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Coaching Effectiveness

May 24, 2015

As the industry picked up momentum and many new coaches hung up shingles and got into the market, HR and organizations adopted coaching almost as if it were a “Silver Bullet” that would solve their problems. However, the organic and protracted timeframes of impact, inconsistent results and inconsistent coaching quality ensured that the euphoria quickly waned. Today, HR professionals are wary of selecting coaches and a lot is being written and debated about the effectiveness of coaching.

I requested Shelley Winter ( and who is the Global Head of Coaching for YSC to write a guest blog for me on the subject. She makes a compelling case as well as offers a few suggestions that can help you maximize your coaching investment. Read on:

The Quest to find an Effective Executive Coach

For decades, the training and development industry has grappled with methods to demonstrate a return on investment. Coaching providers now find themselves in a similar predicament to prove their worth.  The coaching industry, recently estimated to be over $2 billion annually (ICF, 2012) is increasingly used as an intervention for behaviour change or leadership development.  Whilst the growth in the use of coaching suggests that it is valued by users, Executives and HR buyers of coaching services, quite rightly want to see the value of their spend.  Alongside this growth in demand, there is an influx of coaching practitioners striving to expand their client group.  Coaching is a highly desirable second or third career path for business professionals and is unregulated both in terms of the required training and the use the title ‘Coach’.    This presents an unusual dilemma for a growth industry in which supply is higher than demand.  The coaching buyer can therefore afford to be selective in their choice of coach, but how do they unearth the effective coaches from the ineffective.

Beware of financial ROI claims

Given the financial investment and the pressure for HR colleagues to demonstrate the commercial worth of their interventions it is unsurprising that coaches point to financial gains for the individuals.   Coaches using Kirkpatrick’s model to calculate a financial return on investment (ROI) to claim significantly high financial ROI’s ranging from 340% to 5000%.   However, the very reasons that coaching is used as an intervention are the same reasons this kind of measurement is difficult and debatable.   Coaching is bespoke, dynamic and works with the complexities of human change.  It also integrates the rapidly changing context that Leaders are required to navigate.  There are many mediating variables between individual behaviour and business results.  Calculating a financial ROI therefore involves multiple extrapolations and often biased inferences to arrive at a result.  Buyers should therefore be wary of such claims and ask for further detail on their calculations.   Whilst calculating a definitive financial ROI is tenuous, there are other avenues coaches can use to demonstrate value, measure effectiveness, and document change.

Understand the link between business objectives and individual goals

Executive and leadership coaching serve two purposes – the organisations need for strong leadership and individual leaders need for accelerated growth.  Coaches walk the line of these two forces for change. Effective coaches explicitly link the two to measure their impact.  An ‘objective setting’ meeting at the outset of coaching, involving the line manager, coach, coachee and where applicable coaching sponsor is key to aligning goals and establishing the potential business value of individual behaviour change.   Socratic questioning to clarify and probe thinking is not just a powerful coaching technique, it can help to define the value of behaviour change.  For example, a common goal in executive coaching is to increase influencing skills.  Using repetitive socratic questioning such as asking “what would that enable?” to establish the links  between behaviour change and business outcomes is an easy and enlightening method. In this way, the coach is also progressing the thinking of the line manager and instilling accountability for change with all the involved parties.

Determine whether they are a Coaching or a Mentor

Many coaches use their past careers as an Executive or their previous industry experience to tout their credibility.  The risk with matching a Coaches experience too closely to the client challenge is the tendency for the coach to do more mentoring than coaching.  It is hard not to give advice when you have ‘been there and done that’.  Effective coaching does not rely tips, techniques or expertise as the centre focus.  Coaching uses questioning and supportive challenge to equip individuals with their own resources to apply to future challenges.  This is the key difference between coaching and mentoring.  Mentoring is the sharing of knowledge and expertise for an individual to apply to their own context. Coaching develops personal resources such as insight, confidence, resilience, emotional management and self-directed learning. These resources create the conditions to see new possibilities and evolve as a leader.  These deeper changes can be generalised and therefore outlast the coaching engagement.   An effective coach can should be able to articulate and where possible measure, deeper levels of change.

