When coaching measures up

How does an executive coach make a difference to performance? Here we look at the case of Jeff Allsop, director of vending at MEI, a division of Mars, and weigh up the evidence

If you were a leader taking up a high-profile role in a fast-moving business, would you immediately employ an executive coach? Wouldn’t that send out the wrong message?

Coaching experts suggest that it is exactly at such times – the first 100 days – when business leaders need to be at their best and where coaching can make most impact.

So how does coaching help leaders who want to turnaround both individual performance and business results? A case in point is that of Jeff Allsop, the newly-appointed director of European vending for MEI, a division of Mars.

When he accepted his new job, Allsop was stepping into his first business leadership role. And it was no sinecure. At the time of his appointment, his division, which accounts for around 70% of MEI’s European business, was under severe restructuring pressures.

Allsop knew he didn’t have much time to make an impact, and as an executive with senior sales experience, he knew he would be judged on hard results. On top of this, he also knew that he needed to develop own leadership and get his management team performing well.
getting started

A fellow director, who was aware of the demands of both the role and of the situation, suggested that coaching could provide valuable support and insights. And so it was with this encouragement that Allsop met with Elsa Ducker, an executive coach from The Oxford Group.

In his first session with Ducker, Allsop found it intriguing that the coaching not only got him to drill down into those areas of leadership uncertainty where he knew he would have to make significant improvements, but it also helped him to look at his personal agenda – his work-life balance.

“Of course, this was an important career move and I needed to do the best job I could do. I needed to motivate the team, tackle some outstanding issues of under-performance, and get the new structures and processes that had already been introduced bedded in. But I didn’t want this to mean sacrificing my family life in the longer term,” he explains.

Allsop’s coach wanted to give him a practical focus for the work and also give clients a measure of their progress as they address real issues. She employed the use of a personal scorecard (shown below) to achieve this.

“The scorecard focuses on those areas which are of most importance to the coachee and, in Jeff’s case, once he had established his scorecard, he then took it to his boss to make sure it aligned with the business strategy,” explains Ducker.

“This was a great move and one which took courage,” she says. “Jeff found a way to score his current situation through self-assessment, by getting feedback from his colleagues and, in the case of his personal development, from his wife. Next, his challenge was to take action in those areas he had identified as needing change and to see whether he could make a difference.”

Critical incident coaching

New leaders are tempted to think they have to do everything immediately. Effective coaches help their clients to see is that there will almost always be something that eludes them.

“We use critical incident coaching as one of our strategies,” said Ducker. “Together, we preview what needs to be done in the priority areas of the scorecard and then look at the action that needs to be taken.”

Allsop says that he appreciated this practical focus. “If I look at the four areas on my scorecard, I can see demonstrable progress on all of them,” he says. “But what I have also come to realise is that coaching leads to sustained success.”

As for how much coaching Allsop actually required, it amounted to just six half-day sessions, which were conducted over a six-month period backed up by e-mails, a few phone calls, plus what he jokingly refers to as ‘his homework’.

As Allsop concluded: “I now understand exactly how coaching impacts on business results; I have the hard measures. In all the key areas on which I needed to focus, my scorecard shows how performance has improved. This is a sustainable process that has benefited the business, my career and the quality of my life.”

Allsop’s personal scorecard

  • Leadership: I focused on issues such as my communication, measured response, whether I am fair and balanced, and whether I instill belief in others. The feedback I have been getting from my director and my team indicates that I have significantly developed my leadership skills. Improvement: 35%
  • Management team: When I took over this role, there was an imbalance in the team. I have taken steps to build relationships, bring on those people whose contribution was not being heard and have extolled the idea of working for one another.
    Improvement: 28%
  • Business deliverables: At year end, we comfortably exceeded both planned profit and sales targets. We had also improved customer service, met our transition targets and had put our three year plan into place.
    Improvement: 33%
  • Personal balance: My wife scores this area for me and she marks my improvement at 67%.

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