In an age of flattened hierarchies and dispersed leadership, frontline managers are increasingly the bridge between strategic direction and real world business success. It’s therefore vital to develop the leadership capability of your frontline managers and specialist staff who work on that bridge.
Executive Central’s CoachLive team recently worked with a national software engineering firm that designs, distributes and installs solutions, in a B2B environment. We provided first time leadership coaching for a large cohort of frontline to middle managers. These were people who directly manage staff, deliver key business outcomes and drive team performance, along with achieving their own personal performance goals.
A push into new industries and markets
Our client wanted to develop leadership and teamwork capability to support a push into new industries and customer bases. Part of the challenge lay in the traditionally product-focused nature of the business (think technical experts selling to technical experts). Another significant challenge lay in a company structure that at times created internal competition, rather than a team approach to meeting customer needs.
Transitioning from technical expert to people leader
The transition from technical expert to leader is an interesting one. People with technical expertise are almost hard-wired to get in and get things going. Effective management and leadership are often equated with technical knowhow – particularly in a tech company. Technical expertise tends to create an identity of ‘being the smart person in the room’. This comes with the territory, and it can be hard to let that go. It’s almost counter-intuitive to stand back and lead others to implement effectively.
However, the fact is the higher you go in leadership, the less you can rely on technical smarts. As a leader or manager, it is fine to take an expert with you to a client meeting. You don’t have to be the expert yourself. Taking this approach demonstrates your confidence in the expertise of your team and building shared ownership.
How we delivered the coaching
CoachLive is an approach to coaching that provides individualized leadership coaching across the organization, using our exclusive methodology in an online/virtual environment. It’s cost effective for companies that want to upskill all managers towards leadership, with great applications where you want to minimize time out of the workplace, or where you have geographically dispersed teams.
Delivery of this program spanned eight months, starting with our Leadership Snapshot Assessment (LSA) and debrief. We then had three-way meetings with manager and participant, to set shared expectations. This meeting ensured that a) the participant took ownership of their development and b) the manager understood the nature of the support they could offer. Each individual was given five one-hour coaching sessions over as many months, and at the end of the program we re-administered the LSA.
What we observed as coaches
It became apparent that while front line leaders possessed strong operational leadership skills, the majority drove performance through their own, direct involvement. Leadership is all about achieving with and through others, and so sometimes a leader who is focused on driving everything themselves can become a self-imposed roadblock.
Over time this ‘it’s all up to me’ approach had created an environment of concern about getting the job done, and perhaps a lack of confidence in the power of delegation.
Recurring insights that emerged from the individual assessments included the following themes, which were the focus of many coaching discussions:
- Emotional Intelligence: identifying how self and others like to work and then finding a way to get the best out of everyone.
- Delegation as a learning tool: With the right approach delegation can be a coaching opportunity and a way to reward growing confidence. It’s also an effective way for a leader to create some room in their busy work schedule.
- Expectation, milestones, reporting: setting these creates effective delegation. A driver to achieve great delegation practices is to allow staff to determine how these parameters will be met.
Feedback and results
We conducted both quantitative and qualitative research to assess the effectiveness of this CoachLive program. The LSA Tool gave us a quantitative measure of program effectiveness. Qualitative measures were gained through a participant feedback survey conducted at the conclusion of the program.
Although some people were hesitant at the start of the program, the qualitative feedback ranged from ‘effective’ to ‘exceptional’ with some commenting that the coaching had helped them get over one or more significant hurdles. We felt this positive and yet at times modest feedback was an excellent sign, coming from a group of tech experts who are not generally known for being effusive at the best of times.
The real marker of change, however, was the comparison of pre and post program LSA assessments. These measures demonstrated a stratospheric shift in the thinking and practice of these leaders, with measured results up to a 29% increase on individual leadership capabilities. There was a huge growth in self-awareness and self-reflection, with people improving their ability to evaluate their own behaviours and identifying improvement opportunities. Longitudinal studies will be important in measuring sustained development.
There were statistically significant improvements in measures such as decision-making, internal and external relationships, driving performance, strategy and change management.
On the basis of the success of the program, the company has decided to extend the program significantly and offer ongoing coaching to anyone in a frontline or middle management position in the organisation as a standard component of their package.
Given the cost effective nature of CoachLive, their view is that the cost of providing ongoing coaching for every manager is well worth it for the positive gains and ROI it delivers, ranging from an improved internal culture and reduced turnover, to improved marketplace performance and customer satisfaction.
We think it is fair to say that this approach to frontline and middle management development is a far cry from the old paradigm of ‘one and done’ training courses. We share the client’s excitement.
Contact Mark about Coachlive or developing technical experts into leaders.