Sandbox Coaching for the Executive Suite

Discussion
Aug 03, 2006
Al McClain

By Al McClain


We talk a lot in this space about running retail and CPG businesses. Much of the advice centers on paying proper attention to customers. Good utilization of technology can help but many just return to the basics – getting employees to do their best and work well as a team.


That’s true all up and down the organization, but what about top execs like CEOs and COOs? How do we get them to “play nicely in the sandbox together”?


It’s tempting to think that, given their salaries, top execs should just do their jobs well and that companies could spend time worrying about lower level employees instead. But, that might not be any more realistic than asking highly paid baseball players to hit 300, make fewer errors and get along well with their teammates. Fact is, just because they’re well compensated doesn’t mean they’ll do their job well. And, if those in the executive suite aren’t working well together, it could mean trouble for the company as a whole.


An article this week in the Wall Street Journal discusses the benefits of ‘marriage counseling’ for upper management. The idea is to meet regularly with executive coaches who help them talk through decisions and discuss their feelings about work issues. Interestingly, an executive coach interviewed for the article says that many top execs aren’t secure enough to submit to coaching. (And how do you pressure your boss into doing something he’s reluctant to do?)


Reasons that coaching can be needed include execs coming from different cultural and social backgrounds, difficulty sorting out respective roles, and frequent ‘stepping on each other’s toes.’


Joint coaching sessions are said to help execs develop better relationships, and learn to trust each other more. From there, the execs are said to make better business decisions.


Discussion Questions: Do you see executive coaching (especially joint/group coaching) as valuable for the retail
industry or as just another consulting opportunity? If execs are having issues, how does one convince them to accept coaching?


My first reaction is that execs should just do what they are supposed to do, and do it well. But, I’m not entirely sure that’s rational. In an ideal business
world, we wouldn’t need executive coaching, but the business world is often anything but ideal and counseling those in the upper echelon of management could bring a lot of tangible
benefits to companies.

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13 Comments on "Sandbox Coaching for the Executive Suite"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Business have used “executive coaches” since the beginning of time. Not all coaches have that title. Sometimes they’re called lawyers, board members, bankers, consultants, CPAs, psychologists, or organizational development consultants. Sometimes the coaching is formal and sometimes informality works best. Sometimes the coach is from within the organization, such as the HR VP. Winning teams have great coaches.

Kenneth A. Grady
Guest
Kenneth A. Grady
14 years 6 months ago
Expecting the CEO or a CEO/COO combination to “just work” is one of the many great fallacies of management. While it is possible for a CEO to perform well without coaching, or for a CEO/COO pairing to work, it certainly isn’t probable. You need go no further than the statistic this year that over 700 CEOs have already left the CEO position in 2006 and only about a dozen seemed to do so voluntarily. The responsibility for getting coaching to happen lies with the Board. As part of hiring a CEO, the Board should take the lead and work out the coaching arrangement from the outset. Good CEOs recognize the need for mentoring and for working with a group that will give them less biased input than they are likely to receive from those in their own organization. If the current CEO is doing well, the Board should find a way to introduce coaching into the process nevertheless. CEOs need a mentoring, feedback and guidance process just like any other employee. CEO/COO coaching certainly is… Read more »
Ian Percy
Guest
14 years 6 months ago
Hey…executives are people too! Why can’t they screw up just like the rest of us? Becoming an executive does not mean you are wise or mature or caring or visionary or much of anything else. As we all tell our kids – ‘anyone’ can become President of the United States. This movement we call ‘coaching’ should not be seen as ‘therapy’ or as remedial intervention. It is developmental and meant to help a person or team see beyond their current mindset. This is too sweeping a statement but I’ll make it anyway – the solutions and innovations that retail executives seek are almost always outside of their current mindset. If they weren’t, the problems wouldn’t exist and the innovations would have already happened. A coach (you get more bang for the buck when you have a team coach) comes from outside the organizational mindset and his/her job is to provoke and disrupt thinking so that new worlds are discovered. Every breakthrough in every industry has come from a mind that thinks differently than others. A… Read more »
Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 6 months ago
The concept of “coaching” is very limited and far too “soft” for the kind of outside assistance organizations desperately need (and don’t know it — see this report. For example: computer-generated reports over time are set up to give executives the information they are most comfortable with and to leave out uncomfortable, critical data; communication flow is so one-way that the entire executive team often doesn’t even know what problems are occurring in the organization; the unwritten culture of most organizations states what topics are acceptable to bring to your boss and which ones are not; empire-building at top levels and divisional levels mean a great deal of uncomfortable but critical information is distorted and hidden and ignored; being an “effective” executive often means that you have learned how to have influence — i.e., get your way, which means vital information and feedback will not reach you. The list goes on and on. This means that trying to get people to communicate more openly and to work more as teammates cannot possibly correct the powerful… Read more »
Dan Nelson
Guest
Dan Nelson
14 years 6 months ago

I feel this area of “leadership effectiveness” is grossly overlooked by the Board of Directors in many companies, and should be a mandate for Boards to routinely measure and assess across executive leadership levels. Board members (in my experience) seldom if ever interface with the rank and file, and CEO evaluations are built around financial measurements with little regard for the critical component of active and involved interface with the employees who make the company a success. Why do we call the CEO’s area the “ivory tower”? Ask most employees how much accessibility and how often they actually talk with the executive leadership vs. “listen to” their measured and scripted announcements, and you can find how involved and effective executive leadership is managing that important role. I believe it starts with the CEO’s boss (the BOD) and too often those folks entrusted to watch shareholder and employee interests are “rubber stamping” and endorsing CEO performance only on financials.

Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 6 months ago
Is executive coaching needed in retail? Absolutely. Retail segments into “silos” as well, if not more so than other industries. Store operations are very distinct from merchandising, which is distinct from planning and control, which is distinct from supply chain. Any consultant charged with a pervasive company-wide change engagement knows how many stakeholders with entirely different agendas a retail organization has. Functional isolation occurs in many industries. Why is it so debilitating in retail? Retail has a single brand. The store banner. Inside the store are any number of other brands, each of which is vying for consumer attention. Yet overall, the success of a retail organization is often a function of the cohesion and efficiency of the brand experience. Cohesion and efficiency do not “happen.” They are created, monitored, supported, trained, reinforced, and allowed to manifest dynamically. Sustaining shared commitment to a single vision across disparate functional executives does not “happen” without effort. Executive coaching can provide an important element in helping to establish the mechanisms to keep that cohesion alive, appropriate and dynamic.… Read more »
jack flanagan
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

Executive coaching is no different than any other ‘tool’ in the executive toolbox.

A tool only works if you’re willing to actually take it out of the metaphorical ‘tool box’ and actually/properly utilize it.

This willingness is often inversely proportional to the readily apparent symptoms throughout the organization in which it is needed.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

It’s been a lot of years since I was officially a student of group dynamics but in those years, I’ve seen an awful lot of so-called leadership training put into practice. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. Matchmaking is the crucial ingredient. No doubt many executives could benefit from coaching but it all depends on how the idea is presented and what sort of chemistry there is between coach and exec. There are many times when the whole exercise can do more harm than good. Our generalisations and ruminations are very idealistic and not altogether realistic.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 6 months ago

I don’t think it’s a question of people doing their jobs well; because they do their jobs well each of the execs sees the world in a slightly different perspective. What could be helpful is a facilitator who helps keep the discussion targeted on the goal: will our consumers buy at a price that enables us to make money? If that won’t happen, why bother with the conversation at all?

Cory Van Buskirk
Guest
Cory Van Buskirk
14 years 6 months ago
While the need for mediation and coaching is sad at the executive level, it is unfortunately true. Unbelievably, executives are often not held accountable to work collaboratively with their peers toward common goals. After all, most key executives have clearly established their ability to deliver results in at least one area of the business. At this level, however, it’s really more about the collective result than it is about maximizing the performance of one area or aspect of the business. No sense having the best product in the market if you can’t serve the consumer or if you can’t make a profit with your assortment. It’s all about the whole, and frequently, the whole does not equal the sum of the parts. That’s where truly effective top executives make all of the difference…their ability to become part of a winning senior management team. I am convinced that the selective use of executive coaches (provided the intent and tone is set properly at the board or CEO level) can be of great value. Enlightened executives will… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 6 months ago

To many or most CEOs, accepting coaching is admitting weakness. Their corporate cultures, egos, and the dog-eat-dog routes they’ve traveled to the top prevent them from showing weakness of any kind. This is touchy-feely stuff that involves (oh, no!) the dreaded facilitators. Here they come with their paradigm analyses, new-age vocabularies, and “trust exercises.” “Yuck!, can’t we just get back to work?”

Anna Murray
Guest
Anna Murray
14 years 6 months ago
In our consulting practice, we find organizational psychology an equal partner with the strategic piece. Put another way, solving problems in an organization involves dealing with people’s fears and needs every bit as much as it does dealing with things like whether Microsoft or Oracle is the right technology solution. For example, one customer we deal with has a CEO and a COO who have conflicts. The CEO, unfortunately, is lacking in vision, and, as a consequence, tends to be persuaded by charismatic people with whatever vision they might be peddling this week. The COO needs to execute on a vision, but is left in a vacuum. However, he shows his anger by exposing the CEO’s failings in public forums. The result: A COO who is driving a wedge between himself and his boss. And a CEO who is avoiding his COO because the man always makes him feel bad. Faced with a technology decision, these psychological factors are more at play than practical ones. What do we do? We employ an organizational psychologist who… Read more »
Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 6 months ago

How can anyone blame the Board, or middle management and store level personnel? We all know it is the culture of the company or organization that fosters excellence to gain/keep happy shoppers.

CEOs and such have to had experienced the major joy/benefit of consumer advocacy efforts that lead to happy and loyal shoppers! Don’t know if this subject can be a coaching effort, especially if CEOs are in pressured Wall Street analyst situations or haven’t valued shopper service excellence in their careers.

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