Saturday, December 8, 2012

Great Coaching: The Possibilities when Starting with A Blank Page

What is the most powerful and telling attribute to look for when evaluating and selecting a coach to help with your transformation? Perhaps it's the attribute of starting with a “Blank Page”!

This concept is referenced by Harvard Business Writer, Robert Kaplan in a recent article for Inc. Magazine, “Great Leaders Don’t Have to Know All the Answers”  Kaplan describes a handful of behaviors for great leaders.  In this short list he references the blank page as:
“Do I look at my enterprise with a clean sheet of paper?” 
Kaplan’s Clean Sheet of Paper and our Blank Page highlight that preconceived notions constrain creativity and limit possibilities.

In the context of transformation coaching, it applies when the coach shows up on day one and literally starts with clean sheet of paper... and no preconceived notions of what the journey or ultimate destination will be! The alternative is a coach who arrives with preconceptions of how you should operate.  It’s often based on the technique or approach they are most comfortable with (yet without justification if its the right approach for you, the team, or organization).

Here are other key attributes of a great coach:

Client focused - At the top of the list is client focus. It’s all about the client and an acute focus on getting results that address their needs.  With a blank page, a coach isn’t interested in experimenting with their latest theories or testing out a concept they recently read about.  They're forced to listen carefully to the client and absorb the surrounding context before presenting suggestions on an approach. And once the client determines their choice of options, the coach should be focused on helping them navigate through the consequences.

Collaborative - A Blank Page enables the coach to work with the client to cocreate an approach and results that best fit the client’s context. Preconceived ideas may generate some positive progress, but it will be much less scalable and sustainable than a solution that was derived in collaboration with the client. You want a coach that is open to new and creative possibilities.

Renewal - One of the biggest challenges in any transformation journey is letting go of existing paradigms and processes.  A coach with a Blank Page philosophy provides leadership in the form of example to help a client confront this challenge of letting go.  A demonstration that starting fresh opens the door to exciting possibilities. 

Confident and Grounded Principles - A Blank Page is a demonstration of confidence that the coach has a depth of experience as well a vast toolbox of proven best practices that can be combined and shaped to meet the needs of the client.  It demonstrates that they lean on principles and human dynamics to form opinions and not the most popular technique of the day.  They’ll be comfortable in chaos and have the ability to appreciate and even shape context. 

Neutral - Neutrality is essential for a coach.  Without a Blank Page the coach may lean toward practices that favor specific groups or perspectives within an organization.

There are many attributes that describe a great coach, but getting their perspective relative to the “Blank Page” will provide valuable insights.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Transformation Can Start From Anywhere: Think Fractals

Its a common misconception that transformation can only be successful if it starts at the executive level of an enterprise. In reality, transformation can start anywhere. Transformation can be successful at the individual, team, division or the enterprise level. 

Transformation is like throwing a stone in a pond. You can throw the stone anywhere, but eventually the ripples will affect the whole pond. Obviously the size and placement of the stone will affect the speed of the ripples, but even a small stone in the corner of the pond will influence a wide area. We should never underestimate the potential of a stone!

An individual or a small team can be the catalyst for transformation at the enterprise level. As this unit (individual or enterprise) engages in healthier language, behavior, and relationships, the impact on performance and well-being will quickly be noticed. This improved health will be noticed by those touching these areas and the effects will permeate and replicate --- just like ripples in a pond!

A recent client engagement involved transforming an Enterprise Program Management Office (EPMO) where after transforming only a few programs, a ripple pattern of greater health emerged and began to move across the organization.

Think Fractals

Urgency for renewal, budget, openness to change, and other factors will dictate the breadth of the initial transformation, but you can start just about anywhere. Transformation follows the rules and patterns of a fractal. Just like the fractals found in nature where the shape of a small twig and a giant redwood follow the same pattern, the pattern for transforming a small group or an entire enterprise are reasonably identical.