effective Leaders

Leadership 400x265Shouldn’t that be seven, habits and people?  Er, different book.

As globalisation has taken a hold of business, it’s become increasingly important for leaders to understand their role and capabilities within this new global view.  It’s now essential that leaders are adaptive to the changing marketplace and recognise the commercial value inherent in that change.

You can no longer ignore the potential gain to be derived from a single tweet any less than the potential loss from an incoherent strategic vision.

This is forcing leaders to step forward into the limelight, and those that are commercially thriving under this scrutiny have done so by introducing a transparency to their interactions with the world.

This transparency is essential because they depend upon people they will never meet, suppliers or partners in different businesses and they will have an increasing reliance on their peer network, both within their existing business and their competitors.

In a recent book, The Elastic Enterprise by  Nick Vitalari & Haydn Shaughnessy


they highlighted six capabilities that these successful leaders exhibit:

  • Invention
  • Re-framing
  • Attraction & Orchestration
  • Influence
  • Drawing the Line
  • De-Risking

What we’ve found fascinating is how tightly their research has overlapped with our understanding of entrepreneurship, and what makes entrepreneurs so commercially astute.  Increasingly we are being asked to identify people with entrepreneurial flair, to lead large businesses to success – hence the growing popularity of the term intrepreneur.

A brilliant demonstration of why the intreprenurial spirit is key to success in modern business has recently been shared by Miranda Birch, a previous guest blogger with us and someone we highly recommend you check out here.

We’ve defined a number of commercial capabilities that are present in the top performing managers, leaders and entrepreneurs, irrespective of geography and business type.  These commercial capabilities, rolled into one and known to us as Commercial Brilliance are a granular understanding of the behaviours and characteristics of an individual who is nothing short of a commercial genius.

Vitalari and Shaughnessy’s research is a great starting point to understanding these brilliance behaviours and characteristics – so we’ve summarised their findings for you below.

Totem Gummi Bears

Invention – All of the leaders they studied were quite capable of generating fresh and innovative ideas.  Leaders need to be comfortable tinkering with systems and knowing something new can come of it. They have to be driven by novelty.

Re-framing – Or changing your perspective is a critical capability in our emerging leaders.  They have the ability re-interpret the vision, mission and values of an organisation – and most importantly, engage all of those around them with that new interpretation.

Attraction & Orchestration – As a leader in an evolving organisation, they have to attract and coordinate a remarkable number of business elements.  But the leader needs to do this very much as a conductor coordinates his orchestra, with passion, flair and complete mastery.

Influence  – Leaders need to master the organisations internal and external information architecture, using it to promote the their wider vision whilst including everyone from the little guy, to the hugely influential collectives that sweep through social media platforms.  That means cultivating a habit of appearing both wise and flexible, being vocal but attentive.

Drawing the Lines – The commercial capabilities of these leaders require them to push the boundaries, product innovation, market placement and team performance to name but three.  But in pushing those boundaries they will need to draw the line between consultation and instruction.

Key stakeholders will always want to have their opinions heard, but also need to be lead.

De-Risking – The new global economy requires a new approach to risk, it’s become a hyper-competitive environment, with threats and opportunities in the most unlikely of places.  Leaders are demonstrating this with radical sideways moves into markets where they have no core competency.

Leaders must now possess the skill of developing and maintaining a portfolio of strategic options. The strategic options portfolio is a constant search for new options, new alternatives, and new markets.

Watching the world and seeing new opportunities is now a critical capability for our leaders.

Read More

Difficult Conversations Part 1

Still the bugbear of L&D professionals the world over…

Why do our managers not give feedback?  Why do they not face upto those honest, tough or difficult conversations?  Whatever we call them, and many businesses have tried their share of variations, feedback and performance conversations are still a challenge for managers.

Here we look at why interventions to date may not have worked and share some top tips that are working well for us and our clients.

First, we need to understand what is holding people back from giving feedback.  Notice how most eLearning sessions on feedback or workshops covering the topic, dive into “how to give feedback.”  We all instinctively know some good practice ideas like be specific, tell them at the time etc, yet when it comes to it, we avoid the difficult conversation.  This means that simply teaching more “how to” tips is unlikely to help, as the fear of the other person’s reaction stops many managers from entering into the discussion.

