Monday, December 20, 2010

Beware Command & Control In The C-Suite

Are executives taking a "back to the future" approach with command & control replacing particpative management as the preferred leadership style?

At some companies the answer appears to be yes.

For years, leadership gurus have preached - and most companies embraced - the concept of enlightened leadership. Leaders were taught that the best way to motivate their employees was to encourage openness, create a shared vision, gain buy-in, seek collaboration and coach their teams.

It was this management style that helped assure maximum creativity and involvement from employees and allowed companies to best utilize their human resources to reach and often exceed their goals.

Motivation through fear.....

But lately, following layoffs driven by an economic downturn that led to double digit unemployment and left those still employed perpetually fearful of losing their jobs, some executives are capitalizing on that fear to adopt a "my way or the highway" approach to leading.

When that authoritarian approach starts at or near the top of a company it has a tendency to trickle down throughout the management ranks, creating undo stress and leaving employees wishing they were somewhere else. It's those feelings among employees that often get translated into lowered performance and an erosion of the bottom line.

You can see the proof in the results of engagement surveys where fewer and fewer employees say they would recommend their present employer to others and in the anecdotal findings from career coaches who report that many of their working clients are eager to find new employment.

Don't ask, don't tell corporate style.....

This was made very clear to me recently when a highly successful senior exec I know, whose plate was overflowing with an endless stream of priority projects, met with her boss to suggest alternative approaches to tackling them and was told, "It's not your job to question what's important or what's not, just do what you're told."

This corporate version of "don't ask, don't tell" not only failed to solve her problem but succeeded in inhibiting her creativity and involvement, reducing her ability and willingness to contribute and left a disgruntled employee whose primary interest became finding another job. When the economy turns, she'll be among the first out the door.

Companies who allow their leaders to succumb to the allure of command & control during hard times do so at their own risk. The best companies know that times change and are eager to gain employee input, maintain high levels of engagement and promote best-practice leadership styles during good times and bad.

It's why they are called, employers of choice.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Do Retention And Engagement Still Matter?

What happened? Wasn't it just yesterday that "retention" was the most important item on the plates of HR execs everywhere, who envisioned employees bolting out the door if not kept happy?

Fast forward to today, with double-digit unemployment the new norm in much of the country and the question has become - is anybody concerned about retention anymore? And, in this climate, should they be?

What about engagement...

I used to find it hard to meet with any of my client companies without them wanting to talk about their latest engagement survey. They were concerned with what motivates their employees and what they needed to do to keep those employees happy.

What they learned from those surveys was that the key ingredient in motivating people - more than money, more than title - was the opportunity to contribute. To be involved in meaningful work that is important to their company and at the same time helps advance their career.

That's what people wanted - or at least so we thought.

Jobs trump engagement...

What we forgot was that the number one thing people really want is a job and the last thing they want is to be unemployed - cut adrift in a sea where good, available jobs are few and far between.

Those surveys were conducted during a time when jobs were plentiful. When, in the parlance of the marketers, it was a "sellers" market and job hunters didn't have to hunt too hard to find satisfying work.

And, it was during those boom times that the idea of executive career development programs took root as the key to ensuring engagement and retention. Companies were eager to offer their employees the help needed to identify long range career goals and help them determine the steps and acquire the skills required to get there,

It was seen as money well spent, the classic win-win....good for the company and good for the employee. It seemed that every company wanted to be, "The Employer of Choice."

What a difference time makes...

That's no longer the case. In a time we now call The Great Recession, holding onto a job - that is if you have one - is often the most important thing in one's life. Companies know it and all too many of them treat their employees accordingly.

At many companies, executive career development services have gone from being seen as a critical retention and engagement tool to an unneccessary extravagance by top management no longer concerned with employee satisfaction and secure in their belief that employees will accept almost anything in exchange for a steady paycheck.

