Case Studies: Transformational Leadership
Where do I go from here?
The Back Story
Becs was the COO of a very successful digital marketing agency. She worked very closely with her colleague the CEO and the pair supported each other throughout the growth and eventual sale of the business to a huge international conglomerate.
The pair encountered a lot of personal challenges during the ensuing 4-year earnout period and what became evident to Becs was that her future was not with the new acquiring company. Her conundrum then became What do I do next? and How do I manage my exit?
Becs needed some career coaching to help her work through these questions and arrive at an appropriate plan, so when she was offered the opportunity to be mentored by Pat Chapman-Pincher at Defy Expectations, she grabbed it with both hands.
Pat’s strategy was to get to know and understand Becs the person, rather than just Becs the COO.
Over a series of conversations and exercises, Pat was able to get Becs thinking about her future from a different perspective and to help her visualise her ideal future and what success looked like.
Things such as:
- The Lifeline exercise to understand the highs and lows in Becs’ life that have led this particular point, in order to understand patterns and trends of when she was at her best versus worst. The purpose of this was to help inform her behaviour going forward to enable her to achieve her goals.
- Career Drivers, i.e. the things that create the inner drive Becs’ had for her work. The point of this exercise was to get Becs thinking about the things that she’s actually motivated by, as opposed to what others expect of her. Often people make decisions based on the influence and expectations of friends and family, when really they need to be making decisions based on what inherently gives them energy and satisfaction.
- The GC Index – this exercise helped to determine what kinds of things made Becs feel more engaged and energised when it comes to making an impact. The point of this was to help Becs identify her “proclivities” to enable her to pursue roles that were most likely to enable her to play to her strengths.
To date, Becs has exited from her position as COO, has relocated to Australia and is now actively seeking her next role. She has figured out what her ACTUAL goals are and has a plan for looking for a role which will actually fulfil these.
Pat has also helped Becs’ refine her CV and LinkedIn profile, and also given her the confidence to go after opportunities she would never have dared consider in the past. By being an independent and experienced sounding board, Pat has given Becs invaluable advice on how to approach interviews, as well as feedback on written submissions and applications.
As a result, Becs is now well on her way to finding a role, in line with her career drivers, which ultimately will give her greater energy and job satisfaction.
From Local to Global, learning new leadership skills
The coaching client was a talented leader (Z) who had only ever worked in the UK. The company felt that his skills needed to be expanded to take on an international role and asked him to work with a coach who had international leadership experience. The process began with 360 interviews with Z’s colleagues to gain a perspective of Z’s strengths in his current role. The coach then spent some time speaking with potential future colleagues of Z to gain a perspective of the organisational culture in which Z would have to work. Z and his coach spent time together building an understanding of the ways in which Z would need to evolve his leadership style. Z was required to work on an international organisation project for the CEO that acted as a learning platform in which he could work with his coach. The timing of the coaching was fortuitous as internal events meant that the international role became available earlier than forecast and Z was tested in that role. Following a successful transition, Z commented “An invaluable experience creating diversity in thinking and mind set, positive challenge and reflection, alternative perspective and a strong sounding board. Above all, finding chemistry and trust with an amazing coach passionate to create the right environment with open and frank conversation that enabled accelerated learning and development. Like all things, you take out what you put in. For me, this was mutual and I thank my coach greatly for the care and consideration to help me along my journey of life”
Further changes in the company meant that Z had the opportunity to step up again to a more senior global role.
Will I ever make it to the top?
Moving from Business Unit Head to Group Executive Committee
The Back Story
The client (X)was head of a stand-alone business unit in a defence conglomerate. He was running the business successfully but the unit itself was outside the mainstream of the business. X was viewed by the company as being very smart and a possible contender for the CEO role in future. Being outside the mainstream meant that X was not well known in the wider company and his management style was felt by the Group Executive to be arrogant.
The HRD recommended X for coaching support. Because of the perception of X within the business this began with an extended series of 360 interviews and an anonymised report of the output from the coach. That became the basis of the coach’s work with X. At the end of the process X commented “The extended interview based 360 was excellent. I learnt three areas of my performance that others rated highly, but I was unaware of. I also learnt three areas of my performance to never repeat ever again.” The coach used this knowledge to help X to amplify his strengths and to avoid some of his previous behaviours.
