Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hawthorne Effect

As a coach, I am continually asked to either "fix" a leader's interpersonal skills or find ways to make his or her team more productive. On the subject of productivity, I'd like to mention the famous Hawthorne Experiment. In the 1920s, Elton Mayo conducted experiemts at the Hawthorne Electrical Works in Chicago. He was trying to prove his theory that better lighting led to greater productivity. First, he had the lights turned up on the factory floor.

As he expected, production levels went up, too. He had proved his theory. Or had he? He decided to turn the lights down to see what would happen. To his surprise, production went up again. He discovered that no matter what he did with the lighting, production went up. He discussed this with the workers involved and learned that the interest shown in them by Mayo and his team of researchers had made them feel more valued. They were accustomed to being ignored by management. The increase in morale led to an improvement in productivity. Forever more, this experiment has become known as the Hawthorne Effect.

Want to be more effective as a leader or manager? Find ways to let your employees know they are valued.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

O.K., You're a Player. Do You Need a Coach?

The new secret weapon in the management arsenal is the executive coach. The right one can help you re-examine your values and your goals and re-establish control of your energy and your time. Do you have the habit of over-promising? Then you need to start under-promising and over-delivering. That’s much more impressive.

One of my recent coaching candidates at AT&T said that his six months of coaching with me "was like a firecracker in his life that is still exploding." It taught him that "people have to take more responsibility for their own growth and development.”

Executive coaching has become one of the hottest things in human resources, except that it doesn't always come out of human resources. HR, in fact, is often the last to know. It is more like a grassroots movement that is spreading throughout corporate America, in companies large and small. Coaches are everywhere these days. Companies hire them to shape up executives or, in some cases, to ship them out. Executives at all levels of the corporate ladder, fed up with a lack of advice from inside the company – most of the mentors are gone – are taking matters into their own hands and enlisting coaches for guidance on how to improve their performance, boost their profits, and make better decisions about everything from talent management to strategy.

Executive coaching is not brand new. Chief executives and senior managers have long sought counsel from personal consultants, wise board members, or industrial psychologists. But in the past ten years coaching has gone mass-market. Now every man and woman can have a coach - and, in an ever more commonly held view, needs one. However, as popular as coaching has become, even now some folks think it’s therapy or getting something “fixed.”

What exactly is a coach? An individual who is part trainer, part consultant, part therapist, and part sounding board. A person who may take the place of a manager whose job used to be to advise, motivate, and train, but whose nose is now mostly stuck in e-mails, or his Blackberry, or her IPhone. Executive coaches often function as therapists, too - though we tend to deny this. Warren Bennis believes that "a lot of executive coaching is really an acceptable form of psychotherapy.” He goes on to say, “It's still tough to say, 'I'm going to see my therapist.' It's okay to say, 'I'm getting counseling from my coach.' "

Coaching in its present form began in the 1980s. Thomas I. Leonard, a financial planner in Seattle, was trying to help some clients figure out what to do with their six-figure salaries and realized that they needed more than just the traditional tax and investment advice. He asked them if they wanted to talk more broadly about life issues, "and they jumped at it," he recalls. "They had no emotional problems; they didn't need to see a therapist. They wanted to brainstorm," he says.

Leonard gave up his financial planning practice and began full-time "life planning" a few years later. One of his clients suggested that he call it coaching. By the late 1980s he was training others to coach. The need intensified through all the corporate downsizing and restructuring in that period. He began a formal coach training program called Coach University in 1992.

But who, exactly, can be a coach? That's the scary part: pretty much anybody. Many of us are therapists or psychologists with corporate backgrounds like me. Many more are dropouts from consulting or simply garden-variety professionals. Right now, coaches are so much in demand that credentials are almost beside the point. What seems to matter most is word of mouth - did the coaching work miracles for somebody you know? Corporate coaches are in such demand that we can charge from $600 to $2,000 a month for three or four 30- to 60-minute phone conversations. Some charge as much as $400 an hour. So many of them are earning far more than psychologists or psychiatrists.

Of course, this whole notion is still foreign to much of traditional corporate America. I have worked for organizations that still find this quite threatening. Part of the fear has to do with confidentiality; it can be very frightening for an organization to have its own employees talking to outsiders. But corporate America must pay attention to the coaching phenomenon, even if it falls outside the traditional corporate organizational chart. It's a reminder that people don't run on autopilot or by remote e-mail. No matter how much the world has changed, people on the job still need some mentoring, some monitoring, some meaningful interaction. And if they can't get that in-house then they must outsource it to a coach.
Watch for next post about personality surveys that coaches administer.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Bad News about Executive Coaching … it’s not going to go away.

I’ll explain. I began my career as an Executive Coach when I began working for the largest outplacement and organizational consulting firm in the world back in the day – 1990, to be exact. My colleagues and I called ourselves consultants or counselors but make no mistake about it, we were executive coaches. Our work consisted predominately of coaching candidates who had lost jobs because of downsizing, restructuring and mergers.

At first, we coached our clients on researching and preparing for the interview, writing unforgettable cover letters and resumes, the politics of networking, and negotiating for higher salary, bonuses, more vacation days, and all the other perks they were accustomed to.

Within a short time, we found ourselves advising our clients on their interpersonal or “soft” skills, ability to communicate and make presentations, and other positive managerial attributes. With my background of 18 years as a senior corporate executive and a degree in clinical psychology, I became officially an Executive Coach.

Then companies began asking us to coach “under-performing” managers and executives who needed some coaching assistance in order to keep their jobs. It was a “shape up or ship out” mandate to the person who needed coaching. If you had a coach at that time, it was like a dirty little secret. You didn’t tell anyone because it meant you were having some major difficulty in your job.

The Good News about Executive Coaching … it’s not going to go away.
Within the last ten years there has been a complete 360 degree turnaround. Executives are no longer secretive but actually bragging that they have a personal executive coach. Their star is in its ascendancy. A recent study indicated that more than 43% of CEOs and 71% of senior executives have worked with an Executive Coach.

A typical comment from one of the leaders I coached is: “If you and the coach are compatible and you are willing to do your homework, coaching is a developmental activity that can change your life.”

And that’s the rationale of this blog. I intend to use my early psych background, my years in the corporate arena, and 16 years as an Executive Coach to share with readers all the remarkable strategies and tactics and tips you could learn if you had your own personal Executive Coach.
I have already shared job searching strategies in my latest book, “Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain’t So.” You can read the first chapter free at Barnes & Noble: