We are not heroes (part 2)

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We are not heroes (part 2)

by Pilar González

First coaching session: “I am my own thoughts”

Hi Peter, it is nice to meet you and before we start I would like to ask you what you have been told regarding these sessions. 

Peter: Well not much, I guess it´s like those workshops for personal growth or maybe they want to “fix” something in me, you tell me (he had a sarcastic smile).

Pilar: Some people believe that in the coaching process we aim to “fix” something, as if it was broken. My perspective is different. Let´s say we all have something more to learn and this process aims to achieve such learning in areas of our lives that, for whichever reason, are not giving the best results.

Peter: What do you call good results?

Pilar: Good question, for me it would be to perform an activity with a positive feedback from the System. In other words, in accordance to an objective, we are doing what is expected of us. And, for you?

Peter: Well, the same, but then I am wondering what I am doing here.

Pilar: What do you mean?

Peter: You could see my results in the quality department, I could tell you they are the best in the company’s history since I became the manager almost 3 years ago, and yes we have had a minor setback a couple months ago but it was due to problems with the materials, high management already knows that.

Pilar: How did you become a manager Peter?

Peter: Well my story is interesting because I was a supervisor in the production line. I was there for 3 years and I started to get promoted, I guess I was doing things right, don’t you think so? Then they promoted me to general supervisor and now I’m the quality manager of the company”.

Pilar: How many people were you in charge of when you started as a supervisor?

Peter: Mmm, let me remember. When I was a supervisor it was about 12 people and as a general supervisor around 80 people, I had supervisors and line leaders to support me in managing people.

Pilar: How has your relationship with people been?

Peter: Good, but I have realized that the higher you are in the hierarchy the more people criticize you, your work and even your personality. They take things personally. I cannot understand why when I was a supervisor people were more proactive, we even got along.

Pilar: How was your leadership with them?

Peter: I would say the same to how I am now. I haven’t changed, I think its envy and people’s bad intentions who are also in high positions. Look, I have always been disciplined, that’s how I was raised, It´s not in me to mistreat people. If this was the case, I would not have been promoted. But I have combined discipline with establishing clear processes that help us attain the quality that is required. I have to say it, if it wasn’t for the processes I implemented since I was a general supervisor the company wouldn’t be what it is now.

Pilar: What you are telling me is interesting; firstly you mention envy and bad intentions from people as you get higher positions. Secondly, you mention the establishment of processes that have improved the company’s indicators.

Peter: That is right!

Pilar: Let´s dig deeper in these two things Peter. First, when you speak of people’s bad intentions, please give me an example.

Peter: We’ve been working for about 6 months trying to implement a new quality system in one of the areas where we haven’t been able to correct a defect. We have been working more than we should and although I understand people from production is stressed out by so much reject from quality control, they are the ones who have to understand our standards, I am not the one who sets those, right? It´s the client! 

In a staff meeting, the production manager insinuated that people were too frustrated by quality’s processes of revision and that was influencing their work. How dare he say this? Shouldn’t he take coaching sessions to know how to motivate his people? It´s very easy to criticize others and not see how we are influencing things ourselves. 

I considered these thoughts very powerful and decided to build the coaching sessions based on this  

Pilar: Thinking of what you said last, I would like to share with you something I learned years ago. According to a theory coming from neuroscience (Allen & Eby, Oxxford Library of Psychology) human beings are designed to do 2 things: avoid a threat and seek the reward. From these two, which one is more important?

Peter: Avoiding a threat. 

Pilar: Exactly, and when we understand how we can become a threat to someone and how they become a threat to us we start to understand a series of behaviors in others and within ourselves. 

Peter: I’ve never thought about it, sounds interesting. But, how is this related to me and what we are trying to achieve in these sessions?

To be continued….

We are not heroes (part 1)

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We are not heroes (part 1)


Since I was a child I had a “need” for saving and protecting others around me. I would do what I could to help people get better in a particular aspect, from relatives to neighborhood friends. I could teach them to ice skate, to dance or even explain something they did not understand at school. I liked telling people how good they were and how capable they were of achieving great things. I believed at that time that I was responsible of the good things that happened to some people I helped and my mind did not comprehend that in reality, what I thought was a result of my doing, was a product of team work and of favorable circumstances.

