Month: January 2016

The Essential Skill In Business

Coaching is now considered essential as a development tool in business. It’s not yet as common as in sport, but is increasingly popular. This is because it’s an effective way of managing and developing people and delivers positive results.

Essential skill for line managers

According to the latest CIPD Annual Survey* into learning and development:

“Coaching and mentoring are common – three-quarters of organisations currently offer coaching or mentoring and an additional 13% plan to offer it in the next year. Most expect to increase their use.”

Of the companies surveyed nearly 9 in 10 are using or about to use coaching in some way. In-house development programmes and coaching by line managers or peers remain the most popular development methods and one of the most effective.

Companies invested in training managers in basic coaching skills and many want to use this as a means of changing the culture to more of a learning culture. With a few years’ experience of line manager coaching, companies are now much clearer on what they can expect from this form of on-the-job development. The focus is on performance development.

The ability to use coaching skills in how you lead and manage others is essential and will help you to get the best out of yourself, your team and colleagues. However the relationship of line manager as coach is one that only works within clear boundaries. It can work in the context of performance development, where the manager’s role in enabling that performance is part of the relationship. However the nature of the team member’s ‘contract’ with their line manager is likely to preclude full openness from the team member and this will limit the potential scope.

Confusion over definitions

However, there is still confusion over what coaching is. Sherpa Coaching 2014 survey found:

“Coaching is a hot subject, a modern-day ‘buzzword’ that means different things to different people. When we talk about coaching, we are not always talking about the same thing. When asked whether coaching and managing are distinctly defined, almost half our respondents (46%) answered sometimes or never.

In their 2016 survey they distinguish between Business and Executive Coaching.

  • Business: more about consulting and deals more with business processes and systems.
  • Executive: focused on changing behaviour in the business.

When looking at line manager coaching, this is wrapped up in their role as a manager and can be both forms.

I see this confusion often and not just in the organisational arena, also more broadly. I think that the fact that all sorts of people call themselves coaches and have a range of different approaches encourages that confusion. Coaching is not a profession, so there are no rules controlling the practice. This makes accreditation by independent Associations all the more important as an indicator of standards and competence.

Initially coaching was explained by likening it to the much more widespread and visible sports coaching. However, this was a ‘double-edged sword’ as people then understood it to be highly directive. If your experience was the football coach for your child’s junior league, or Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, you would expect a lot of control by the coach. This was not the approach advocated by coach training schools who promoted ‘non-directive’ coaching. Due to its increasingly widespread use, this style is slowly becoming understood, at least in large organisations.

Different schools have different approaches and users find it difficult to understand those differences and know what they are buying; or whether one approach or another may be better suited to their needs. It’s important for providers to be able to explain their style or methodology, so that coachees know what to expect.

Is it a profession?

The Sherpa survey shows that increasingly, external executive coaches are being reserved for top executives. The CIPD survey shows 65% respondents intend to increase the use of coaching by line managers or peers. For external coaching, 26% expect an increase and 25% a decline. Apart from supporting top executives, externals are most likely to be used for specialist areas, such as team development.

As the industry matures, so the range and depth of coaching training has grown and some coaches have many years’ experience. As an Accredited Professional Executive Coach with Association for Coaching I am bound to undergo regular Continuous Professional Development (CPD) and further develop my skills through advanced training. This approach by professional coaches increases the capability in the industry. Potentially this makes an even greater gap between the skills of an experienced professional coach and what they can achieve with their clients and the skills of the line manager.

What does the future look like?

In the short term I anticipate more of the same. In my experience, many companies have embraced coaching and mentoring, but have not necessarily thought through the strategic implementation of these forms of learning. Therefore they are not structured to get the best out of coaching as an organisational development tool.

Companies will continue to encourage these development solutions, focussing on line managers and internal coaches delivering the learning, not least due to budget constraints. This may lead to an emphasis on the mentoring, as they appreciate the directive element is strong for line managers. But managers will struggle to balance work demands and invest appropriately in developing their teams.

As HR and L&D managers gain more experience and evidence on what makes coaching successful, this will encourage a realignment of their expectations. Managers will be encouraged to apply coaching as a style of management, focused on developing their team members in the moment, rather than seeing managers as ‘coaches’. This could deliver a ‘learning organisation’, making a coaching style part of ‘how we work around here’ in order to deliver the goals.

This will allow coaching to be seen as a profession and the enhanced skills of professional coaches (whether external or in-house) will have clear value-add. The role of ‘formal’ coaching programmes will be clear, ensuring that interventions are focused and can be evaluated for effectiveness. It is likely that coaching will be used in those areas that require higher skill such as with teams or in groups and to support top leaders, leadership and talent development.