We therefore find that the most effective feedback workshops start with What stops us from giving feedback?  This first question raises anxieties about how the other person will respond and concerns about others’ perceptions of us as managers.  Many managers will say something like, “I don’t want to be seen as a nag,” or “I don’t want them to quit,” or simply, “what if they don’t like me afterwards?”  There is power in getting these concerns out in the open, knowing that we’re not alone and then working through these concerns.

Then we can ask, how can we overcome those obstacles?  For some people this is about letting go of needing to be liked all the time, whilst for others it’s about acknowledging that it’s highly unlikely someone will immediately quit the first time they have a difficult conversation.  And if they did quit, would it really be such a bad thing?  Particularly given the fact that so many managers share stories of holding onto a so-called high performer who constantly upset the rest of the team, then one day that person quit and the whole team’s performance and morale sky-rocketed.

With all of this helpful thinking out in the open and managers realising it would be better for them to act than to not act, there is a shift in the room to, “ok, but how do I do it?”  It’s as though we have now earned the right to talk about the how-to practical tips, in the context of their real concerns and anxieties.

What do we need to do to have an effective conversation? 

We start by sharing stories of how difficult conversations have been derailed when any of the following aspects have been missing:




In one example, a colleague was not aware of the impact they were having on the team by only ever making criticisms or highlighting concerns in meetings, so they did not respond to requests to be more positive.  In another example, a colleague was aware of the way they spoke at a hundred miles an hour during presentations, but they believed that this added to their energy and positive impact, so did not agree that anything needed to change.  In another, a colleague could see that the way they kept interrupting peers during the day was distracting and unhelpful following a difficult conversation with their manager, but there was no firm action agreed or review put in place, so nothing changed.

Everyone can share their own stories – they have seen this happen time and time again, when someone clearly disagrees that something is an issue, or a lack of review means behaviour has returned to normal.  And this really makes managers consider whether or not their colleagues are aware of the problem.  It’s so easy for us to fall into the trap of labelling people as lazy, rude, inconsiderate, thoughtless, without considering that the person may have no idea of the impact they are having.  And if they did know, they may well want to change.

So then the group comes up with ways to have conversations that ensure all three aspects are in place, followed by a review to check there has been progress.

We’ve given examples here of pretty basic stuff about people’s behaviour, but the same approach is equally effective for conversations about the need for more strategic thinking, for discussions about a lack of career progression, for questions over the leadership of a department and consultation over vision.

Because one of the main concerns managers have is how the other person will react, we then go on to explore how to prepare for that too.  We’ve put that into a separate article here.  Enjoy!

Read More

Manager-Led Learning

How do we encourage managers to take a more active role in learning?  And why is that important?

We recently had the privilege of working with a role model learning leader.  That’s a term we’ve possibly made up, learning leader.  What we mean is, a manager who leads their team in learning and developing constantly, attending workshops with them and/or holding each individual to account for applying the learning they have taken from any intervention.

In contrast, another organisation we worked with recently sent out line manager briefing webinars. The message was, “you asked for this development for your team, but now that means losing this person from your team and the day job for a whole day.  You can’t afford for that to be wasted time, so how can you ensure you get a return on that investment?”

Sadly the L&D team received reports from a few managers that their peers were bragging about not having watched the webinar, as though they had somehow got out of doing something boring and annoying.  Whilst one or two of the managers followed the advice and guided their people through a positive learning experience, most showed a lack of interest in the idea and many delegates complained that they had not been supported to use what they learned.

Time and time again, we see that the line manager’s role in learning is more important than any other factor.  CEB first reported on this decades ago and every paper on the subject since has revealed the same findings: well-designed, brilliantly facilitated learning in line with business objectives is useless without the support of the line manager.

Theories as to why the line manager is so important vary from the sense of support, “how can I help you apply what you learnt yesterday?” to challenge and accountability, “show me how you have benefited the business with new skills and actions since you went on that training.”  Even more simply, we know that what gets measured gets done and what gets talked about gets done.

So if a line manager is not measuring, noticing or talking about changes in behaviour following development, then why would anyone bother about it?

In the classic wisdom of less is more, our experience tells us that the L&D team investing in 1:1 conversations with delegates’ managers makes the biggest difference.  Rather than focusing on getting more people through more development programmes, these L&D teams invest in supporting fewer people to a higher level of quality.  And of course if this happens first at the top, then the cascade effect can work its magic.

With leaders at the top role modelling support and challenge for the application of learning, then ultimately the business can end up with the holy grail of a learning culture.

