Sulynn was contacted by a CEO, an old client from her earlier consulting days. He has a vision to change the culture of the organisation, transforming it into something less compliant and more dynamic. She initially said ‘No, thanks’ to his offer of an ‘HR position’. Then, the CEO who wanted Sulynn on his team then asked her ‘what type of role do you want?’ She said ‘I just want to be a coach!’
Sulynn explained to him the value of coaching and the benefits that it could bring to him and his team. ‘Change doesn’t happen because you change a policy,’ she explained ‘change happens “one person at a time”. With a workforce of 700 workers, you have to reach out to them – as individuals, in small groups, or by word of mouth because if you touch one person who is influential, you can influence the group.’
Sulynn was contracted as a coach to the organisation and was treated as an ‘internal’ person, whilst remaining her status as an external contractor. She requested an office and was provided with an office equivalent to senior management status. Sulynn also carried the organisation’s name cards, and wore their uniform so she appeared like a regular employee. Only her approach was different to what they were used to from a senior manager.
Sulynn explains, ‘In the beginning, people are wary. They were uneasy, feeling that I might have been planted by top management to spy on them. I think a lot of people were cautious and set out to test how much and what they could share with me, especially when their bosses kept sending them to me. Eventually, people began to realise that “you can tell Sulynn anything, it doesn’t go anywhere and if it ever goes anywhere, it is usually beneficial to you”. So people started to come for coaching on their own volition and they would ask for coaching sessions without waiting for their bosses to send them.’
In her first year, Sulynn says ‘I am not one for games or plans. When I first arrived, I kept quiet for two weeks. So they were wondering “what is this strange person doing in that room, sitting by herself?” It was like being in a goldfish bowl in that glass room. But what I was doing was actually watching and listening. The first thing that I did was to suggest getting feedback and suggestions for change.’ The HR General Manager was not for the idea and the CEO didn’t expect employees to share information openly.
Sulynn pointed to a blank wall and suggested that they invited the staff to post ‘stickers’ with comments on them. She said ‘I’m just going to ask a question and see if anybody answers.’
Sulynn explains, ‘So there was a long bare wall between the male and female toilets, that everybody passed by at least a couple of times daily. I bought a 3M StickyBoard and mounted it on that wall. Then I put a very small picture of myself up, with the question “What would make a happy, creative and productive workplace for you? Tell me.” That’s all it said. A supply of small note paper and pens were placed there. Slowly but surely, people started to post responses. Needless to say, some notes were skeptical, saying, “You put this up near the toilets, no guesses what you’re going to do with our notes.”’
‘After two weeks we collected all the notes, summarised them and put a message back on the board that simply said, “We heard you. Back with an action plan soon. Watch this space.” ’
‘I then sat down with the CEO and we worked through the list of requests and suggestions to identify what could be done, to achieve quick-wins. The enthusiastic CEO immediately sanctioned changes and we posted a notice listing Action Items and Time Frame for Action. So now, it was established that “if you speak up, somebody listens and something happens”.
‘Next, we wanted to engage employees informally in becoming more of a community. So we also organised a weekly session where everyone had to play sports in the evening. It was compulsory for everybody to take time off work, an hour before the work day ended; top management included. We had a lot of fun.
‘As business-related changes were introduced across the organisation, I often ran focus groups to listen to employee concerns; and conducted information sessions to inform and encourage them to make the changes that they needed to see.’
Sulynn also introduced a top management development program that required each manager to complete a profiling questionnaire. A general session on interpretation of the profiling results was conducted and thereafter, each manager was required to come up to her office for a debrief on his/her individual profile and explore development needs; in this way she had an opportunity to start to engage with each of them. ‘Some managers took six months to turn up; some came that very afternoon. It depended on the individuals. Some I had to cajole them to come.’
During these debriefing sessions, Sulynn directed the managers’ focus to their careers and what they wanted out of their roles in the organisation. The constant message was ‘the company is undergoing a huge transformation now, and it is important that you are a part of it, so tell us what your career goals are. We don’t want you to feel that you’re being ignored or sidelined’.
These sessions culminated into coaching sessions that led to development plans being prepared by the individual, guided by a given template. Each person prepared a set of PowerPoint slides on what they wanted to achieve; what their strengths and passions were; what they have discovered from their coaching sessions; what they need to do and the type of support they need from the company, to achieve their goals within a specified timeframe. The final step was for the managers to present their aspirations to the CEO, who was ready to tell them how he would commit to supporting their development.
‘Many people participated, yet still others said “No, I’m happy where I am”, and we accepted that and didn’t push any further.’
Sulynn laughs when she recalls a lot of the conversations that go something like…
“You should see Sulynn.”
“So what does she do?”
“She’ll just ask you questions.”
“Ask me questions? What for?”
“Then you’ll get your answer.”
“So what does she know about my work?”
“She doesn’t know anything, she just asks questions.”
There were a number of other great initiatives including the rollout of an assessment centre and employee development programs for non-managerial staff. Sulynn says, ‘It doesn’t always stay rosy and go rosier. In fact, at some point, the buzz went around that “This is too good to be true”; and re-ignited the rumour that “You’ve got to be careful
because Sulynn is a mole”. I noticed that for a time there was a dip in senior managers coming for coaching sessions or even chit-chat. It took me a couple of months to find out that actually somebody told somebody who told somebody that Sulynn actually snitches on them.’ Sulynn approached them directly and encouraged them to be open with the assurance that as an ‘outsider’, she had no vested interest in carrying tales as her success depended on the success of the transformation; this was a great opportunity to build trust.
Gradually, in subsequent months, some came in to Sulynn or emailed her to make appointments, saying ‘This is not about my performance plan, I just want to talk to you about something else’. ‘So there began the seeds of coaching, and because these were senior managers’, says Sulynn, ‘when they saw the value of coaching, they started sending their subordinates or their peers and saying, “Hey, you should go talk to Sulynn”. As this went on, a coaching culture within the organisation was established – a giant step in the transformation of workplace culture.’
When asked about the key thoughts that she would like to share with others who are trying to influence a coaching culture, Sulynn says ‘I think the way you introduce coaching into an organisation needs some thought. Why do you want to do this? Always work from your strengths and focus on their strengths. Because the minute you tell someone they are doing this because you guys are not good enough, it dies. The best part in having the CEO and top management support and being a part of everything is a blessing as it makes the entire exercise so much easier.’
‘This particular CEO would actually post regular positive messages on the intranet; and have monthly breakfast sessions with the entire local staff of 200+ plus via Skype video reaching across outstation branch offices. At the breakfast sessions, he would invite staff to ask any question and respond to their questions.’
‘It is a commitment, and you have to believe in it.’
Inspirational thoughts indeed!
For the full article and more Coaching case studies, check out our latest book, “Bring Out Their Best – Inspiring a Coaching Culture in Your Workplace”. You can get a copy of the book here clicking here!
Or simply contact Coach Mel and the APIC Team at firstname.lastname@example.org to discover the Power of Coaching for you and your Organization.