And while employees at companies who practice that philosophy are indeed "hunkering" down during this economic upheaval two things are true: one, they will leave the moment a new opportunity arises and two, the pychological toll created by working in an overworked, unappreciated environment often means they are no where near as productive as they could be.

But there are exceptions and it's interesting that many of the companies who regularly wind up on those "Best Places to Work" lists - and who consistently produce profits - are still very much concerned about employee engagement, career development and retention.

They preach it, they believe it and from first-hand experience I can tell you that they deliver on it by providing executive career development services to their key leaders, high-potentials and others throughout their management chain.

They know that especially in these tough economic times, those with a clear line-of-sight to their long range career goals, who are confident that their work advances the objectives of both the company and themselves and secure in the knowledge of how to manage their career are the most productive workers one can find and the ones whose efforts translate directly to the bottom line.

So yes, there are companies still concerned with retention and engagement and in this climate more should be.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Executive Coaching - A Profession In Search Of Professionalism

Executive Coaching is hot and getting hotter. But, like every industry that experiences rapid growth, it attracts the good, the bad and the ugly to its ranks.

Anybody can claim to be a coach. The charlatans, the incompetents and the professionals all call themselves Executive Coaches and it’s not easy to tell who is who – even with a scorecard.

It’s this difficulty separating the good from the bad that has led to the emergence of organizations that purport to “certify” coaches they claim are qualified.

A quick look at the Web lists scores of institutions, associations, businesses and other entities ready and willing to train and certify coaches. They run from a three hour workshop offered by a franchisor of executive coaching to online approaches and classroom certificate programs provided by academic institutions of renown.

Certifying the certifiers …………

Among the largest of these “certifying bodies” is the ICF or International Coach Federation and, its rival organization, the IAC, the International Association of Coaching.

Interestingly, both were founded by the same guy, Thomas J. Leonard who passed away unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 47.

Leonard, who some refer to as the father of Executive Coaching and whom many speak highly of, was a very interesting character. Having never attended college he spent the first 20 years of his career as a Financial Planner.

According to his obituary posted in the New York Times, the story goes that one day he had an epiphany while helping a high net-worth client couple of his figure out what color Mercedes Benz they should buy. By asking what he saw as a series of introspective questions about their preferences, he helped this couple arrive at a color of choice.

They chose red, Leonard figured he was on to something, called it coaching and the concept of helping others sort through personal and professional issues was launched in the back of Leonard’s well-travelled and well documented RV.

Some things you just can’t make up…..

In an effort to capitalize on what he saw as a marketable skill he became a prolific writer of articles and books about coaching that successfully built the field and his own brand. More and more people were starting to use and talk about coaching.

Recognizing that others would be attracted to the field Leonard started something called Coach University in 1992 that morphed into Coach U which, as he often said was his reason for starting it, he profitably sold. He eventually replaced that one with CoachVille which markets itself as the largest network and trainer of coaches worldwide.

Then, recognizing a lack of credentialing among those calling themselves coaches he founded the ICF in 1995 to certify coaches and which says it is “committed to the art, science and practice of coaching" and today claims more than 14,000 members in over 90 countries.

But the story doesn’t end there, in 2001 claiming dissatisfaction with the way the ICF certified its coaches, Leonard, depending on who you listen to, either left the organization, or was asked to leave and went out and formed the International Association of Coaching, the main rival training and certifying body whose stated mission is to inspire the on-going evolution and application of universal coaching standards.”

Today, in countries large and small people proudly display varying levels of their ICF or IAC certification as proof of their ability and competence to provide coaching to others. And thousands more blindly accept this certification as proof of the coach’s qualifications and effectiveness

Caveat emptor – Buyer beware………...

Having been retained since the early 1980s by several leading corporations to coach their senior executives - and knowing other coaches who have similar backgrounds - I and many of my colleagues, would be the first to admit that as a profession, Executive Coaching is poorly defined, poorly regulated and poorly monitored.

It truly is a profession crying out for professionalism.