It is well known that it is hard to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, thus what good we do for others comes from driving forces that allow us to be successful in helping others. Indeed, having the initiative to help others is crucial, this distinguishes us as leaders, but the environment and resources that both have at hand are also a vital factor in making things happen as well as the explicit or implicit desire of the person who wants to be helped. 

Peter was a quality manager in a company, he stood out for doing his job well, he was rigorous, methodical and disciplined. He started as a production line supervisor and he received promotions for having such virtues. Peter had an internal story that went like this: whatever good that happens in Quality control is due to me, my knowledge and discipline. Everyone else contributes little in my results, if at all. I don’t know what would be of this company if they did not have such a committed person like me. 

Maybe you are wondering how it is possible to express such profound and egocentric thoughts in a coaching session, but I will tell you it happens. 

I started the coaching process due to a special petition coming from the operations manager. He told me: “Peter has been valuable to us but his attitude has been becoming more difficult, he is too harsh with people in production and this has started to bring problems in the company. He has even intruded with people to tell them how to do their job putting down their own supervisor. This worries me, because I recognize Peter’s commitment towards the company but I really think he believes he is untouchable, and I am unsure if he wants to be helped through a workshop or coaching session because when mentioned he immediately disqualifies it. For him, there is no one sufficiently qualified. We are giving him one last chance, we want him to go through this process with you and depending on the results of this we will make a decision”. 

I won’t deny it, I was flattered, it was an opportunity to be “the hero” for the company and for Peter.

First coaching session: “I am my own thoughts”

To be continued…

Are you Planning deliberately?


Are you Planning deliberately?

The quality of the thinking process in Strategic Planning

Pilar González

How are we making sure that the way of performing strategic plans is creating a reference framework that consequently produces the results we are hoping for? What have we omitted in the process of planning? This might surprise you but I believe we have omitted something essential: the value of the thinking process that drives us to develop the planning.

Sometimes we are more concerned with designing the indicators of each area in the company than in analyzing the way we are creating them. How did we get to them? What is the deliberate thinking process that we should follow to create more meaningful indicators-those that guide the course of action in favor of the results we desire?

This thinking process is truly a competitive advantage!

Based on this, which should be the questions that must be asked in order to evaluate the strength that our strategic planning has or can have? I will start with some suggestions. 

How do we develop the strategy to obtain a reward from the market? How do we understand the patterns and surroundings that we are immersed in? How do we cope with uncertainty of the markets when we make a decision and how do we cope with it within our work team? How do we analyze the information in clients’ satisfaction surveys –or another source- with the purpose of obtaining a valid knowledge -that allows us to make decisions and develop more accurate growth strategies? How do we follow up with these strategies?

These are only a few questions, the response quality must influence the way in which we are influencing the consumer’s preferences, and must also drive us to evaluate the benefit to be more or less orthodox instead of using a divergent thought – which differs with what is commonly accepted. I have been in situations in which “weak” competitors – less resources, less presence- win positions, sometimes shockingly, because they thought in a divergent way, satisfying the needs of consumers.

Based on this, what type of “game” are we using and how do we “play” it in terms of winning such preference? How conscious are we of how our ways of fighting the forces in the market make the difference in adjusting the strategy? 

The quality of questions that we ask ourselves and the quality of reflection that we use to answer them might contribute importantly to the efficiency of the Strategic planning we are developing. 

And now the question: do we have the right leader to conduct this Planning? What kind of strengths should this leader have?


