Ask The Coach with Claudia Lindby
I am currently working with a team in a large corporation to help them communicate better and improve their performance but it’s not easy. They are in the midst of a harsh working environment and a senior team that expects them to meet unrealistic performance goals. The team themselves were responding well to the training and coaching but now everyone is working from home, they are beginning to share their concerns about how nothing will change once they’re back at their desks. Even worse I can see what they mean. What should I do? - Name supplied
Thank you for sharing and for pointing to an all-too common challenge in the corporate world: employees are being asked to improve – communication, collaboration, prioritization, and of course performance or productivity – but the context they are working in does not support or even allow for changes to happen. Part of the problem may be what I like to call “bad math”: the numbers don’t add up. Employees are being asked to deliver on targets that come out of spreadsheets and optimistic plans but have no root in reality (typically, top-down rather than bottom-up). Or are being asked to deliver the same quality output, but more of it, and/or with less colleagues to do the job. Or, have to deliver despite inefficient processes, increasing admin and reporting burdens. Or – you get the picture.
Of course, I don’t know what the root causes are; and the first thing I’ll normally do when experiencing barriers to progress is to analyze the issue through the four lenses of the 4 Quadrant model (by Ken Wilber).
Performance is a result of behavior. In this case, I’d ask questions like:
- Does the senior team know what specific behaviors they want, how to get to the unrealistic performance goals?
- What are the behavioral signals the senior team is sending to the organization to support performance? What do they say and do? What signals do they send that hinder performance? Trust is the foundation for performance; do their signals strengthen, or weaken trust?
- The team responded well to the training and coaching; what (new) behaviors can they show that are likely to make a positive impact on performance?
- The team is now sharing concerns that nothing will change – why, specifically?
- Assuming every team member will do their best: what’s a realistic performance expectation?
Behavior produces outcomes – and behavior is a product of Mindset (values, beliefs, experience, thinking patterns, how we feel about things, etc.). Important questions in your case may include,
- What are the mindset elements that make the team members doubt things will change? Are there any limiting beliefs you can help them change into supporting beliefs, to make this easier for them?
- What are the values and beliefs of the senior team? Are values well aligned across the senior team and “your” team?
Culture indeed eats strategy (and many great development initiatives) for breakfast.
- How does the corporate culture support your training and coaching program?
- What are the norms, values, and stories that get in the way of the team’s progress?
- Do the systems and processes the team depend on actually support performance?
- How does the performance management system support – or hinder them?
- Could any systems or processes be changed, or eliminated, to help improve performance?
4. Shared systems
Ideally, systems, structures, and processes are designed to support us in our efforts to perform. Often, the opposite is the case because the systems have been built in an old paradigm of control. Some questions to ask in your analysis could be,
Performance depends on a balance and alignment of the relevant elements from each of the four areas in the model. Clearly, in the case you’re describing, this is not the case.
The next thing, of course is, what can you – and the team – do about it?
Here, I find it useful to think through the “Circle of Influence”:
- What is within your/the team’s own control? Answer: own behavior and mindset.
- What is outside of control, but inside of the circle of influence? Answer: any person you can interact with and who is open to some degree of influence.
- What is outside your/the team’s influence? These are conditions that we either live with, cope with, or – leave.
Looking at the results of your “4Q” analysis of dynamics and root causes, and going through the Circle of Influence – What are the most realistic, most promising actions you can take?
What can and must the team members do? How can they best influence their manager (or relevant senior manager) to work for a better alignment of all relevant parts?
And, what can you do? As an outsider to the organization, sometimes we can get away with asking questions and challenge people in a way that no internal person ever could. This is a great opportunity, a call even, to impact an eco-system for positive change. Other times, this is not a battle we could ever win, even with the best of intention.
I find that bringing clarity to what’s really going on, what can (realistically) be done about it, who is best positioned to influence the system for positive impact – and also to what cannot be done – is one of the great gifts we as coaches can bring to teams and organizations. I wish you all the best of courage and luck…
Claudia Lindby is an Executive Coach and mentor from Copenhagen in Denmark. Her current research project is redefining performance, challenging the old ways and creating new, more effective leadership approaches. She combines 25 years of experience in international business with a deep understanding of what it means to be human. . For more details visit www.ClaudiaLindby.com