This was done over a period of time as the coach and X worked through the day-to-day issues that X faced as a senior executive. X commented “Having a coach who is an experienced practitioner was an unexpected relief. You can speak about real problems, no matter how minor or detailed they appear to be – and find not only that they are treated seriously and respectfully - but are commonly faced by others too.”
When X was promoted to the Group Executive one of his colleagues on the committee commented “X seems to have found his humility gene!”
At the end of the coaching X himself said that he doubted that he would have been so successful without the aid of his coach.
Case Studies: Customer-Focused Leadership
Get rid of the silos and change the culture
We were asked to help the legal team define and align around their purpose for the next era in their development.
The Back Story:
Poorly defined roles and coverage of internal clients (investment professionals, Limited Partners and external co-investors), duplicated tasks and work overload. Geographically dispersed teams in 4 continents not working cohesively and instead creating local silos limiting information and resource sharing. People also reported as being exhausted, burned out and fearful of making mistakes, relationships were suffering and levels of trust and collaboration were low. These are ambitious and highly paid in-house lawyers creating a culture of suspicion and battling experts without realising it.
Advised on scope, how to phase topics for discussion, introduce facilitated group meetings, break-outs and quorum sessions. We then hosted and facilitated several offsite workshops in the UAE including discussion of difficult topics, handling disagreement and encouraging spirited debate, so team members all got clarity and alignment on team strategy, expectations, desired behaviours and outcomes to support the business over the next 3 years and beyond. We then conducted follow up analysis, feedback and agreement on action areas, conducting surveys and using data to ascertain offsite utility, clarify action points, owners and champions of initiatives flowing from the sessions. Also coached individuals directly with particularly heavy workloads and strategic importance to the business, using our Fit to Lead methodology and coaching them across 4 domains of leadership excellence.
A fully aligned team, collectively bought into a shared strategy and new ways of working, understanding each other's values and strengths more easily so collaboration on projects has naturally improved. The establishment of sub groups and owners to work on specific initiatives has made the legal team more efficient and responsive to business needs, which is now run by a re-energised management who benefitted from 121 coaching using our unique methodologies.
Creating a High Performing Team
The client was a large UK technology company faced with the need to undertake a major digital transformation of its business. For the IT team this was particularly challenging. They faced a significant amount of change, the need to manage both external and internal resources under significant time pressure. In addition to the transformation, they had to keep the day-to-day business running. The team was made up of very talented people, skilled in their own disciplines, some had worked together before, others were new. The pressure of the transformation meant that team members were making very fast decisions and relying on their colleagues to deliver. Their Director identified the need to significantly upgrade the team’s performance if they were to deliver.
The work began with a series of interviews of team members to understand the issues that they were facing individually and their expectations of the other team members. We then ran a 2-day workshop that began with a series of “get to know you” sessions to build trust between individuals and helped them to understand how to get the best from each other. We then moved to creating a common understanding of the team deliverables and their individual accountabilities. We introduced them to a number of tools that they would be able to use between themselves and with their own teams and we created a common vocabulary that enabled them to avoid confusion.
The result of the work can best be summed up in the words of their Director: “What really stands the test of time is that as a team we re-visited the outcomes many times to ensure we were on the right track and truly were able to hold ourselves accountable; we use the tools every day and the leadership team then used many of the same approaches with their teams - always to a very positive effect. That workshop created the foundations for us to become one of the highest performing teams in the business”.
Case Studies: Optimise Productivity
Board Evaluation – Who runs the Company?
What is different about a Defy Evaluation
The Defy approach to Board Evaluation comes from our deep experience both of board governance but also of creating and running functional teams. Too many evaluations focus on the governance processes and forget the fact that the Board is a team, and it needs to function as a team. It also has to interface with the Executive team.
Our recommendations cover all the areas that would be covered in a normal process but also look at how the Board could operate more effectively and will recommend actions that will improve the overall functioning of the Board.
YY Ltd was an AIM listed growth company. It had exciting technology that was creating real market interest. It had been successful so far in its development and was beginning to create a revenue stream. Its shareholders were a mix of wealthy individuals and venture funders. Some very large technology investors were showing considerable interest in funding growth. It had a new, very competent, CEO who wanted to ready the company to scale and potentially move to the main market. The Board was a mix of investors and technologists and the CEO was finding that, although he had a good executive team, all decisions were taken by the Board.
All the members of the Executive team were on the Board and Board meetings were focused on the day to day running of the company. Long term strategy, such as it was, was worked out between Chairman and CEO. The Chairman was a major investor, and it was not always clear who he was representing in meetings.
