Provision #383: Coaching as HR On Call

Laser Provision

Not every situation can be handled from within. Sometimes, it helps to have a trusted, outside resource who can listen and bring new perspectives to the table. Today we interview a Vice President of Human Resources who has used LifeTrek Coaching in a wide variety of ways for almost four years. Having this resource on call has made his job just a little easier and more successful.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I interviewed the principals of an engineering firm who arranged to offer LifeTrek Coaching to the top 30 people in the company, with the company paying 75% of the cost of coaching and the employee paying 25%. About one third of the eligible executives, directors, and managers took advantage of the opportunity, for about four months during the third and fourth quarters of 2001.

Today I interview another corporate client, the Vice-President of Human Resources for a mid-sized manufacturing company, who has used LifeTrek Coaching in a more targeted way over a period of several years. The relationship has been mutually satisfying.

By working with a number of executives and directors over an extended period of time, LifeTrek has become something of a staff coach • a trusted and capable external resource. When a situation develops that requires an outside perspective, LifeTrek Coaching is brought in not as a last resort (“We’re in trouble now!”) but as a welcome partner (“We’re in good hands.”). The established relationship has meant that each coaching intervention progresses more quickly.

When has LifeTrek been called in for coaching? There are five scenarios:

  1. Organizational Restructuring. LifeTrek Coaching was originally used by the leadership team as an integration resource during a merger and acquisition process.
  2. High-Potential Associates. We were then brought in as a training and development resource for executive succession planning.
  3. Team Building & Conflict Resolution. That led to individual coaching and team building with the finance and information technology groups.
  4. At-Risk Associates. Later, we were retained to work through the dynamics with an executive who was perceived to have an attitude and behavior problem.
  5. Career-Track Associates. Finally, we assisted a disgruntled director to explore options and make decisions regarding his future with the company.

All five of these scenarios, paid for at company expense, are so common in the business world as to form a case for the HR Department of every company to develop an adjunct coaching resource to serve as their own, “HR On Call.”

Q: So how and when did LifeTrek Coaching get involved with your company?

A: You were recommended to us in early 2001 as a resource for our leadership team during the acquisition of another company. The acquisition process was a very challenging one for us, because in ordinary times we just went about our business. Everyone knew their jobs, what to do, and what to expect of each other. Our work did not require a lot meetings, communication, or even deadlines.

As part of the acquisition process, however, all that became essential. We suddenly had to work together like never before. We had to keep track of things that neither we, nor our administrative assistants, were used to tracking. There was a tremendous sense that we had to do this right or the entire company could go down the tubes.

LifeTrek Coaching was brought in as a facilitator for this process. There were points at which you literally assisted us with a tracking tool. But you also facilitated leadership team meetings and became a confidant of the executives who were in charge of the process. When tensions developed among the team, as they inevitably do, you were available to talk them through and move us forward.

You also paid special attention to understanding the cultural dynamics of merging the two organizations. The company we were acquiring was not just a different company, it was based in another country and it was owned and operated primarily by people in two additional countries. So the cultural dynamics were challenging to say the least.

I remember that you arranged for the leadership team to go out to dinner at an ethnic restaurant as part of our cultural sensitivity training. The program, including a speaker, was designed to make us more aware of the cultural dynamics so we could do a better job through the integration process. In many ways, LifeTrek Coaching was a significant part of our success.

Q: After the integration process was underway, why did you decide to keep using LifeTrek Coaching?

A: Because that’s when the challenges begin! The planning stage is easy; the implementation is hard. You assisted us to develop some communication and tracking tools that we still use today. In addition, you became a go-to resource when situations arose that were best handled by an external resource.

For example, we had identified two executives in our succession planning for the CEO position. If anything happened to the top guy, we wanted someone to be ready and waiting to step in and take over.

One executive in particular had all the right credentials except for his people skills. He was an incredibly hard worker, very smart, and could be counted on to do whatever it took to get a job done. But he was having trouble managing his staff and operating efficiently within the organization. He would ask people to do things, for example, and then watch over them so closely as to make them feel discounted and unimportant.

So we asked you to work with him and, over the course of six months, we saw real progress in this area. He didn’t micromanage as much and he listened to people more. He became less intense and more adept in his relationships with people.