Integrate existing HR platforms with the coaching engagement

The complexities of psychological change not withstanding, existing HR platforms such as 360 degree feedback or personal development plans serve as simple tools for measuring individual change that are often overlooked.  Although 360 feedback is not a new tool, when asking the right behavioural questions a report can highlight discrepancies between an individual’s self-perceptions and colleague or customer experiences of the individual.  These discrepancies cause internal discomfort for people which forms a powerful motivator for change – to shift behaviour and close the perception gap of our ‘ideal self’.  Development plans are often seen as a ‘tick-box’ process but they are a pragmatic tool to facilitate conversations around behaviour goals and measurements of change.   Like other behaviour changes we try to make in life, such as weight loss – giving the behaviour in question focus is a compelling motivator for change and creates an inherent feedback loop.  Using your own organisation’s platforms is a quick way to demonstrate effectiveness to share with business colleagues.

Question the silver bullet

Finally, coaching can be seen as the ‘silver bullet’ that will address all leadership challenges and development needs.  A coach who is confident of their ability to take on any client should be viewed with caution.  An effective coach will seek to understand the challenges the leader faces and the needs of the organisation before committing to coaching.  This is both to determine whether another intervention might be more suitable and to determine whether the individual is ready to be coached.

Don’t miss the followers!

February 18, 2015

A google search for the term – Leadership generates 48,90,00,000 hits. A similar search for the term Followership generates 4,19,000. That means there are 1168 times more articles about Leadership as there are about Followership out there.

Follower1I believe it’s important to have equal focus on Followership – the behaviour of followers, their attitudes, beliefs, fears, concerns and challenges.

Consider this: Amit, a leader, returns from a transformative experience. He has decided to be empowering, humble and to have an open door policy. He announces his decisions to his team with great enthusiasm. A few days or even weeks go by and he realizes that his team is not “taking him up” on the offer. That they continue to behave the same way as before. When he delegates and empowers, he finds his people keep coming back to him for decisions. He is surprised, disheartened and upset. He feels his team isn’t supporting him or doesn’t trust him. Why do you think this is so?

There is always a gap between leadership and followership. This is accentuated in hierarchical organizations where followers have grown used to “following orders” and doing what’s asked of them. They come across as passive or conformist but it is also true that these individuals have not had the opportunity to develop the “muscles” that enable them to embrace empowerment; rather, they have grown up in a world where their leaders took decisions and hence they are comfortable being deliverers. This is true of any system. Individuals get used to their leaders’ style. When this changes suddenly, they are unable to “turn on a dime”. 

As leaders consider personal change, they must realize that it is equally their task to enable their followers to make the complementary changes that are required. This is equally important for change agents and OD professionals to understand and acknowledge. Many leaders however, believe that once they have changed themselves, everyone else will/must follow suit, as if it’s switching on a lightbulb.

followership-450The followership ethic of an organization is the shadow of the style of the leaders; just changing the leadership style is not enough. The leaders must take responsibility for enabling the followers to change. 

Leaders are responsible for systemic change. Practical and pragmatic leaders understand that their teams will need to go through equal pain in order to make the change. They recognize the role they must play in helping transform mindsets and build capability “muscle strength” so that muscles that were never used before can now be developed. Some followers will never make the change because they are too accustomed to the “earlier way”, their own fears of irrelevance, of not being able to adapt will become their worst enemies. Leaders must understand this and support where required and prune where necessary.

Leaders must diagnose the followership ethic in order to ensure effective and rapid organizational transformation and growth. Agile followers are able to adapt to the changing needs of the organization and their leaders. However it is the leadership that must invest in developing these followership characteristics. When leadership and followership come together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
To my mind the key followership traits/capabilities are:
1. Ability to pragmatically question/challenge the leaders
2. Adaptability and rapid response to change
3. Self-regulation and ensuring impeccable execution
4. Informing and educating the leader
5. Managing up the line – influencing the leader
6. Spotting and growing future leaders
7. Self-development
As a Leader:
How many of these qualities do you as a leader see in your followers? 
What are you doing that inhibits the ones that are missing?
What do you need to influence?
What do you personally need to do differently?
What have you consciously made happen and can take credit for?

