It’s no secret that generational and cultural differences in the workplace have reduced clarity regarding norms of professional behavior, leading to conflict and disagreements about what behavior is acceptable and what’s not. What is less well known, however, are that the same dynamics also affect boards of directors as well — corporate boards, non-profit boards and also public sector boards. In short, there is increasing confusion and ambiguity about the role that boards, board chairs and board members should play and how they should behave.
I’m often struck by the very different assumptions that organizations use when deciding to hire an executive or leadership coach for one of their managers. Over time I’ve learned that these assumptions are usually implicit and thus not apparent to those making such decisions. I sort these differing approaches to utilizing coaching into five categories:
I continue to have coaching clients who are challenged in their efforts to manage and supervise certain employees, especially newer and younger employees. The issue is rarely the person’s job performance but more often an inability or unwillingness to observe common workplace norms of appropriate professional conduct. Examples include employees who:
Leadership and executive coaching has become increasingly popular over the past two decades, largely because it’s the most effective form of professional development for people in leadership positions. Unlike off-site training programs and workshops, leadership coaching is highly customized because it focuses on improving your leadership impact and effectiveness in addressing specific challenges and opportunities within your current work environment. Furthermore, coaching occurs on a ongoing basis, usually twice a month, until you achieve your specific goals. This embedded approach allows you to incorporate new behavior, perspectives and insights from coaching over time and adjust coaching goals as you evolve and your needs change.
Organizational climate is the most palpable, immediate experience of organizational culture but is much more malleable than culture. Organizational climate consists of the behaviors experienced and observed in an organization, its norms and other conventions; and can also include tone, energy level, pacing and other characteristics. Improving organizational climate is easier than commonly assumed, but it is an art, not a science. Usually climate improvement efforts consist of reducing the incidence of unwanted behavior (e.g. bullying, blaming, or workplace harassment) and/or increasing the frequency of desired behavior (e.g. bystander intervention with negative behavior, creating a more collaborative and cross functional work environment, or building a greater level of teamwork). Unfortunately, many efforts to improve organizational climate are unsuccessful because the teams leading them fail to realize fatal errors until it is too late. Here are several steps necessary for avoiding common pitfalls and optimizing support for your change effort:
The graphic below represents a classic framework for diagnosing and improving organization climate, culture and performance. It spells out the characteristics of four different orientations and their characteristics. The article in which it appears, while over 30 years old, still provides solid advice about moving an organizational system from the Reactive stage through Responsive and Proactive stages to the High-Performing stage. If you can’t find a copy of the book that contains this article in your library, Half.com usually has copies at a very reasonable price: http://product.half.ebay.com/Transforming-Work-Second-Edition-2005-Paperback/50932401&cpid=1372839253
Engagement agreements are one of the most powerful interventions a leader can use to shape behavior as well as workplace climate and culture. While most people think of engagement agreements as contractual agreements between professional firms and their clients, engagement agreements are also be utilized within a company or organization to create norms for expected behaviors and accountability for observing them. Engagement agreements are a vehicle for making desired behavior become normative, Once in place, engagement agreements begin to shape the climate of an organization, and over time, its culture.
Clients and potential clients often ask me what the difference is between a leadership coach and an external advisor. Both provide an external perspective but in different ways that can be subtle at times:
A leadership coach is focused on helping an individual client address certain identified opportunities and challenges, where the client is typically an individual. An external advisor is usually focused on a client that is a team, project, change effort, board of directors, organization or community and making the client successful in whatever they would like to achieve.
- Conflict with a direct report, a peer, boss or board member(s)
- Wanting to improve a particular skill area such as team leadership or communication skills
- Concerns about how to turn around an increasingly negative work environment
- Improving impact and effectiveness as a leader after a negative experience
- Assistance sorting through the implications of a reorganization or change in role
- Addressing inter-generational conflict in working styles, pacing and norms
- Understanding organizational resistance to change and exploring steps to counter it
- Support and strategies for improving organizational work climate following an incident
- Assistance in better managing the activities and tone of dysfunctional board committees
- Help in developing engagement agreements for a team with conflicting work styles
- Developing a strategy for breaking down the silos in a leader’s organization
- Improving the level and quality of collaboration with other organizational partners
It’s not difficult to select a leadership coach who’s a good fit for you, but it will require some effort on your part. Search online for both local and national listings of coaches in your geographic area and also ask your friends and colleagues for referrals. Narrow your search to two to five coaches and study their websites to get a sense of their style of coaching and specialties. Also search LinkedIn and other social media for additional information about the coaches. Almost all coaches want their clients to be a good fit for them as well…and the complimentary initial consultation allows both the potential client and the coach to assess questions of fit. If the fit clearly isn’t a good one, many coaches will refer you to other coaches who might be more appropriate.