Acorn Coaching and Development

Improving business performance


Why Personal Coaching Pays

Over the past twenty years Acorn has provided coaching support internationally to wide-ranging industries and organisations, from construction to media, pharmaceutical to nuclear. Each industry and each individual organisation faces its own set of unique challenges, and coaches offer higher value to clients when they are aware of the impact of these challenges.

Our coaches frequently encounter three distinct types of coaching need:

  • Performance coaching
  • Career clarity coaching
  • Transitional coaching

Each type requires bedrock coaching skills such as goal setting, questioning skills, high level attentive listening, and supportive challenge, but each category also has unique qualities. With awareness of those qualities skilled coaches can maximise outcomes for both the individual and the organisation by adjusting their approach.

Performance Coaching

‘Performance’ coaching arises when an individual is not delivering as the organisation expects or needs, such as in the following example where the coachee pursued outcomes at the cost of morale and productivity.

The Acorn coach was commissioned by a Learning and Development department to work with an Operations Manager who had been recently promoted into a Director’s role. The individual had energetically pursued profit for the organisation and seemed a natural fit for the Director role. The point of difficulty was that the same energy which produced the large profits now, in the director’s role, affected morale: the energy was driven by competition, not just against the external market but against everyone, both inside and outside the firm. To be 'top dog' others had to be kept down, and over-all morale suffered.

In this situation, as in any performance coaching situation, the coach required sensitivity on a number of levels. First was the ability to establish an environment where the coachee was willing to work with the coach to examine the beliefs and influences that produced their competitive mindset. With trust and credibility established, awareness could be built regarding the needs of the new role and his style, particularly which aspects helped and hindered his own and others’ purpose.

Generating such awareness required skill to support and also challenge the coachee in a way that was accepted rather than rejected, since change could not occur without recognition of the consequences of their beliefs and behaviours.

Performance coaching is broad reaching. In another example, this time in the nuclear industry, a member of the Senior Management Team struggled with his confidence when conducting presentations. Within the organisation that lack of confidence with presentations had a significant affect on others’ productivity as they were drawn away from their own jobs to ‘fill the gap’.

In a systematic approach the Acorn coach first helped the coachee develop their confidence in presenting within their area of technical expertise. As the coaching progressed the focus shifted to presenting and facilitating clientmeetingsoutside of their expertise. As a consequence of the increase in competence and confidence over time, a key Project Director was freed up from ongoing involvement in client meetings, enabling him to dedicate more focus to managing the project at a strategic level.

Career Clarity Coaching

The second situation we typically encounter is'career clarity’ coaching. This can hold a vast range of challenges. For example helping individuals clarify alignment between their own values and those of their profession or organisation can help them be more fulfilled and productive. Sometimes difficult choices arise when someone recognises that alignment doesn’t exist: fulfillment may in fact lay elsewhere.

Other situations in career clarity coaching may relate to deciding whether to make a 'step up' in one’s career. Deciding whether that step is desirable may involve developing self belief, confidence and strategies to support the move.

Career Clarity coaching can also involve people ‘reinventing’ themselves, for example, when someone becomes aware that their strengths may be better realised in another role, either within or outside of the organisation.

As an example, Acorn was asked to provide a leadership development rollout programme to a telecommunications JV that wished to develop a pipeline of high potential future leaders in the face of a particularly challenging project. All participants, some of whom were already junior leaders, attended a series of leadership-focused workshops and received six sessions of one-to-one coaching to develop their individual leadership capability.

One of the attendees was reserved, but was also ambitious. Through the workshops and coaching she came to realise she had a natural strength for problem solving within complex systems. However she also recognised the route to fulfill that ambition and strength potentially lay in a managerial role in a different area of the business.

The focus of the coaching was both short and long term. The longer-term aim was to secure the alternative role by developing a positive profile with senior management and a positive reputation. The short-term aim focused on developing confidence to network and articulate her strength and ambition in a way that was congruent with their values.

Transitional Step Coaching

To some extent career coaching can share parallels with ‘transitional step’ coaching, where a move from one role to another requires identifying the behaviours pertinent to the new role and clarifying which existing behaviours help or hinder success.

In transitional step coaching a key skill for any coach is the ability to recognise which aspects are best supported by further coaching and which aspects fall outside the boundary of coaching and require training or other types of intervention.

In one case an experienced Acorn coach worked with a senior manager who desired a director’s role but was frustrated by a perceived ‘glass ceiling’. In this case the Acorn coach engaged the manager’s curiosity about the impression he created with others in the organisation, starting with exploring a 360-degree feedback report. In addition the coach offered their observations of the manager’s image, and discussion led to whether those impressions were unique to the coach or whether others thought the same. The manager proactively sought further feedback as well as asking for guidance on future actionable changes.

The feedback revealed two themes. One related to a laid back attitude, and arose from an overly relaxed attitude in the office and meetings, an impression compounded by a laid-back dress sense. The other concerned client relationships: it was perceived that the adversarial strategies used to gain ‘win-lose’ rather than ‘win-win’ outcomes undermined clients’ trust.

The individual used the coaching to explore what could be done to change the laid back image. For the issue with client relationships coach and coachee agreed that working with a mentor and talking to HR about suitable training were the best courses of action.

Successful transition into different roles means there is a need to identify what new attitudes, beliefs and behaviours might be necessary for the role, along with what should be left behind. The necessity of doing so is illustrated in this case from Acorn’s work with senior management in the construction industry, in which the coachee achieved a senior management position in the course of a coaching relationship where he was supported to systematically review how he positioned and conducted himself in line with his ambitions.

Tangible Outcomes

Generating tangible outcomes is paramount for Acorn, both to ‘do the right thing’ for the coachee and for the commissioners, who need return on investment to validate expenditure and maintain reputation.

Tangible outcomes are built on changes in habitual behaviour and thinking, requiring a coaching relationship where people are engaged to explore, experiment and adopt new beliefs and behaviours because they feel safe, supported and challenged.

All the earlier examples of Acorn’s coaching experience occurred over periods of six to eight months. We believe all of our coachees and organisations have had more than their investment returned. The outcomes?

In the case of ‘career clarity’ coaching, the coachee achieved her aims by moving into a managerial role where her strengths were quickly used to identify and implement efficiency savings across the organisation. In addition, aligning this individual’s aspirations and the organisational needkept her skills within the business and demonstrated the possibilities for progress to others in the organisation.

For the performance coaching the coachee altered his underlying beliefs regarding the purpose of a leader. The coachee made a shift towards ‘leader as enabler’ rather than ‘leader as dominator’, and came to recognise that in strategic positions there is a need for the ‘whole’ to be greater than the individual. The Learning and Development department were pleased to see the organisation’s dependence on one person reduce more quickly than hoped as succession planning began to take place.

The ‘transitional’ step coachee is now a director.