How to differentiate?

The significant growth in the industry will mean that coaches have to be increasingly clear in how they market their services. They need to define their niche and how they serve that niche. This will help address the confusion around what coaching is. People will appreciate that there are many areas in which coaching operates and that the style will differ with the nature of the learning need. For example, a marketing expert may offer a 10-step programme to resolve your business marketing process and it is clear that this is a highly directive approach. Whereas the needs of a top executive are specific to this individual and a coach will offer a non-directive approach, supported by their own philosophy, knowledge and skills. In all cases the client can choose the solution that best suits them.


I see professional coaches being highly skilled and sought-out for particular interventions and a coaching style becoming increasingly common in organisations, encouraging a learning culture. External professionals will need to continue to develop their skills to be able to deal with more specialist or difficult situations. Line managers will be encouraged to use a coaching style of management and will need the basic skills.

Tips for Your Next Trade Show or Exhibition

We know that many of the products we sell will be used as promotional giveaways at trade shows, conferences and exhibitions. Through this we have learnt a few things that will help you market your brand at these events.

We’ve got a mixture of advice and potential promotional products.

Here are seven top tips:

1. If the customer is going to say no to you, make sure “no” the answer you want to hear. Instead of asking if they would like some free promotional products, ask them “have you seen our free merchandise”. It’s far more difficult to say no to somebody when a simple “no thanks” will get the job done.

2. Make one of your handouts pre-charged power banks. These make a fantastic promotional product in their own right, but the added practicality of being pre-charged, your printed product has gone from being a useful item to have in the future to being a lifesaver there and then.

It may take a bit of time charging the power banks before the event but it will be worth it. Your company’s message and logo will be on the product which saved the day.

3. On the topic of taking time before the event, social media is a great tool to use to promote your brand. Making sure your customers and clients know you’re at an event is important, but equally important is the need to use social media during the event.

It’s often said that content is king and this is the case here. Use Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook during the event. Take pictures, engage with other companies who are at the event too. Create content will you are promoting your brand. At these events your digital communications can be as important as chatting face to face.

4. Pre-loaded USB sticks, memory sticks or flash drives can be a great way to promote your brand at trade shows. Memory sticks are practical products which are used frequently in all areas of industry. Such as the pre-loaded power banks, the USB flash drives make an excellent promotional product in their own right, however, why not load your companies contact details on or host a PDF version of your catalogue on there?

Your customers and clients can then browse a digital version of your catalogue at their own pace. They are also free to delete it and use the memory stick for its intended purpose. Your printed branding will still be loud and clear to see.

5. Get something in return for your promotional merchandise. Whether you’re giving away mugs, pens or pre-loaded flash drives and pre-charged power banks, try and make sure you get something in return for your products.

It doesn’t have to be a like for like swap. Ask for an email address, a follow or a like on social media or even a business card. These events are just as much about branching out and creating small leads for the future than selling your product on the spot.

6. Promotional bags can be a memorable product at any trade show. Branded bags, whether drawstring, jute or backpacks can be a great way to market your brand. However, these products do come with a slight issue. Promotional bags are consistently a top selling promotional merchandise item in the UK so it’s likely other stalls and tables are going to be giving bags away.

The plus side is that these products are practical, long lasting and have an excellent print area for your brand to take advantage of.

7. The final point echoes a comment from legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi. “When you get in the endzone, act like you’ve been there before.” Lombardi may have been talking about not over celebrating after scoring a touchdown but at trade shows the sentiment is the same.

If a potential customer seems interested in your product and what you have to say, whether or not you have, act like you’ve been there before. Sell your product in a friendly and confident way.

Managing Change Secrets of Adaptable Leaders

Why do some companies consistently outperform their peers? When companies that face identical circumstances are compared, one variable stands out among the winners- leadership quality. The best leaders are able to effectively influence three determinants of organizational performance-adaptation, efficiency, and human resources.

Adaptation involves changes made to cope with external threats and to exploit opportunities created by new technology, changing markets, and the shifting needs and expectations of customers. The ability to adapt becomes even more important when the external environment is turbulent and uncertain, yet it’s often more difficult the larger the size of an organization.

Here are seven things leaders can do to better manage change and ensure their companies are able to adapt amid uncertainty.

Start With a Culture That Rewards Change

The many difficulties involved in fostering adaptation in large organizations make it essential to have a culture with firmly embedded values and beliefs that support innovation and change. Relevant values include flexibility, continuous improvement, initiative, and a quest for excellence.

Instead of viewing adaptation as an infrequent reaction to dramatic, one- time events, it is better to view it as a continuous process that involves a combination of many and frequent incremental improvements and occasional major changes. In organizations with this type of culture, new ideas are nurtured and promoted, information is widely and freely shared, and people and systems are flexible and ready to respond to changes when they occur..