Book – How followers are creating change

The Exceptional Strength of Followership – excellent blogpost

HR priorities for 2015

January 20, 2015

HiringI was trying hard to avoid the temptation to jump onto the bandwagon and write this almost de-rigueur blogpost. And then I a chance conversation on the subject triggered a few thoughts, so I said "what the hell" and decided to share my perspective. Would love to hear what you think and your comments will enhance the dialog and add to the collective thinking of all HR professionals.

First and foremost, I think HR should ask themselves if they’ve met all that they decided for 2014. As HR professionals we are wont to get enamoured by the next big thing and move on too quickly before we fully implement what we started.

1. 2015 is going to continue to be VUCA (as if the last year wasn’t bad enough already!), which will mean high volatility for us. Business decisions will not always be clear or forthcoming and HR partners will have to be flexible and agile in their ability to respond rapidly to requests or quickly put things on a back-burner. All this without being overwhelmed by emotions. It will call for a very pragmatic but emergent mindset and attitude. Volatility is the new reality and if you’re going to be unsettled by volatility then you’re going to be unsettled everyday. So the first callout is to accept it and operate from equanimity.

2. From an India perspective, with the Govt. budget announcement around the corner, all pointers indicate that there are going to be some key policy announcements; these will result in an uptick in business, almost as rapid as a reverse bungeeHiring and retention are going to be key. I have always believed you can only do so much to retain someone who has decided to leave. Hence, it makes sense to invest more energy on the input pipeline. Hiring is going to be the key challenge, equipping the organization so that strategic plans can be put into action is going to be a competitive differentiator. Not all HR functions will get it right. Those who do will be seen as business partners.

3. Drawing from the above, this is also the year that the talent crunch will be strongly felt, hence organizations will need to focus on all contributing employees as talent and while the investments on high potential will continue, appreciating and acknowledging the High and Steady Performers will become critical. The bell curve will soften or vanish altogether. HR must lead this charge. Not easy to destroy something you created and embedded, but that’s exactly what’s required.

4. As the size of the development audience goes up (HiPos+HiPerfs+SteadyPerfs), budgets are not going to stretch appropriately. Hence using novel solutions for employee development will become critical. Micro-learning, gamification and the 70% (of the 70:20:10) will gain traction. HR will need to learn how to run each of these, as skills are yet to develop fully.

5. Digital. More than ever before, digital will have an impact on communication, culture and employer brand. HR heads and teams who do not understand the medium will not be able to leverage it. If you don’t have twitter on your phone, laptop and tablet, you’re behind already. If you do, but are a passive observer, take lessons – ask someone to mentor you and get on it. Digital is probably the greatest tool HR could have asked for. It can help speed up your delivery/execution. It will disintermediate distance, democratize hierarchies and enable you to reach and converse with a wide population of current, past and future employees.

6. HR for HR. Oft neglected, HR will need to ensure they invest time and money on developing the skills of RubberDucksthe function. Reskilling HR is going to be critical across organizations and HR heads must have a budget for this. While there won’t be many lead indicators of impact, there will be clear lag indicators in the long-term around organizational readiness for business challenges. This is where boards and CEOs need to encourage investment. The ones who do, will reap the rewards.

There are some of my thoughts on the subject. I’d love to know what resonates with you and what else you can add to this list. Thanks!

The changing role of L&D and the CLO

November 11, 2014

LD2004logo06The world is changing and the dynamism we are going through now has a name – VUCA – which stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. In simple terms it means the world is more dynamic than ever before, more unpredictable than ever before, which makes it difficult to do business, make decisions, predict the future or even know how to impact it. As a result a lot of our past ability to do well and succeed is no longer relevant.

Try this. Hold a pencil in your wrong hand i.e. the hand you don’t normally use and attempt to write your name.

Easy? No.

And that’s what the VUCA world has done to us. Rendered our competence and skills irrelevant. MgtWhackAMole

If you have children and have been to the playzone at a mall or a theme park, you must be familiar with the game “whack-a-mole” – Doing business in a VUCA world is like playing whack-a-mole, you have no idea where opportunity will open up next, how long it will last and which one’s will disappear. There is no linearity of prediction, there is no algorithm, it is all random.

