Lewis was promoted to Health, Safety, Quality & Environmental (HSQE) Manager in May 2020. This meant he would be part of the newly established Senior Operations Team (SOT) whose purpose it was run the day-to-day operations and enable the three directors to take a step back and a far more strategy-focused approach.
It was while stepping up to this new and more senior role that Lewis was offered coaching with Visibly Different.
Did Lewis jump at the chance?
Lewis was reticent about engaging in coaching when it was first suggested. Having experienced something similar, and having not enjoyed it, when he worked for a previous company, he wasn’t in any hurry to repeat the experience. But he did agree to have some conversations to learn more about what was involved.
“Our MD works with Corine a lot, I’d met her and liked her but just wasn’t keen. I shared my concerns with my line manager who had been going through a coaching process too, and even talked about it with my wife. Ultimately, I’m a firm believer that you get out what you put in, so I knew that if I went ahead I’d throw myself into it completely. Eventually, I spoke to Corine, we had our first meeting early 2021 and here we are. It’s a LOT different to the process I went through previously – I quite liked it actually.”
How did the stakeholder coaching process work?
“The stakeholder coaching process involved sending a survey out to a chosen group of people – my ‘stakeholders’. The idea is to pick people who will be impacted by my behaviours and who aren’t afraid to give feedback. And of course, there’s no point in picking your fan club. The survey is about discovering your behaviour patterns and leadership strengths, as well as how you’re perceived by others. You survey yourself too – that’s very much part of it.
“A huge amount of information came back, it was a bit overwhelming, but Corine is great at crunching the data and pulling it all together so it makes sense. The idea is that a number of useful trends will come out of it that can form the basis for what you decide to work on. For me, there were no surprises in what came back. I’m pretty self-critical. I know I can be a bit too direct and too quick to jump to solutions, for example.
“So some of the guys out on site were saying things like ‘Even though Lewis knows his stuff he needs to understand he can’t always just come onsite and say ‘this is what the book says you’ve got to do it.’ ’ There were suggestions that I should be asking people for their opinions more or at least leaving space for a more open conversation. We picked on just a few objectives to start with around developing more win-win relationships and getting things done without reverting to being abrasive and confrontational. It was also clear that I needed to work on ways to help others solve their own problems rather than jumping in.
“Corine and I talked through various approaches I could take to address these things. We came up with a list of around 10 very specific actions. Things I knew I could try to work on daily, ranging from using more positive body language, to approaching conversations in a different way. And in all honesty, some of the things came more naturally and worked better than others.
“Each month I had to catch up with all the stakeholders I’d chosen. I talked to them about what I was working on and whether they had seen any improvement. And I asked them to suggest things I could be doing differently. I also met Corine briefly every Monday morning to make sure I was staying on track. In order to prepare for, and get the most out of our meetings, I had to fill in a sheet detailing how I felt I’d done with the actions during the previous week. We then talked everything through and made some tweaks and adjustments to anything I was struggling with. She coached me on various aspects and also sent resources that helped me dive deeper into various topics.”
Was it worth the effort?
“As part of the process, we ran a mid-point stakeholder survey to check we were heading in the right direction. We then did a full re-survey at the end to get some more concrete results – a positive move or change. There’s a scale from -3 to +3 and you’re looking for anything in the plus because that indicates you’re moving forward. I was really proud that none of my results were negative. In fact, the minimum movement was 1.5.
“I’m less likely to get up on my soapbox, I’m more likely to ask a question before sharing my own opinions or giving answers. And I’ve learned to use the word ‘we’ a lot more. Of course, there are times when I slip up still – it’s a work in progress after all. I’m working on listening without judgement, rather than purely listening to respond as I have always done. I can think of times this week where I’ve not managed it, as well as times I have. The difference now is I notice and I’m able to reflect.
“And I’ve gained plenty from the process itself. Simple shifts in my behaviour have made a big difference. Concentrating and being present – in meetings for instance – leaving my phone on silent, turning off email notifications. My relationships with several of the stakeholders, in particular, have really developed and we can have more challenging two-way conversations. I take the time to explain things properly, they respond, and I listen properly. It’s a better, more valuable, exchange.”
Career-wise, it’s definitely put me in a better position. I can be pretty ‘knee jerk’ and really bang the table – but it doesn’t always get you anywhere – especially when you have strong people in the room, like we do in the Senior Operations Team. The coaching has helped me manage those situations which will undoubtedly support me as the role progresses.
And were there any personal benefits?
“My wife noticed a huge change, so there have definitely been impacts on my personal life too. I’ve always been very reactive, wanting to tell people how to solve stuff there and then, wanting answers from my mates immediately when I’m organising a social event. But I think this process has made me more mindful actually. Made me focus more on what’s important; focus more on the people in my life. My three young daughters are growing up, I’m 40 next year, my wife has just gone back to work after 10 years, I want to be there for them. I can’t hang on to every little thing. I get that people are busy, there are different reasons they might not come back straight away and that’s OK. Life is what it is. As long as everyone is happy and healthy it’s not worth getting in a fight if someone doesn’t reply to a text. It’s gratitude I guess, and I’m even enjoying a bit of meditation.
“And I’m determined to continue progressing. I’m not engaging with Corine on such a regular basis but I do have a six-month plan; objectives I still want to work towards. I’m not asking for regular feedback in such a regimented way, but I hope that through the stakeholder coaching my colleagues know they can be open and honest about issues they have with me. And hopefully I can respond to and address those in a better way.
“I’ve definitely made changes for the better, that have been noticed by others, and I will continue to develop these new skills.
“I think in hindsight I could have included my wife in the process more – she would have had a valuable contribution to make. I also think I let some of my stakeholders get away without putting the effort in to really offer the responses I needed from them. Perhaps some of that is to do with my choice of people – maybe some of them didn’t really care enough whether I succeeded. You definitely need to be open-minded with this stuff though – a self-starter. I don’t think it would work with people who need cajoling along.
“I was pretty apprehensive from previous negative experiences, but Corine helped make it a lot more positive because of the way she framed it. I could tell she’s experienced in this area – she’s not just getting by on ‘snow-flaky’ words – she actually engages with you. In fact, she gets quite invested emotionally I think. She’s good at extracting that information and listening to what you’re saying to then build that effective action plan. And she’s really good at holding you to account.”
Want to know more?
If you’d like to explore the idea of stakeholder coaching for you or a member of your team, feel free to get in touch for a chat