The Hidden Culture - The power of the Culture that lies beneath

The Hidden Culture - The power of the Culture that lies beneath

By Pilar González

In the previous edition we discussed how an organization’s culture can overcome an organizational strategy. It was mentioned that we can establish lines of strategic action, tactic and execution but that at the end of the day these actions will be lessen by beliefs, values and practices that are shared by an organization’s members- their culture. 
It was emphasized that a culture can make a strategy succeed or fail. Unfortunately, in many organizations this is not a priority. They tend to prioritize strategic planning without including the understanding of the culture that prevails in the organization. It is worth to insist that I do not disagree in the Strategic Planning, but it should be carried out along with the understanding of how beliefs and internal habits can hinder the strategy.
In this way, in the previous edition I finalized proposing an analysis of the culture that is not easy to see, meaning, the culture that lies underneath or goes unnoticed, whether that is deliberate or not. 
The importance of this topic is that beliefs, practices and habits that are underneath -subtle, settled and were put in place by long term practices, are the ones that truly “move” an organization and thus, they are the organization. With this in mind, shouldn’t we pay more attention to these? The answer should be obvious, but, how could we intervene, adjust or modify them if we cannot even see them, if our own mental models or techniques to solve problems end up being more reductionists than integrative?
The answer is not simple. The fact that they are subtle and settled implies that they are part of an automatized process: they are immersed in daily practices and in most members´ mental models which are reflected in a specific language and a way of thinking. In this sense, they hardly ask questions like, are we doing what will drive us to the organization’s purpose? What are we not seeing in order to be more effective? What type of practices do we have that might be contradictory to the objectives that the organization wants to achieve? What could we be developing within the organization that might limit our growth?
Gaining access to these types of questions requires articulating a new way of thinking and the use of a particular language within an organization. A language that comes from a more systemic thinking, that is not afraid of the organizational framework complexity that talks about the totalities more than interrelations of linear cause and effect. An example of the latter is attributing poor results in an area of the organization to the apathy of employees or lack of leadership. At the end of the day, this reductionism only dealt with the problem superficially. 
On the other side, a systemic language is articulated by seeing how each department requires coordination with others in order to achieve the desired effectively, a language that sees and appreciates those intangible acts, that understands the importance of not only knowledge and people’s capacities but also their yearnings, purposes and personal interests. 
This last comment deserves to be analyzed carefully, because it tends to go unnoticed, as if we lacked a “moral” capacity to realize how feelings that are shared among an organization’s members, their beliefs, and values are an important part of the underlying culture, which allows us to explain the present and to have significant influence in the organization’s future. 

Everything is about Culture!

Everything is about Culture!  by Pilar González

If we truly want to increase a company’s productivity and performance, our focus should be firstly in improving the company’s culture and not in strategic planning. I know that this might be controversial for those who are faithful to planning, but lets not get worked up, these are definitely necessary in a company. The issue is that they should not be given preference over the development and implementation of a more efficient work culture. 

What is a culture? It is a group of values, beliefs, habits and practices that members of an organization share.

Whether we accept it or not, we are part of the organization’s general code in which we are immersed in, and we could say that the more time we spend in it the bigger the impact. Thus, focusing in the elements that form this culture is crucial in any improvement process.

The procedures and processes could be the best, they could even stem from theories and practices from successful enterprises and we think they could work just as well with our company and, even though there could an improvement in productivity specifically if objectives and employee’s roles are clarified. The reality is that these processes are not as significant in comparison to the way employees interact with one another. 

An arising question could be, how can I know my company’s culture? A first approximation to the answer has to do with observing the behaviors of people in terms of what they are allowed and not to do.  If supervisors think that punctuality is a value, how good is the punctuality in the company? If supervisors think that teamwork is a valuable tool for problem solution, how are team members allowed to share their opinions and ideas? How are they taken into account? How are employees allowed to express problems?

If we proclaim that human capital is what is most important in an organization, how do people feel in such organization? How are their talents and contributions recognized in order to improve their work?

As you can see, there are many questions that could be made and would tell us what type of culture- values, beliefs, habits, practices- exists within a company. It´s important to answer them, scrutinize them and revise how our own politics and procedures can be limitations for improvement.

It is crucial to take time analyzing not the culture that is “shown-off’ but the one that lies within the company, the one leaders could be ignoring. 

And, how can we make that culture visible?