So if you’re struggling with engaging line managers on a mass scale, why not start small?  Find a couple of managers who are doing this pretty well and work with them to make it even better.  Find another few managers who might be open to trying something new, and guide them on how to coach their people to share their learning and put new skills into practice.  You’re likely to see greater success with that than anything designed to engage the masses.

Read More
, , ,

Defining Leadership Potential

totem-prismA new kid on the potential block

We’ve written a fair amount on defining potential over the years and this remains a critical challenge for businesses.  How do we spot our future leaders and help them get to the position we need them to be in as soon as possible?  Now there is a new answer to this question.

Whilst our work in this area to date has focused on our own research and experience on defining and developing potential, combined with the most popular models of YSC’s Judgement, Drive and Influence and Korn Ferry’s Learning Agility (you can read more on these here), the most recent development is Korn Ferry’s Assessment of Leadership Potential.

Based on the most recent comprehensive research on what has led to leaders being successful, Korn Ferry have a model and product that can guide us all on defining and measuring potential.

Korn Ferry defines potential as “the capacity and interest to develop the qualities required for effective performance in significantly more challenging leadership roles.”

Their research to understand what indicates this potential brought up four distinct categories: the “who you are” drivers and traits and the “what you do” experiences and competencies.  For measuring potential, the focus is on those “who you are” characteristics as these indicate things about you that are more innate rather than learned behaviours or past experiences.

Jelly Bean Diversity

This has all resulted in a new product on the market, the The Korn Ferry Assessment of Leadership Potential (KFALP), which measures the following:

Drivers – the drive and desire to take on the challenges associated with being a leader.

Experience – the experiences that have shaped and prepared a candidate to be successful in higher-level positions.

Awareness – the ability to identify personal strengths and weaknesses and how they affect others.

Learning Agility – the ability and willingness to learn from experience and apply that learning to perform successfully under new and first-time conditions.

Leadership Traits – specific traits that help leaders to excel: focus, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, assertiveness and optimism.

Capacity – the cognitive abilities necessary for logic, reasoning and to solve complex problems

Derailment Risks – The ability to manage and avoid the classic derailers of unpredictability in a leader’s behaviour, micro-managing and being closed to others’ perspectives

And of course just like the YSC Judgement, Drive and Influence (JDI) model, this opens up opportunities for businesses to benefit from the research whilst creating their own versions of these models.  Many clients we work with have previously created their own model of potential by combing the YSC JDI and older Korn Ferry model of learning agility.

Now it appears Korn Ferry have produced the ultimate – a model that combines those two ideas and adds some new, rather useful concepts.

Totem Lollipops

Looking at the detailed indicators under each of the seven areas, it appears that YSC’s Judgement is shown here in the KFALP under capacity, Drive under the drivers section and Influence appears to be spread out across the drivers sub-section of power (an individual’s interest in influencing others) and in the experience section (where critical experiences include negotiations and external relations).

That is all to say that this new Korn Ferry model gives us all a more recently developed and comprehensive definition of potential which envelops the models most widely used in business today – JDI and learning agility.

It’s the joy of being independent that we have the chance to go into businesses and help them develop models and frameworks for defining, assessing and developing potential, that best suit the company objectives and culture.  There’s no doubt that this latest research will be of great value to all talent functions looking to benchmark leadership potential.

Read More
, ,

Women in Consulting

What a privilege it was to be at IBM Southbank for the Young Management Consultancies Association’s Women in Consulting event!

There was a great buzz in the room and the comments about how women (and men) could better promote themselves and be confident in their career development were fantastic to hear.

Here we share the content for those who want a refresher on the key content and those who were unable to make it….

What is gravitas?

We explored on the night the idea that gravitas was about ‘gravity’ or authority, but that this usually came to life through calm confidence, keeping it together under pressure, being personable and having credibility. A few people also spoke about physical aspects like the tone of voice someone uses, how they use silence, their posture and pace. This led on rather beautifully to a discussion about how we use our bodies to have great impact with our colleagues and clients.

Physicality, posture and gravitas

There is no doubt that a strong posture, assertive handshake, good breathing and an even, well-paced tone of voice communicates confidence. So how can you develop this? Caroline Goyder’s book on Gravitas and Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on how our bodies change our minds are great starting points for learning about using your body, your breathing and your voice more effectively.