Q: I know teamwork was an issue for this individual and his direct reports. Did that improve as well?

A: This is where you did some of your most creative, or at least some of your most fun, work. I remember that an idea emerged for an offsite teambuilding and planning event. In conversation with team members, it was decided to meet at a local indoor high-speed Go Kart track in order to experience teamwork in an entirely different context.

In the morning, at the event, people divided into racing teams, planning and implementing their strategy for winning on the track. In between each race, the teams would meet to evaluate their performance and plan their strategy for the next race. Then it would be back on the track for another go round. No one could win as individuals, only as teams.

This was an incredible learning experience that freed people up to say things about how they were working together that simply could not be said in the office context. After lunch, when it came time to evaluate performance and make plans for the real work at hand, people were much better equipped to work as a team. It was a great example of “hands-on, high-speed coaching.”

Q: What happened with the other executive, who was perceived as having an attitude and behavior problem?

A: That was a different situation entirely. Whereas we could identify certain specific people skills for the first person to focus on and learn, the other executive just had a personality that grated many people the wrong way • especially our CEO. And when the CEO isn’t happy, something has to give.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone can really change their personality. Nevertheless, we brought you in, after many internal interventions, to see what could be done. It was one last attempt to make the situation work out.

When that failed, he eventually moved on. I know he appreciated the coaching, and you were certainly instrumental in helping him to sort things out and make good decisions.

Q: Recently you went through yet another merger process and again called us in for coaching. What was the context for that?

A: This time we were the company being bought instead of the company doing the buying. So the stress is high and all bets are off as far as who will be left and what will be happening a year from now.

As part of this merger, one of our valued and long-term directors did not feel he was being treated right in terms of his position and benefits in the new organizational structure. We had had a number of meetings, and the situation was getting worse rather than better.

That was when we again thought it best to bring in an external resource. In this case, we had no idea where it would go. As coach, you were assisting this director to clarify his feelings and develop his go-forward position with the company. We had no idea if, as a result of the coaching and his own reflection process, he was going to quit or stay with the company. We just knew that something had to be done.

You worked with him for several months and he did end up staying, with a proposal for reduced and more flexible hours. Frankly, when that idea came out, I was ready to shoot you. Flex-time has just not been a tradition at this company. But we accepted the proposal and I think we now view this as a great resolution to the problem.

Q: All these coaching initiatives were paid for by the company. Can you calculate the Return on Investment?

A: There’s no way to calculate that in financial terms. But if you are not willing to invest a little money in your top people, then you should probably just get rid of them. Your top people are worth the investment, and I think they appreciate the offer of coaching even if they decline to take advantage of the opportunity. It is a morale booster to know that the company wants to help you rather than to blame you when things go wrong.

Q: Do you have any advice for the executives or HR professionals who may be reading this Provision?

A: Our company has really benefited from having a trusted, external coaching resource. I view LifeTrek as “HR On Call.” There are so many situations that come up in business today where coaching is the best response, including cross-cultural collaboration, leadership development, communication improvement, team building, attitude adjustments, and career planning. It helps to know you’re only a phone call away.

We have been very pleased with our relationship over the past four years. I would highly recommend coaching to any company as not only an important, but also an essential, human resource partner.

Coaching Inquiries: Who do you call on for assistance when the going gets tough? Does your company have a trusted, external coaching resource? How could you expand your options? Are there any workplace challenges that a coach could assist with right now?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..

Thanks for pacing the 4:45 team at the Baltimore marathon last Saturday. Although things really started to go sour for me around mile 17, and although I crossed the finish line 30 minutes behind the pace group, and although I told my dad at the finish line that I was NEVER going to run a marathon again … I woke up yesterday morning with a changed perspective. I am proud that I made it, can laugh at the whole situation, and have even started thinking about running another one. I figure I can’t do much worse, so I may as well try to do better. Your coaching through the race added a very positive element to the whole experience.

Thanks for the great newsletters, I find them really helpful.

I have been on steroids for most of my life and will continue to be. Can you help me? (Ed. Note: Diet and exercise become even more important in situations like yours. You may want to review the archive of our Wellness Pathways for suggestions 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School
Immediate Past President, International Association of
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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