To be continued…


The Dark Side of Loyalty


by Pilar González

The values of fidelity and commitment that usually represent loyalty are usually seen as a desirable attribute for an employee to have towards their company and their leaders. Who does not wish to have people in their company who they can trust?

Nonetheless, there are certain situations where these longed-for attributes display a dark practice; the truth behind someone’s fidelity could be just a convenience or offering benefits that the employee can get from his/her leaders or bosses. Intentions that seem reliable could be detrimental to the company’s objectives, like sabotaging organizational change processes.

For this writing, I will discuss two ways in which loyalty could reflect a dark side: fawning and distortion. Fawning meaning excessive insincere compliments. When this happens, employees hardly show their bosses realities of the company or of their own practices; and they distort information for their own benefit. They bring good news to their bosses and can even exaggerate situations about how good things are going, attributing this to the good leadership of the company.

It is to be expected that fawning and distortion of information becomes an obstacle for the members of the organization to keep learning, this being the capacity to detect mistakes and correct them. What should be exposed in order for conducts to improve is not being discussed due to fear or threats or distorted perceptions. Even when employees must say something isn’t right in the company they attribute it to other people, without making the person to blame accountable. What are the risks of these practices within organizations?

Let´s take this step by step. Fawning is a very old practice. It exists within most societies regardless of the culture. Reverence and acceptance of leaders inappropriate conducts have been pointed out in works by Shakespeare. In one of them, the main character, a wealthy noble man who gives extravagant gifts to those who worship and admire him ends up desolate when he realizes that such admiration was only due to his resources. 

Is it a leader’s naivety, or is he a co-consipirator in this treacherous game? In my opinion, based on what I have seen with some business leaders or managers, I would propose that is the latter: there is no innocence in the flattered person if s/he feels such pleasure from what the flatterer is saying.

The problems that can surface from this treacherous game is that there is a moment where the flattered person might see the truth behind the flatterers intentions, which can in turn make the flatterer distrust all employees and in some extreme cases become misanthropic. 

In terms of business practices this could be translated into a leaders distrust of those he is in charge with; a distrust that could be shown with excessive supervision of chores. With this, the dark side is reinforced through mixed messages, from the leader, when he/she utilizes a discourse such as: “this is an organization with open doors, you can come to me to tell me what you think is right or wrong, you can tell me your complaints without any fear of consequences”.Y

Yet most organizations are far from actually putting this into practice! 

How can a leader realize that this is happening within the company? How can s/he avoid his/her own mixed messages?

Firstly, by showing that positive messages become positive facts. If an employee says that things are going well, we should see what he/she means by that and ask for evidence. On the other side, a leader should evaluate himself/herself when he/she says: “open door politics”; how often does the leader receive feedback from those who are not on the higher levels on the hierarchy? How does he/she hear them? What image does he/she have of them? What type of follow up does he/she give to good and not so good comments? How does he/she involve managers in the solution without deviating attention on who said it? 

Answering these issues is the first phase. It is also needed to keep an open dialogue with employees and scrutiny of how aligned the leader’s comments are with his/her conducts. 

Coaching Josh (Part 2) The Return of a Leader


by Pilar González

In the previous edition I started to explain Josh’s case, a person working in the construction industry who for his talents was promoted from supervisor to manager. 

Josh’s technical skills have never been questioned; his results in terms of efficiency and response time to clients had earned him the promotion. Nonetheless, the rising demands from the market have made Josh’s company question their managers’ leadership in terms of how they support their employees’ development. 

The company’s senior managers are aware that it is not sufficient to be technically skillful. In order to achieve significant improvement through your employees, it is important to use their talents and creativity. In this matter, they know Josh has had problems. Some people within his area of work have quit by perceiving Josh as authoritarian. These people have expressed in their last interview that: “it is difficult to work for someone who thinks everything is black and white, and who thinks he is the one to determine what color things are. Things don’t work that way, everything has edges, things can be seen and interpreted differently, but saying that to him without provoking him is impossible”. 

This situation prompted a Coaching Process with Josh. On the first session, Josh shared that he was disillusioned by the criticism towards him. From his perspective he was doing things correctly. 