So what does this mean for professionals? In a world that is dynamic, ever-changing and random? What capabilities do you need?

  1. Adaptiveness
  2. Rapid reaction times
  3. Constant ability to learn new things and evolve as the environment changes – Learning agility
  4. Flexibility
  5. No one man will always have all the answers, hence the ability to crowd-source answers and solutions – which means subjugating your ego, walking away from the “leader is hero is saviour” mythology and being comfortable with letting others lead when they know better than you – practicing a facilitative leadership style. All this demands:
    1. Humility
    2. Fairness
    3. Self-awareness
    4. Equality versus hierarchy
    5. Openness versus parochialism
    6. Resource awareness

This list comprises of traits and therein lies the new frontier for L&D – a focus on traits over skills/competencies. And this is where the line between L&D, Talent Acquisition/Management & Development will blur, since traits will need to be assessed at every step of the talent lifecycle.

The ownership for keeping skills and competencies sharpened will move to the employee. With the emergence of MOOCs, social media enabled knowledge and connections, that facilitate you to identify and appoint mentors across dimensions and distance, the role of L&D as provider of knowledge and provider of resource is soon becoming extinct. Individuals need to own their own development and leverage the resources available in social media. Just recently, IBM cut salaries by 10%, of employees who had not kept their skills updated. The world is changing! If you’re an L&D person and you don’t have a MOOC app on your phone, you’re are already endangered!

What does this mean for organizational culture? It will require a culture that supports:

  1. Rapid responses
  2. Adaptive thinking – mistake making – promotes exploratory thinking – safe-fail v/s failsafe
  3. Inclusive and tolerant

As Jack Welch said “If the rate of change inside your organization is slower than the rate of change outside, the end is near”. In such a scenario, the thinking and orientation must shift from being able to manage change TO being able to change on a dime i.e. Dynamism.

702010work-learning1The role of L&D thus becomes key in influencing the above cultural pillars. And to do so, is to select for the relevant traits, focus on interventions that help hone those traits. Traits and skills are honed by Experience. And that brings me to the 70:20:10.

More than ever before, CLOs will need to leverage the 70% that is experience on the ground. So far, L&D have focused 90% of their time and attention on the 10% i.e. training. More and more focus will have to be drawn to the 70% and it will involve a reframing and reorientation of how L&D conceptualize their roles and their partnership with the business. IBM’s corporate services corps is an exceptional example of leveraging the 70%.

L&D professionals will have to move away from training calendars, move away from content and leverage MOOCs, move away from smile sheets and Training needs analyses. They will need to develop an appreciation of the culture that will drive strategy. They will need to develop an understanding of the attitudes and traits that will support the culture. This will entail and complete reconceptualization of their roles. They will have to give up the “control orientation” that underpins ownership of delivery, creation of content and the front-end appreciation of running workshops in sexy locations!

They will need to develop the ability to “marshall” resource i.e. leverage MOOCs, leverage mentors in the system, identify in partnership with business – experiences that will develop, test and hone traits and competencies. They will need to move from doing to orchestrating. From delivering to consulting.

If you are not going to be leading the change, or being part of the change, then you are going to be redundant.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about how you are seeing this transition for yourself and for the community.

10 things that Spirituality means to me

October 7, 2014

My good friend Sanjay Dutt, put up this post on Facebook and I resonated with it so strongly, I requested him to Guest-Blog it for me here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did and I hope it answers some questions for you, or helps clarify something that was at the back of your mind. Happy reading!