The governance was sketchy even for an AIM company.
What we did
We agreed the ground rules and process with the CEO and Chair:
- All reporting would be anonymised
- We would invite all Board and ExCo members to participate
- The first input would be an on-line questionnaire with follow-up interviews
- The same assessor would do the interviews and create the final report
- Feedback would be to the Chair and the CEO individually and they would agree a final report and recommendations that would go to all participants
- The report would be discussed at a Board meeting with the assessor present and future actions would be agreed.
- There would be a follow-up 9 months after the report.
How it worked
- The process worked well, though it took some time to get everyone to participate due to pressure of work.
- The report was accepted by the Board and Exco after a vigorous debate. A series of actions agreed that covered a major upgrading of governance and implementation of a committee structure.
- A Board succession plan was agreed and implemented.
- The responsibilities and relationships of the Board and Exco were defined and development work was done with the Exco to improve its operation as a team
- The Board became more focused on the future strategy and the day-to-day operation of the company was done by the Exco
- The Board learnt to operate as a team rather than as a disparate group of individuals
- Implementation was slow as old habits had to change but by the time the next series of investors came on Board the governance and management of the company had significantly improved.
This was a turning point for the Company and allowed it to change and grow with a structure and governance that was appropriate for growth.
Becoming the Best of the Best
At Defy we believe that when you are thinking about reorganisation you need to be clear about your strategy before you start making any moves. We were approached by a long-standing customer who has confidence in our knowledge and judgement and asked us to take on a market review assignment prior to working on their strategic direction.
This was unusual for us, but it was a fascinating challenge.
The client is a household name in European hospitality, with global ambitions to be a world brand leader. They wanted to begin their strategic review by benchmarking themselves against the top global brands so that they could understand what the gaps were in capability that they needed to fill over the next few years.
Using a combination of industry knowledge and some desk research we provided a summary of what has made those companies great – what their “secret sauce” really is.
The findings were consistent and challenged some of the received wisdom in the market. We found that:
- True Growth Focused Brands are managed globally and are homogenous
- They have Incredibly strict controls on quality of product and service/experience. They have consistent processes created and controlled globally with a local flex.
- Top brands have updated and refreshed their visual identity, but they have not significantly touched their logos for many decades
- They listen and learn from their customers
- They invest heavily in consistent, rigorous and robust training
These may sound obvious, but they are really hard to do consistently over long periods of time. They demand strong leadership and investment coupled with the understanding that this is not a quick fix. These have now formed the backdrop to our client’s review of organisation and strategy.
The Path to Solvency
Case Studies: Risk Management
By Failing to Prepare we are Preparing to Fail
“It is never possible to identify all the forces at work that will define the future. The best one can do is to identify a plausible variety of futures and interrogate them for implications and consequences.” – Margaret Heffernan – Uncharted
There are some assignments that we deliver where we hope the result of our work never has to be used. A lot of Risk Management work is like this. When we talk about Risk Management, we don’t mean the sort of things that are typically in a risk register. Things like “Building B burns down”; “the CEO says somethings stupid”; “the company servers are compromised” etc, etc. These are all predictable; sensible companies know that they can and will happen and they have plans in place to mitigate the effects. This sort of work needs to be done in-house and managed by the Audit and Risk Committee.
Where Defy Expectations adds value is in helping to think about, and plan for, the big existential risks. We define these as major external strategic risks.
At the start of 2023 companies and individuals faced a recession, coupled with rampant inflation, a disrupted employment market, and for the first time in many decades the spectre of war in Europe.
These are major external strategic risks. Things were dark and getting darker. Our client wanted help to think about and plan for these risks, they had good strategic planners, but strategic planners tend to start with the existing strategy as a base and extrapolate futures that are better or worse than their base case.
But sometimes the future isn’t listening, and what it is presenting is a new future that contains threats, but also contains opportunities. This is where strategic planning fails, and you need to use scenario planning. Scenario planning is a tool for exploring the future, not for predicting it. The important thing about these types of events is that crisis takes you to a “new reality”. There is no going back to the old world. You must imagine potential new worlds and prepare for them.
For this assignment we gathered a representative group of employees from across the client organisation. We wanted this group to be as diverse as possible, not just senior managers but younger more junior employees who have different perspectives on the future.