“I don’t understand why someone would not do what they are told to do when specific instructions have been given, or why they would do it differently; this is poor work attitude and I have come to believe that they do it in bad faith”.

Josh’s second session:

Hi Josh, our last session ended with some statements from you and I would like to dig deeper on those. 

You tell me that people do not perform according to the instructions given and that these are very clear. 

For you, what would make someone not follow instructions? 

“Well they don’t really put effort in their work or they just want to do things the way they want to, some do that because it has worked for them before and have been with the company for a long time. Other people do follow instructions, but the ones who complain about my leadership are the ones who don’t.” 

How have your conversations about this been?

“In our weekly meetings when we discuss progress in our work, such as in-time project delivery, billing, and other important projects, I ask them directly what is happening and why they are ignoring some instructions and they just say the workload that client changes bring does not permit us to fulfill all work tasks. And I answer that that is no excuse to not do things the way they are supposed to.” 

What do they answer? 

 “That they are going to start following instructions, but as you would imagine, they are still the same.”

Have you been with them in the construction site? 

“Well, yes, I used to do it more often before, when the department was smaller, we used to be 4. I used to take the new people to the construction site and I would even stay two days as part of their training. Actually Pilar, back then there were no complaints about me being authoritarian. Now that the department has grown and I can no longer do the training, another person does this. Regardless of how many times I tell this person to be stricter with new people, I feel that they don’t respect him or maybe he lacks skills, maybe the problem lies there. “   

What would you do when you trained people?

“I would schedule visits to the construction sites and would tour the site with our client and my colleagues to revise the existing progress and any delays, consequently I would organize meetings where we would come up with actions to take in order to meet the deadline that was agreed with the client.”  

How did you train your replacement to do all of this?

Josh looks at me intently and with a nervous smile he says, “I think I know where you are going with this Pilar. I think I have to support my replacement more, the trainings that I’ve provided to him do not come near to what I did with people, with him I’ve explained things more superficially and I’ve expected him to learn things himself. “

What do you believe could be the reason for this?

“I could say its lack of time, or I could tell you that it is up to him to learn this, but I would be lying to myself. It is true that I have a lot of work but deep down I feel he could become a better leader than I am (there is a one minute silence). And, if this is true Pilar? If he becomes a better leader, wouldn’t I be compromising my job?”

How would your job be compromised if what you have been asked to do is to develop your employees?

“It would be compromised if I don’t manage to make good use of his capacities, which would be assessed through his results. “

That is how I see it as well, the real threat is not someone being better than you Josh, it is what you stop doing when helping someone become better. 

“I will think of this Pilar, it would be good if I bring my replacement with me in my next trip and, you know what? It would be good for me to relive the experience, even just for a day, since it was something I used to really enjoy doing.“

“I will do it for him, so that he can do it for his people.“




Coaching Josh...

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by Pilar González

Josh has been the team lead for more than 8 years in a Construction Company. The company has valued his technical skills and expertise and has promoted him to manager of the construction department.

Currently, to be more competitive in the market, the company has told Josh to focus on growing his team, to develop skills and to create a development plan for his team members.

The reason for this seems clear, Josh has had difficulties empowering and motivating his team members and this has diminished the performance and productivity of his team. Josh maintains certain rigidity when interpreting situations around him, his rhetoric is: “ in regards to what is right and respect towards others there are no nuances of greys. People should behave in an “x” manner, period.”

It is interesting, isn’t it? He is talking about respect but we should ask ourselves what he understands by the word respect. If he struggles empowering his team members, wouldn’t he be compromising the respect he has to those team members who want to grow? Respecting them should include understanding their aspirations first, having confidence that they know how to do their job and supporting them in their process of growth. 

In this case, the Coaching Process is highly recommended. This process aims to create new learning in the coachee, managing his/her limitations through certain language strategies. The basic idea is for the coachee to get a better understanding of the reason why he/she thinks, acts, and feels in the way he/she does, and to be able to question his/her assumptions. This can lead to a new way of interpreting what he/she is living.