Monitor the Environment

Monitoring the environment involves collecting and analyzing information about opportunities and threats in the external environment and identifying trends and opportunities to enhance business performance.

External monitoring is often assumed to be the province of senior leaders, but it is the people in direct contact with customers, such as sales and service representatives, who often first get wind of changes in customer needs or competitor actions. Thus environmental scanning and interpretation of events should not be left entirely to the CEO and other top executives.

External monitoring in organizations is more effective when people at all levels are involved and relevant information is recognized and used to improve strategic decisions.

Use Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is the process of determining where you are, where you want to be in the future, and how you will get from here to there. The process includes setting strategic objectives, identifying tactics and actions for attaining them, and deter- mining the resources and actions needed to implement the strategies.

Although senior management has the ultimate responsibility for strategic decisions, the most successful leaders find ways to involve people through- out the organization in the strategic planning process.

Help Employees Envision Change

Painting a vivid, appealing picture of what your organization wants to accomplish or become helps to communicate the desired outcomes of a change initiative in a way that is understandable, meaningful, and inspiring. Envisioning change is about putting opportunities and threats in context and clarifying how the organization needs to respond. A variety of elements may be included in the vision, such as strategic objectives, key values for the company, general approaches for attaining the vision, slogans and symbols, and a description of what the vision will mean to people when it is attained.

Build Support for Change

Although most people would agree that change is essential if an organization is to adapt, grow, and remain competitive, change often produces anxiety and resistance. For people to support change, they must see it as necessary and feasible. Leaders can build such support by explaining the urgent need for change, building a broad coalition of supporters, identifying likely opponents and reasons for their resistance, and taking action to deal with resistance.

They must also be prepared to answer five critical question employees are bound to ask: Why is this change necessary? How will we manage the transition, Where are we in the process, What will I be expected to do, and Will I be able to do it?

Implement Change

It is impossible to anticipate all the potential problems created by a major change or to prepare detailed plans for carrying out every aspect of the change. A change program is less likely to be successful if a top- level leader tries to dictate in detail how it will be implemented in each part of the organization. Authority to make decisions and deal with problems should be delegated to the leaders who are responsible for implementing change in their sub- units.

Facilitate Collective Learning

It is important for leaders to create an appreciation for flexibility and learning among people at all levels of the organization. Major change will be more acceptable and less disruptive once people develop pride and confidence in their capacity to adapt and learn. To encourage an appreciation for learning, all practices should be considered temporary and examined regularly to see if they can be improved or eliminated.

Leaders also need to encourage an active sharing of ideas and new knowledge in the organization. Secrecy is the enemy of learning. Leaders should encourage employees who are facing difficult problems to reach out to other people in the organization to find out how they might have handled similar challenges in the past.

When innovations are developed in one part of the organization, leaders can facilitate diffusion of this knowledge to other parts of the organization in several ways. When it is not feasible for people to attend formal training, a team of experts can be dispatched to different sites to demonstrate how to use new procedures. Webinars and self-guided e-learning can also be used to promote broad idea sharing in a cost- and time-efficient manner.

Putting It Together

The most effective leaders recognize when major change is needed and know how to develop support from the people who can make change happen.

Because many innovations in large organizations result from a bottom-up process, effective leaders understand how important it is to inspire and empower all members of the organization to learn from experience, develop creative ideas, and share new knowledge across subunit boundaries.

They understand that implementing major change is a slow and difficult process that requires their consistent attention to succeed. And they use programs, systems, and structural arrangements that are designed to encourage and facilitate innovation and collective learning.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Successful Strategy Execution

”Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight Eisenhower

Delivering the promises of a strategy is about having the discipline of getting things done effectively. Yet, research shows that a large number of companies are unable to answer the pivotal question of strategy execution: “Are we doing what we said we should be doing?”

Once a strategy is decided upon, there is often surprisingly little follow-through to ensure that it actually gets executed. All businesses are different and, thus, face distinct execution issues, from those related to people and culture to corporate structures. However, a common challenge is the ability to bridge strategy, as a theoretical exercise, to practical matters, such as operational complexity and budget constraints.

So how can businesses ensure that the five or six key objectives critical to generate superior performance become the driving force behind everything the company does? How can they create the right conditions to succeed, measuring, adjusting and reallocating resources as necessary along the way?

1. Stop expecting without inspecting

For much of the last 40 years, the focus has been on how to create the right strategy. Most leaders still believe that, once this has been done, execution becomes a fait accompli – less than 15% of companies actually track how they perform over what they planned to achieve.

