Coaching managers: getting the right chemistry

The first 100 days in a new senior job can be critical, both for the employee and organisation. Business pressures mean that there is little time to settle into a role and no leeway to learn from mistakes.

“In a new job there are all sorts of dynamics,” says director of executive education at Lancaster University Management School Sally Watson. She says the new employer or new department should invest time and money into helping someone to settle in and read the landscape, and consequently more and more coaching providers are cashing in on this opportunity.

Bridging the gaps 

At coaching consultancy Full Potential Group, senior executive coach Sue Ingram sees coaching during the first 100 days as a way of “bridging gaps and mindset changes” when the incumbent has moved from being good at their job to managing a team, or from people manager to strategic leader.

She says it is important for the coach to work on these relationships, especially on building that intangible quality – chemistry.

“Often people have a preference for building relationships with senior people but can end up without the right information because they haven’t built the right relationships,” she says. “A ‘chemistry meeting’ can be used to clarify expectations and deliverables,” she says.

Ingram usually starts off with an initial meeting of two or three hours, with another face-to-face after two or three weeks before moving onto an hour-long telephone call once every two weeks.

Beyond the brochure

Coaching helps new incumbents to understand their employer “beyond the glossy brochures,” says director at Oakridge Training and Consulting Brigit Egan.

So why do so many organisations wait until the first 100 days are over before coaching new managers?

“The first 100 days is too late,” says Jonathan Perks, managing director of board and executive coaching at Penna. He prefers to start work with the incumbent before they start the role, even two months beforehand.

“I ask them to consider four key areas,” he says. “We look at how the new person will add value to the job, what is their emotional connection with the role what’s it going to be like to be led by them and what success will look like.”

Perks asks them to be ready to start work “from the first minute of the first hour of the first day”.

As well as the initial two months pre-start date, Perks expects to be around for the first four months of their appointment and says that there are a number of ways that both his and the new appointee’s performance will be judged.

Early intervention

At Acuity Coaching, managing director Simon Coops thinks that there is a role for the coach at an even earlier stage.

“We have been asked to work with hiring managers looking at what they are trying to achieve and what the options are,” he explains.

Acuity Coaching has worked on “opening the hirer’s mind” to avert them from hiring in their own image and to compile a brief for the search company, based on the skills required and what the hirer is trying to achieve.

“Most recruitment is reactive, done too late and is too rushed, but if you want your fair share of top talent you have to plan more. Sometimes the coach can be involved in bringing them on board.”

Like Perks, Coops has worked with incoming senior people before they have started the job. He believes there should be incentives for the coach to do a good job in motivating the new starter.

“The ultimate thing is to link the coach’s fee to the performance of the individual. We are doing this with both a mobile phone giant and an energy company at the moment. I don’t understand why there isn’t more of it going on.”

How to make your first 100 days a success

What can anyone do to improve their prospects in their first job?

Be open-minded, flexible and remain enthusiastic. Remember to smile and be yourself. Be positive and patient if things are not working out quite as you expected. Seek a kindred spirit – if you are offered a ‘buddy’ or mentor, accept, and make sure you talk to them.

What do new starters tend to overlook?

Starting a new job is a unique experience, different for each person. Other people in your organisation will understand how you feel, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and say if you don’t understand something. Be realistic about what the company can do for you. Be assertive – but not aggressive – in your demands if you are really frustrated about being under-used.

What do you need to do to get most benefit from the induction process?

Listen and take notice of what you are told. Ask questions. Sometimes an induction can be all-singing all-dancing, and then the routine sets in and that’s when the real challenges start. All jobs are a mixture – sometimes you are rushed off your feet, it’s new, and creative, and other times it is simply about number-crunching and repeat business.

If the job isn’t what you thought it was, what should be your next step?

If, after 100 days, it’s not working out, talk to someone – a mentor, colleague or your manager. You may be misinterpreting the situation. Before you assume your manager or supervisor doesn’t rate you or is unhappy with your work, ask. Sometimes employers don’t give you feedback unless you ask.

If you feel it is still not working, seek guidance (maybe externally) and recognise that it is easier to get employment while you are still working.

Take time to work out exactly what it is that you don’t like about the job – don’t rush into another one and make the same mistake twice.

Source: Carl Gilleard, chief executive, Association of Graduate Recruiters

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