I know this sounds encouraging, but that is not how it works in some cases. There are things that will be easier to learn and to unlearn for the coachee; and there will be things that will take a lot of work. There might be certain behaviors that should be put “on hold” because they are not ready to be modified. The more a behavior is tied to a particular personal characteristic (being tolerant, balanced, impatient) and less to attitude or habits, the greater the difficulty to change them. A vital part of coaching is knowing what can and what cannot be transformed in a coachee. 

But, “no man ever steps in the same river twice…”(Heraclitus). This is to mention that a simple coaching process, of searching new learning to get new interpretations, will produce a new version of the Coachee.

__________   ______ ______ _____ _____ ______ _____ _____

Thursday 4:00 pm: First Coaching session

What is happening Josh? “What happens is that I am desperate, the more I try to support my team members, and even my colleagues, the more they judge me as authoritarian. There are supposed to be rules, company policies that should be followed and it seems like I am the only one concerned about following them. It is incredible that no matter how much I try, they still judge me harshly”. 

Give me an example of this situation. “Well, let´s say we have to deliver a project at a specific date. I make agreements with my team to finish the job and some of them do not do what they were supposed to, or they made many mistakes. How am I supposed to react calmly to this? I tell them directly what to do and how to correct their work and instead of doing that, they get upset and sometimes complain to the director.”

In what way do you give instructions to your team members? Who does what, with what resources and how should it be done? “This is already stipulated, there is a program to follow that is handed to the construction supervisor. Everything is clear in such program and what happens in practice is that people don’t do what they are supposed to”.

Josh’s answer generates more questions for the coach, questions that help Josh see more clearly his thinking process and his way of judgment. The process of decodifying Josh has begun.

To be continued…

Good Customer Service

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GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE:   Paying Attention to Front-Line and Back-Line Employees

by Pilar González

We may ask ourselves, what have successful organizations done to gain customer loyalty?

Without being reductionist with an answer I have thought of some insights, some of them inspired by John Tschohl book Customer Service (2008):

1. Comprehension from the executive management within an organization of how an “Excellent Service” has a positive financial effect; how high profit indexes correlate directly with building a competitive advantage and understanding that every department is directly involved with a customers´ perception. Certainly, people on the frontline have the important task of creating that perception, but they can´t be successful if the employees in the production line -or behind a computer, are not “tuned-in” to deliver the value proposed. The lack of said comprehension may result in failing or unstable customer service efforts.

2. Empowerment and Delegation as competencies in every manager or general supervisor. This act of empowering employees so they can be able of taking timely decisions including decisions outside “the rules of the game” can be translated into an excellent customer service. Positively, empowering comes with responsibility and we need to know who can take it. Unfortunately sometimes we give that responsibility to people for whom empowerment is the perfect excuse to retain “power” within the organization. It would be important to analyze this and to shift our attention to those with the skills to make things happen –from any part of the organizational structure.

3. Disposal of “unreasonable rules”, which may not generate any value and even, conversely, diminish both productivity and the attention laid upon customers. The rules can also kill the spirit of a good employee. Let´s be careful with this. 

These unreasonable rules may include waiting on the approval of an executive manager to do a task; unjustifiably scolding a team member if him/hers “crossed the line” by writing directly to a client to keep him/her informed about an important issue. Definitely, he/she should inform the team lead after the interaction with the client and the reason why he/she did not notify him prior to doing so. Don’t get confused, we definitely need rules! We need to have standards!, especially when a company is growing. If a team member is taking too many decisions without consulting a team lead that could damage the company image, we need to let him/her know and help him/her adjust this behavior. But we need to ask ourselves if we are paying attention to the essential part, the Customer Service; and to the people that make it happen. 

So, how can we make our company understand the importance that front-line as well as back-line employees are essential to gain the loyalty we expect from clients?

How can we start allowing our employees to express their opinions on what should be a good customer service? It is incredible how much can be achieved by taking a step as seemingly simple as this. 

But, is it that simple?  Let me give you a hint, it is as simple as the high hierarchy/directors are able to design a learning environment where people are encouraged to use their strengths in favor of Customer Service.

To be continued….