The odds of successfully executing a strategy that is not translated into regularly reviewed action programmes are slim to none. In addition, whatever has been decided in the boardroom rarely goes according to plan -adjustments and continual challenge of assumptions, while keeping the ultimate goal(s) in mind, are necessary.

A business must identify what it needs to do differently, or to value more than in the past, in addition to acquiring the skills it does not have and doing the right thing faster, better and more often, and more productively than its competitors. Frequent dialogue is an essential, if plans are to be executed well. To achieve this, senior executives need to reduce the time spent discussing operations (currently estimated at 85% per month) to benefit strategy and achieve a more equal time allocation. Only then can they focus on solving strategic problems, not desired outcomes or expectations: ultimately you get what you inspect; not what you expect.

2. Choose the right metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Many of the measures used to track strategy are often either obsolete, or the wrong type. Although a change in strategy would automatically trigger a change in KPIs, the tendency is to keep using the old measures. Implementing new measures is often perceived as a risk that can create resistance on the part of staff. Many companies also still focus exclusively on metrics that help them evaluate their financial performance such as sales and market share, but forgo metrics that help them assess if a plan is actually succeeding.

Without the right measures in place to guide the implementation, the latter will fail. The vital few must be identified and tracked, not the trivial many. When selecting the right KPI, three questions should be addressed I/ what outcomes are we looking for i.e. the measure of success? ii/ what activities or actions drive this outcome i.e. the link? iii/ what measures let us know how well these activities are being performed i.e. which one is the most effective?

It is also essential to anticipate:

– Unintended effects e.g. is success in one area of the company undermining results elsewhere in the organisation? What are the delays, both positive and negative, that could result in outcomes we may have to wait months or years to fully understand?

– Correlations e.g. a company whose speed at which it penetrates a new market correlates directly with the number of service representatives in the field might want to begin tracking the progress of how quickly representatives are added.

– Inconsistencies e.g. where a new strategic focus of customer value is reflected the salesperson metrics but the salesperson is not allowed to make a pricing decision without sign-off from finance staff.

– Future performance e.g. if the levels of sales are dependent on the level of interest rates, monitoring interest rates might be a good way to anticipate any sales declines.

3. Give a rhythm to your monitoring activities

We only know if a strategy is good or bad through constantly reviewing its implementation; yet too many are only reviewed once or twice a year. Strategy execution may sometimes make it to the top of senior executives’ “to do” list, but, within six months of launch, it usually vanishes.

Instead of an annual event, it should become an ongoing process. By shortening the performance monitoring cycle – from quarter-by-quarter to month-by-month, or week-by-week in some industries such as retail – businesses can get more “real-time” feedback on the quality of execution down the line.

The execution challenge of is mostly about synchronisation and rhythm. Effective companies review their results and evaluate their progress every 90 days. They ask questions such as: Did we achieve our KPI goals this quarter? Did we execute our strategic projects effectively and achieve the milestones we set by the due date? What did we learn this quarter? What will we do better next quarter? Answering these help define any necessary corrective actions to improve the strategy, and identify the top business execution priorities for the next quarter. This disciplined process is repeated each and every quarter. The cadence is further kept through weekly “execution meetings”, whose output is to define what can get done this week to help move the strategic priorities.

4. Performance Management Systems aligned with the Company Strategic Projects

Executing a strategy comes down to people who hold themselves accountable, and who are willing to be held accountable for delivering projects, tasks and numbers. Any new strategy usually spells change and change does not take place without positive reinforcement i.e. individuals being rewarded and recognised for taking the right actions. Leaders must first create strategic clarity and closely identify which parts of the old strategy are no longer important to the business. This translates into the identification of the actions they no longer want their staff members to perform, as well as the ones that need to be done differently, or indeed, new ones they should start doing.

Ultimately, people respect what you inspect. Setting strategic-level KPIs aligned with corporate priorities and cascading through our daily work ensures that everyone is accountable for effective activities that clearly contribute to these strategic priorities. It clarifies conversations around how all staff can influence the business results. If staff incentives are not aligned with the strategy, people will continue to focus on what they believe is in their own best interests (which may or may not be aligned the execution of your strategy).

When people connect their day-to-day work to a few key strategic numbers, work becomes meaningful and valuable i.e. people understand how they are contributing to team success and their accountability soars. Having clear KPIs in place allows them the freedom to act in line with the strategy, as they are encouraged to have the right behaviour and actions to implement it. Focus on performance does shape behaviour on a day-to-day basis.

Missing on any of those execution must-haves can have serious consequences. Research shows that only 63% of senior executives achieve the expected results of their strategic plans. This is a scary statistic when we think about the amount of time and effort any organisation puts into strategy.