If you want other people to believe in you, then you need to believe in yourself, but that is far easier said than done. We all talk about confidence, but what is that really? What if you believed that confidence was simply the things you say to yourself? There is of course more to it than that, but as a starting point, challenging the things you say to yourself is a great launchpad. What do you say or think to yourself when you are not feeling confident? Chances are you will come up with a list similar to our delegates at the event:

I can’t do this.
I’m not smart enough.
I’m going to fail.
I’m going to look stupid.
What if I let others down?

You probably tell yourself something very negative or ask yourself a question that drives negative, risk-averse thinking. So now consider what you think to yourself when you are feeling confident. Take some time on this, what were you actually thinking the last time you were in the zone, doing great work because deep down you knew you could?

What’s interesting is that people often come up with a list like:

I can do this.
I was asked to do this because I have the skills.
If I get stuck on this, I can always ask questions.
Other people believe I can do this.

But the research, such as that on the concept of “flow” or “being in the zone” from Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, shows that we are thinking nothing of the sort. When we are feeling confident deep-down, we are so focused on the task that we do not have all this self-talk, we are simply thinking through what to do. Moment by moment we are planning action, taking action and looking for some form of feedback or self-monitoring on how well our action worked.

So what if we used this as our challenge to less confident thoughts? When you find yourself thinking “I can’t do this,” what if instead of trying to calm yourself with glib statements like “yes you can,” you instead focused on the task in hand and asked yourself, “how can I make sure I do the best job possible right now?”

Whereas the “yes you can” approach can lead to an internal disagreement, the practical question leads you to thinking about how you do a great job. That means planning action and taking action – which far better reflects our thinking patterns when we are in the zone. Give it a try – you never know, it might work well for you.

Asking questions

Often when we are working hard to influence someone or make a good impression, we focus on what we want to say. The problem with this is that we end up giving some long monologue and losing people along the way. Breaking up what you want to say with questions, or even starting with questions, means that you are showing interest in the other person, which can also result in you learning more about them and helping you influence them more effectively.

Purpose and passion

This was the aspect of the evening that seemed most surprising for many of the people in the room, perhaps because early on in a career many people have not necessarily considered what they are passionate about. If you want to leave a lasting impression on people at networking events, or with your peers or that senior colleague you want to influence, then you will need to connect with emotions rather than logic alone. As Maya Angelou famously coined, “we do not remember what people said, but we remember how they made us feel.” Connect with your emotions when you are speaking and you will connect with others’ emotions too.

An example of this could be simple at a networking event when someone asks you the standard and often awkwardly answered question, “what do you do?” Rather than sticking with the standard, “I’m a consultant at Deloitte” or “I’m an accountant,” add something memorable by saying something like, “but what I’m really passionate about is seeing the difference…” or, “that’s the job title, but what it really means is I get to spend all day… It’s such a privilege.”

When such statements are said with feeling (and you actually mean it, authenticity is critical here), then you will be far more memorable than the usual.

So there you have it, a few highlights from the event. And you might notice that nothing there is really specific to women, these things are relevant to everyone in their career development and influencing.

Yet there seems to be something powerful about getting a group of women together and letting them know they are not alone in continuing to work against gender inequality.

Read More
, ,

Managing Millennials

Top Tips on Managing Millennials

We probably need to start this article with some caveats and health warnings.  We cannot claim that everyone born between 1980 and 2000 is the same or has the same requirements from their manager.

And just like any other group of people, the best thing you can do as a people manager is take time to build a relationship and work out together what each individual needs from you.

However there are some particular quirks to those in the latter half of this generation known as millennials: those born after around 1990, who grew up with technology at the centre of their lives and experienced 9/11 in their formative years.

There are lots of sources out there on millennials and understanding how they have developed into people that are frequently insulted in the workplace.  Our favourites are Simon Sinek’s frank and entertaining version from a US perspective and this UK version from the Guardian

But this article is about how to manage millennials.  Understanding their mindset and how they have come to certain ways of thinking and being is useful, but what do we do with that information when they’re in our team and we’re struggling?

There are again a lot of places to look for such guidance, but the best by far is this book where there are specific suggestions given on how to adapt your management style in order to get the best from your team (frankly whether they’re millennials or not).

Here are our highlights:

Adaptability – are you willing to adapt to the needs of others or do you find yourself (like most people do) saying about millennials: “I can’t believe they did that.  I would never have done that when I was their age / in their position.

They need to get a grip / realise the world we’re in / follow my lead or get lost.”  Examples often quoted are people taking long lunch breaks, leaving the office early or taking six weeks off to go travelling.