And while the large multi-nationals vet their coaches exceedingly well, they do so based on experience and reputation, rarely on the word of some certifying body.

But, because the Fortune 500 found coaching so effective at improving business performance, raising engagement levels and increasing retention, thousands of small and mid-sized companies as well as countless individuals from all walks of life have embraced it and seek coaches they can call their own.

Unfortunately, thousands now call themselves Executive Coaches and have the paper to prove it.

With some exceptions – and there are exceptions – the most effective coaches have a combination of thorough academic training and business experience. Graduate degrees in disciplines like counseling, psychology and organizational development coupled with pragmatic experience working with businesses and their top execs, along with the people skills to back it up, typically produce the best coaches.

The best training programs in the world without corporate experience just doesn't cut it. Nor does extensive business experience without thoroughly understanding and mastering the coaching skills necessary. Both are a “loaf half-baked,” the results of which can be disastrous at many levels.

First and foremost is because coaches have the power to impact people’s lives – both for good and bad. It’s not a game and the decisions coming out of these experiences can be life changing and irreversible. And second, the service is not inexpensive. It can be a big investment and the ROI should be steep.

Follow the money…

In 2004 a Harvard Business Review article described it as a $1 Billion dollar worldwide industry, by 2007 the global recruiting firm Korn Ferry cited coaching revenues at $3 Billion and the latest estimate due out next month will undoubtedly show industry revenues to be well in excess of $5 Billion.

Being a coach now pops up on all the career top-ten lists as one of the sure growth fields for the future.

Outplacement redeux…………

The parallel between what’s happening in the coaching industry today and what happened in the outplacement industry, over a decade ago, is erringly similar and one I had a chance to observe upfront and personally.

When outplacement first gained legitimacy in the late 70s as a company-provided benefit to assist people they were laying off, virtually all the practitioners had academic and business credentials. Lifetime employment was common then and being fired was seen as a traumatic event that required professional intervention.

The leading outplacement companies formed the Association of Outplacement Consulting Firms and our requirements for member firms and practitioners were stringent. We were a self-regulating industry that actually regulated.

Interestingly, many of the original providers of outplacement can be found among those providing coaching to today's C-suite inhabitants. In many ways, Outplacement was the true father of Executive Coaching.

Fast forward 30 years and outplacement is now seen as a commodity, delivered mostly by people who have gone through the service or received a one or two day training course from the large outplacement providers. Companies make their decision about what outplacement firm to use based largely on price and the leading outplacement firms pay their outplacement "counselors" a small multiple of the minimum wage.

That’s exactly where I see Executive Coaching going unless we ensure that only those truly qualified to deliver the service can call themselves coaches. That requires that a single reputable entity emerges to coalesce these disparate training and certifying organizations.

Back in '95, when I first saw mention of and ads for the ICF, I distinctly remember thinking to myself – “what gives these people the credibility to certify coaches?" But I also thought, "might be a good business idea, somebody just might make a fortune” and perhaps they did. But never did I think it would gain the level of blind acceptance that it has – shows you how smart I am.

Yesterday, I received a copy of the results of a 2010 survey of Executive Coaching from a firm that touts its ties to academia . They define the coaching process as meaning regular meetings between a business leader and a trained facilitator, designed to produce positive changes in business behavior in a limited time frame.”

It went on to further note what Executive Coaches should not do – namely

  • Not share their experiences – that was for mentors
  • Not provide advice – that was for consultants
  • Not impart specific knowledge – that was for trainers
  • Not touch upon personal issues – that was for counselors & therapists

I’m not sure I agree with any of those statements. Sometimes they're appropriate and sometimes not. They infer that with the right facilitation the client will always come to the appropriate conclusion...........that has not been my experience.

But what they are is dogmatic and imply an inflexible “one size fits all” approach. Worst of all, they support a definition and support the creation of a methodolgy that allows anyone who can learn how to question, call themselves a coach.

The only thing I can add to that list of what not to do is – maybe those people should not coach.



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