The last few years brought many setbacks to my life and even more gifts of life. It changed my priorities, my values and me. Going through many crises of meaning, I turned inward to ask life questions. The paths included process work, therapy, vipassana, psychometrics, self help literature, spiritual and philosophical writing, deep conversations, coaching, metaphysical explorations, mentoring others (quite a list!!). I of course saw others on these paths and connected / disconnected with them.
Either way I learnt something.
hand, reaching, glowing, light, glow, finger, ... 
All this has clarified for me what “spirituality” means to me. Curious to know what it may mean to you. Here are the top 10 that guide my life now. 
  1. The spirits or the path are not out there. Turn inward.
  2. There is no “getting there”. There is no “better”. This is it
  3. If I face resistance – outside or within – its because I am not present fully yet to ALL the spirits in the here-and-now
  4. Invoking spirits beyond the visible world, abstract concepts, visualizations or philosophy works only if I am fully present to current reality. Any other invoking is my running away from dealing with the “here”
  5. Yes, love is always the answer. If I think its not, i am yet to find the most present question
  6. Love is commitment in face of fear. Love is speaking the truth not because I want to, but because the other wants it too and may be too afraid. Love is to accept that I am broken and so are all others. Love is going out to the world and making most of my given gifts
  7. Life is f***ed. Suffering is real. I have choices though
  8. I am not uniquely screwed. There are others like me out there. Finding and embracing them is the most healing hug for me. Others heal too!
  9. Humiliation, shame, guilt, resentment, anger, envy, greed, sadness – express them and they reduce my power and presence. Explore them and I open gates to unlimited potential.
  10. Picture hamesha baaki hoti hai dost. Yun hi chala chal.
What are your top 10 (or 5 or 3)? I’d love to know.

This is the link to Sanjay on Facebook. And this is him on LinkedIn

Engagement and Purpose are linked

October 1, 2014

Mid-life crisis“I’m not enjoying myself” “Need something exciting” “Is this all there is?” “I’m bored” “We can’t hold on to employees” “Our employees don’t seem engaged” “We’re doing everything we can but, staff attrition is high” “We are losing middle managers”

Engagement. The big conversation today. Whether for organizations or individuals. Whether at work or in personal life. More people than ever before are disengaged. I was too. Through personal experience and conversations with over 100 professionals at a CXO level, who are dealing with similar challenges I realized that we needed a different approach. For ourselves and for organizations.

The Context

When we start out in life, we are driven by our dreams to earn money, be financially independent. Every role has new learning and gives a chance to test ourselves, we’re challenged and find constant approval. However, by the time we reach middle management, our primary purpose i.e. financial stability/independence is either achieved or within reach. Role changes become fewer and further apart. As an outcome, we begin to miss the activity that used to keep our minds engaged. At the same time, the initial purpose is no longer relevant and we haven’t realized that.

Organizations too, are stuck in their paradigms and don’t realize this emotional transition that employees go through.

English: Stillness by Eckhart Tolle, on a Park...

English: Stillness by Eckhart Tolle, on a Park bench plaque, facing Sacramento River, Redding CA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A working solution for the self.

Over time and exploration, I realized that the key to breaking out of this state of ennui and constant dis-satisfaction with the present was to raise levels of self-awareness and engage in a re-purposing conversation.

Step 1. is to acknowledge that the problem is not outside of yourself but something that lies within. That it has to do with what engages you or excites you. But even more important to understand that the world changes and that what worked for you before may not be working now.

Step 2. Is to realize that now that the primary purpose is irrelevant you are anchorless and need a new anchor. One that is more consciously derived than the existential purpose you “inherited” at the outset. Re-Articulating your purpose is key.

Step 3. Identifying the mediums that will help you live the purpose. Identifying the possibilities that your purpose can unleash and the tangible impact they will have. Identifying the personal changes you will need to make in order to achieve the purpose. Identifying the constraints within which you will work and seeing them as challenges to be overcome, as the path that you must travel. This is the key.

A suggested way forward for organizations.

Organizations must recognize the above and redefine the employee value proposition via rejigging the conversation they have with employees.

1. Move from performance conversations to purpose conversations

2. Enable employees to articulate their personal purpose and possibility and enmesh it with organizational purpose and possibility. The organization is the platform, the stage, where the employee can achieve their desires.

I have the privilege to work with a global FMCG-like organization that does exactly this and they have found tremendous success with engagement and achievement over a 6 year period that this process has been in place.

How do I redefine my purpose?

For self-awareness, start by reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

Relook at the 360 feedback results you received – what do they say about you?

Seek feedback from friends.

Reflect on what makes you happy, where you find joy and satisfaction.

Explore – do new things.

Give of yourself – find people who need help and support them.

If you have a skill, teach it to others, you’d be surprised how many others need what you have.