The problem here is that we always compare ourselves to others, so we say “I would never have taken a long lunch break when I was early on in my career – I never even do that now!”  But just because we didn’t do it, that doesn’t mean there is a universal law saying nobody can ever take a long lunch break.

We need to challenge ourselves to meet people where they are, challenge our beliefs about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour and work with each individual to agree ways of working.  In practice that probably means that sometimes it’s fine for people to take long breaks as long as they get the job done.

Challenge Orientation – ah that classic phrase – “it’s not a problem, it’s a learning opportunity.”  We scoff at this like it’s false, but the fact is that when we really believe something is an opportunity to learn and stretch ourselves and a challenge we look forward to, we get a lot more out of the experience.

We only need to remind ourselves of Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset work to see how powerful this can be.  So do you view millennials in your team as a pain, or as a new challenge for you to work through and find a way to help them thrive?  Your mindset could be the greatest barrier to your success in their management.

Poweralthough we probably all still come across people who use their title, rank and level in the hierarchy as their power, there is no doubt that this is losing its relevance and prevalence in the workplace.

For millennials in particular, having grown up without the need for authority figures in some ways, as they can find out just as much as an expert in seconds on google, the focus is on relational power over authoritative power.

So next time you feel like saying, “I’m the boss, so just do what I say,” remember that this is likely to switch people off.  Work on building trust and helping your team understand the pressures you are under, so that you can ask people to help you and all work together on solutions.

Success – finally another point on mindset.  Do you believe that millennials hinder your chances of success?  Or do you see that they can help you succeed – and you can help them thrive?  Not surprisingly, those managers who believe the latter tend to be better managers.

What you will notice is that far from magic solutions for getting millennials to adapt to the workplace, the research shows that businesses who see millennials thriving and contributing greatly to results, have managers with a different mindset.

So, are you willing to think differently, in order to help your team thrive?

Read More
, ,

The Value Add of Executive Coaching

value-totemHow We Go About Improving the Value Add of Executive Coaching

Whether we’re coaching one senior executive in a firm or a whole leadership team and whether we are the sole coaching provider or one of many, there are some consistent ways of working that help.

We’ve put together this useful little guide to help you understand some of the key steps to successful executive coaching.

Click on the image and the magic will happen.


Read More
, ,

Lost in Translation

Totem TranslationTechnical Specialists and Business Managers.  Finding a Common Language.

It’s a classic story – we have great technical experts, but business managers cannot understand the data analysis or subsequent recommendations.  Surely we can find a way to make the relationship between business management and technical specialists a fruitful one.

Here we explore the classic story in detail and recommend five steps to make life easier and break the language barrier.  This story is not limited to IT professionals.  We have had exactly the same experience with financial experts, data analysts and HR professionals.

We once worked with an IT team who were always keen to do interesting work and see that their work made a positive impact on the business.  At least, that’s what we learned when we spent time trying to understand where they were coming from.  This was not evident to the rest of the business.  The team were well-respected experts, but there was a perception that the team did not understand the needs of the business and often did not deliver the best outcome.

The business wanted experts to do some great analysis, present the analysis in a way that made sense, then make sound recommendations and explain why.  The IT team considered that they were doing all of that, but the business was not satisfied.  Something was getting lost in translation.

Line of isolated jelly bean figures with shadows

After a series of workshops, and the design and implementation of some structured work plans, we all started to see a difference.

The workshops had explored what was important to the IT team, what they wanted to deliver for the business and the perception they wanted others to have about this team.  It became clear that this team wanted the same reputation as the business was desperate for them to live up to.

Through questions, listening and recommendations we found ways to connect what the IT team wanted to deliver with what business leaders needed to see.

The relationship improved and both teams got what they needed, by all parties following these simple steps:

Ask Questions – make sure you know what each other need, the end outcome and key information required.

Listen and Clarify Understanding – listen to responses and play back what you understand about the other person’s needs.  Check your understanding is the same as theirs.

Agree Outcomes, Success Criteria and Timelines – make sure everyone is on the same page about what will be produced and when.

Clarify Style – we all have different approaches to receiving information.  Some people like to see visuals – graphs and bar charts, others just need the detailed spreadsheets and many would prefer very little data, just top level trends and recommendations.  Find out who needs what and deliver against those needs.

Keep Reviewing – keep asking what is working well and what needs to be improved.

Sound too simple and good to be true?  We find time and again that the simplest solution is often the best.  If things are getting lost in translation then we might simply need to communicate more & focus on understanding each other.

Read More