Nov 212014

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Dr. Earl R. Smith II


Prior articles in the series:

  • Of Course … The Tragic Mistake – Part One: Diagnosis
  • Of Course … The Tragic Mistake – Part Two: Designing the Fix


Let the Coaching Begin!

It was one thing to reach an agreement on the focus and goals of the coaching engagement but another to actually kick the process in gear. I could tell by her body language that the CEO was nervous about getting into the thick of things. In such situations, I find it useful to begin with more of an intellectual discussion. Somehow, working with concepts softens apprehensions and allows the discussion to begin in what feels like a safer place. And so, that is what we did.

We began with a discussion of the role of metrics. Here is some of what I laid out:

  • If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?
  • Are you really willing to bet the farm on an unfocused strategy?
  • You know as well as I do that most companies fail, not for lack of ability, a good value proposition or an effective strategic plan but because they have never organized their energies around a set of specific goals and performance metrics.
  • You have become so overwhelmed with the challenge of being a CEO and have lost track of the basic fact – success is the issue. Being right is OK in school but being successful means being profitable.
  • You have experienced the positive effects of setting and reaching goals – your past investors showed you. Now you need to revisit those experiences and learn from them.

My core message was that “you have all the experience and knowledge you need to work through this. I can help you but this is your journey to make.”

So, Where Do We Start?

By this time I could see that the CEO was beginning to warm to the challenge. “OK, where do we start.” she asked? “We start from where we are,” I responded. “What is the challenge before us?”

“To get me over my aversion to performance metrics,” she suggested.

“Wrong”, I replied “We need to get you back in love with them. Metrics helped make you a success in the past. They will increase the chances of your investment paying off. So, let’s start from where we are. How do we know that we are succeeding?”

What followed was an exhaustive – and exhausting – analysis of the focus of the coaching engagement. We kept at it for a couple of hours and produced what has to be one of the most heavily defined coaching agreement in history. We broke down each step in the process and subjected it to the following tests:

Is the goal and associated metric …

  • specific and well defined – in other words, do we know exactly what the goal and associated metric is.
  • is this a goal which is achievable – have we defined the goal and metric sufficiently to be able to measure progress?
  • have we set clear time constraints on achieving the goal – and are those constraints both sensible and relevant to the overall process? We don’t want to take forever on a process that should be completed in a day.
  • can we measure progress? Have we defined the goals and structured the metrics so that they help us determine if things are actually moving forward?
  • have we contextualized the goal and metrics within the larger picture? Let’s make sure that the minutiae doesn’t become the enemy of real progress.

And Then the Sun Came Up

Of course, our short-term objective became ‘how can I, the CEO, get the most out of this coaching engagement’ – but that was the main point of the exercise. Towards the end of the session the CEO suddenly stopped talking, gave me a sly smile and said, “OK, I get it, I am the investor and you are a portfolio company.” I knew that we were making progress, nodded and grinned back at her.

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