OK, you know a bit about fast food. Admit it. You’ve sampled a couple of Big Mac’s in your heyday. And you’ve heard of speed dating. Rather than commit to a full 3-course dinner, some people opt for a 3-minute ‘make your mind up’ quickie to determine if the person sitting opposite is a potential psychopath (a female friend, who’s single, memorably described a recent date as: “A waste of make-up”). We’re surrounded by companies using speed as a competitive weapon. Dominos Pizza guarantees delivery times and the VHI injury clinics offer a quick ‘running repair’. For a fee you can get yourself patched up, which beats sitting in the madness of an A&E department for hours. I suppose it was only a matter of time before the ‘need for speed’ impacted the coaching game. And… it happened.
Slow Burn: The ‘red thread’ that connects Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and Counseling is that they are all slow processes. The ‘stealth’ of Psychoanalysis is captured by the popular image of Woody Allen attending twice-weekly sessions with his therapist in a New York Brownstone, (supposedly) for over 20 years. In my experience, the Irish market for 20+ year therapies is limited; clients want something that delivers results a tad quicker. When Executive Coaching entered the frame, it seemed to meet this need for a ‘quicker fix’. Based on many of the underlying principles and techniques used in psychotherapy and counseling, Executive Coaching offered a ‘speeded up’ solution to people who are attuned to making things happen on speed dial. In Executive Coaching, the timeframe is months, not years. Fast enough? Not for some people.
Speed Up: The strength of Capitalism is that there is always someone notching up the game. The World Economic Forum annual Meeting is held in Davos, Switzerland. This year’s theme was Resilient Dynamism (thinking beyond crisis management). Big topics, big hitters, a big event. At Davos, Coaching Sessions were offered to participants in 15-minute time slots. Now, that’s what you call re-engineering a process, a sort of Moore’s Law applied to coaching. As soon as he heard about this, one of my favourite clients asked me if I could conduct speed coaching for his team. 15 minutes of powerful, impactful advice. Get them in and out, an executive ‘sheep dip’. It’s such an innovative idea, I almost felt bad about declining. I asked him if he’d picked up the first name of the coach in Switzerland. Was it, by any chance, Mandrake? And I reminded him of the Woody Allen quip: “I learned speed reading and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It’s about Russia”.
Slow Cooking: Firstly, you can’t fix a problem that you don’t understand. Secondly, Executive Coaching needs to reflect what’s working well for a client, not just drill into things that are broken. While everyone wants to get to the BAD NEWS, my job is to make people realize how many things are working well. The foundation of good coaching is confidence building and the Coach has to keep repeating the mantra ‘the client owns the problem’. Sometimes it’s easier to understand definitions when something is framed in the negative, so lets try this one out: Executive Coaching is not like being a medical consultant, where disempowered patients are stacked up in the waiting room, landing like planes every 7 minutes for the wisdom to be declared. Executive coaching is completed in Tandem with the clients (pun definitely intended) – because they own the responsibility of following through.
Speeded Up: While I couldn’t sign up for those 15-minute sessions, we did agree the following: A long diagnostic meeting (2.5 to 3 hours) after which I ‘captured’ the notes in a draft coaching plan which took several hours to construct. I also gave structured readings or books to each client to work through on their own. This was followed by a 2nd meeting (about 2 hours) to discuss and amend the draft plan. At that point the agreed coaching plan (clear diagnosis of the key presenting issues and the suggested ways forward) was handed over and the client was flying solo.
Does it work? Cecilia Rowan in CITI is trained as an ‘Aerobic Coach’ (metaphor is with a short, intensive physical workout). She believes that the process can work well – if – the client buys into this and really wants to engage. Essentially the coach is focused on the diagnostic element of the coaching with the ‘implementation phase’ completed on a D.I.Y. basis. Did this speeded up version work with my clients i.e. help them get a better handle on their lives or change their behaviour? It’s too early to predict the medium-tem impact, but it has certainly worked well at the front end. It’s short – so therefore respectful of their time. It’s enjoyable – an intensive process which is completely focused on the client, what’s happening in their lives right now and what they want to happen over the next couple of years. Overall, my take on Aerobic Coaching is as follows: It allows coaches to provide a ‘menu’ of support – rather than a 1-size-fits-all’ proposition. Depending on the organization (and the individual client), you choose the option which best fits the circumstances. It’s like buying a bespoke suit from Louis Copeland rather than an off-the-shelf readymade from Marks and Spencer.
Active Listening: Whichever route is chosen, there are a couple of ‘givens’. When people are listened to with empathy, it has a positive impact. Coaching is definitely a verb rather than a noun. Like climbers on Mount Everest, executives can suffer from a variety of altitude sicknesses as they scale the heights. Managing internal politics, dealing with underperforming staff, getting to grips with the implications of competitor moves and so on are all stressful. The top of the mountain can be a lonely place and Executive Coaching provides a ‘safe zone’ (rather than a ‘Death Zone’) to discuss concerns, readjust and plan a forward path.
Reduced Costs: A key upside of the ‘speeded up’ version is that it’s very cost effective. The typical cost of a full-blown executive coaching exercise is €10-15k. It’s a big punt on an individual when the outcome is uncertain. The revised cost of this ‘speeded up’ version is €3k -€4k. On that basis alone it’s worth trying to make this simpler process work really well.
The Lesson: While we don’t always like it, tough clients help us to notch up our game. Consultants are in the business of telling clients how to improve their business and drive performance upwards. Now and then we have to soak up a bit of that divine advice ourselves. Doctor, heal thyself!
PS Lighter Moment: Have you given up trying to impress your friends with your golf? It’s never really going to happen, is it? How about switching the focus completely and impressing them with your golf cart? Have a look at the attached clip. This should do the job nicely!
Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.