In doing all this, you will open up avenues that will help you redefine what gives you joy and that will be the start point of helping you define/redefine your purpose. Don’t hasten the process, there’s no telling how long it will take. All I can say is, the more you do different things, the quicker it will come to you.


HR needs support, not judgment!

August 19, 2014

HR!Search the web and you will find countless judgments and diatribes about the inefficacy of HR. For a while I was part of this group of people who denounced HR. But the more I engage with my colleagues and partners who have the difficult job of managing this function, the more I realize that the blame cannot be laid at their feet, nor can they be held solely responsible for the present state of HR.

Let’s park our judgments and take an objective look at the HR function and some of the challenges they face.

The first challenge they face is clarity of expectations. Few leaders or leadership teams are able to clearly articulate what they expect from HR. Everything that doesn’t belong elsewhere can tend to get dumped on them. More often than not, issues relating to people (which leaders and managers should handle) are pushed on to HR. In the less developed organizations, Admin is clubbed under the HR function. Many times facilities too. This dilutes and diverts the focus of the function leaving leaders stretched thin and defocused. Any performer or function is only going to be as good as the expectations you lay before them. There is an overwhelming focus on Talent Acquisition and often HR is judged by their ability to hire quality and quantity on time. Leaders who are part of the recruiting effort tend to forget their role and failures are only attributed to HR. And the same happens with Performance and Talent management too.

Secondly, I wonder how many leaders are really aware of how much the function has changed in the last 2 decades, demanding a change in skillsets and orientation of HR professionals. HR has largely been left alone to manage this change and upskilling in almost all organizations. Josh Bersin quotes data to back this up in his fantastic blog on the same subject. The qualities and skills needed by HR professionals 2 decades ago are very different from the ones needed today. Sadly enough most HR Heads today hail from that era, and while some of them have made the transformation, many have yet to do so. This equally limits their ability to mentor their younger colleagues. Outsourcing has meant that the operational and transactional content of the HR role now lies outside the organization and outside the direct purview of the HR function. HR professionals are encouraged to be HRBPs (business partners) which is a different order of skills, attitudes and competence. Lacking mentorship and investment in re-skilling, this is not happening at the pace required. Spring

Which leads me to the core issue i.e. Support. Organizations where leaders are supportive of HR and understand the value and impact of the function have exceptional HR practices and a function that is respected. Others languish. I believe that great HR is an outcome of a CEO or leadership team that values and supports HR. More than anything else, it is this factor that drives the health and strategic impact of the HR function. I see support lacking in 3 areas:

1. The role of Leadership: Leaders who are unable to harness and leverage the function appropriately, do little to support it or develop it. HR is treated transactionally, has transactional expectations and hence is reduced to a transactional function. Yes, it’s up to the HR leader to influence this, but try influencing someone who doesn’t “get it” and you will realize that after a particular point in time, it is better to cave in and do what’s asked for, or quit.

2. The role of Academia: Premier B schools and even specialist HR colleges have done little to revise curriculum and pedagogy. Content seems to stay the same. Disseminating knowledge is redundant, since that knowledge is now available at the click of a button. The course curriculum and competencies that colleges develop has to change. And not just for HR professionals. When B-schools are able to educate leaders about the impact of human capital and how they need to leverage the HR function, we will see change. I am surprised how little attention is given to this area even in Management courses for senior leaders.

3. Selection: Even today I meet young HR aspirants who want to get into HR because they believe they are “People oriented” and HR would be a good fit. Enabling conversations that help prospective candidates understand what the function will require will help make more appropriate career and education choices. Refining selection criteria for college admissions and hiring will help ensure the right input and accordingly, appropriate output.

HR2In order for HR to be effective, you do not need to “split the function” as Ram Charan says. You need an ecosystem fix. We need to ensure we attract the right people for the right reasons. That we equip them appropriately and that the function receives appropriate support from a leadership that understands the strategic value of HR.

To all the nay-sayers and ridiculers of HR, I ask you this, how come HR functions do extremely well in organizations that have CEOs/Boards who leverage the function, set clear but demanding expectations and support the function appropriately?

As a practicing HR professional or a Leader of a business, do you agree?


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