Then we ran a one-day workshop, where after explaining the methodology, we started to work through a logical, step by step method that results in actionable insights. We begin by assessing the driving forces, the time horizons, and the potential impact. There needs to be an understanding of whose future you are trying to envision, your company’s, your markets, your industry or even your country. The Ukraine war had given our client a view of the future that was much wider than their company alone. Defy Expectations acted as facilitators and challengers, bringing our external experience to the team.
Once you have created your framework the work begins, brainstorming realistic plausible futures, and from those reducing down to a small number of most threatening scenarios and then investigating them for opportunities and challenges. We used a PEST framework to help with analysis, taking as many possible driving forces from the brainstorm, dividing them into PEST categories and taking the top 5 from each. That gave us 20 important driving forces. The team then worked to reduce these further to four scenarios that were both possible and dangerous to the organisation and the market. We created stories around each scenario to give them a greater sense of reality (and a catchy name). The next step was to think about the inevitable actions that will be forced upon us in this scenario. We worked through a set of questions around threats and opportunities and then thought about the timing, costs, and resources that this would be required. The result was an action plan that was taken back into the organisation for validation.
The last part of the scenario planning process is to decide what the “signposts” are. How will you know when one of your scenarios is beginning? What are the signals likely to be? Bear in mind that big events often start with small signals. We created a “watch for these” list and set up a short monthly review to check for signals and add any new ones that seemed to have emerged.
Did it work?
Usually, we are very excited about the result of the work we do. This one is different, in a way we hope we never know, because that means that one of the externals has happened. But for the client there is the reassurance that if there is a major external event then they have a plan and can react at speed. Being able to do that creates security and competitive advantage.
Case Studies: Culture of Openness
Encouraging difficult conversations
A large global company, headquartered in India, were struggling to build a culture where productive but difficult conversations were encouraged and supported with a robust framework which was understood by a large majority of the global managers.
What we did
Based on our Tough Love Turnaround plan (which you can download for free here) we built customised training workshops to support senior and mid-level managers to learn how to effectively engage in a difficult conversation that was focused on the development of the individual and supporting them to meet their business objectives.
The workshop was hands-on and practical, designed to give the managers access to tools and techniques that they can deploy immediately.
How it worked
The workshops were delivered virtually to hundreds of managers across 4 continents leading to deep discussions about how to deal with specific situations as well as create a culture that was more open to tough conversations that dealt with behaviours that were impacting both individual and company performance.
In the months since the workshops managers have felt more prepared and optimistic about the conversations that they were engaging in. Tough conversations about performance and behaviours are no longer viewed as a reprimand by many but as an opportunity to build a plan for development and continuous improvement.
Case Studies: Managing Well-Being
When Covid came to work
When I came to writing a case study for our Managing Wellbeing skill, I realised that this is not so much about one individual or one company but about the common thread that runs through all our work. When the pandemic struck we found that for every one of the clients we worked with there were common threads in what they were facing. Humans being humans there are always common threads, but this seemed new, so we started to pull together themes and responses that we knew were helpful.
At first Covid, and the rules surrounding it, showed up as a major existential threat. We are skilled in dealing with those (see our Risk Management case study if you want more details on how not to be taken by surprise when those types of threat happen). But while we helped companies deal with the outcomes, we became aware that there were deeper issues that demanded a new focus from leaders.
In the beginning there was a strong focus on how to manage remotely, how to keep a team together, how to hire people you could not meet in person. These are all issues that three years from the beginning of the pandemic don’t seem to be threatening. We have learned how to manage remote working, working from home is not a threat, teams operate differently but they are still effective teams.
The darker side of the pandemic is still with us, however. What became evident as lockdowns went on was the effect on the mental and physical health of clients. In our coaching practice we had always paid attention to managing stress and physical health. It was now evident that the pandemic was creating much greater mental stress and damage than we had seen before, and that this damage was extending to the families of our clients. Many who had teenage children were finding that the lack of school and friends was having a bad effect on their mental health and this in turn was affecting the level of focus people were able to bring to their jobs.
Our response was to approach the problem in a team context. Part of our work with teams became a module where we gave people the tools to openly discuss their problems and with mutual permission, their family problems. The sense that no one was alone, and these were problems where the team could support each other both emotionally but also practically. Taking the team objectives and working through how they could be achieved by supporting each other and reallocating workload as people went through individual crises, helped develop team skills, and allowed people to feel that they could succeed although they were going through a very difficult time.