TROUBLESHOOTER: CAUGHT UP IN THE PAST

A well-known business suffers from high staff turnover and a stagnating culture. The HR director cannot tell why. Could coaching surface the influencing issues?

The Issue

Simon is the managing director of a mid-sized business with around 500 employees. He is 18 months into the role.

Although his business has a globally recognised brand, and some good products, he feels that the business has become stagnant – both in terms of its culture and its sales performance.

There is a problem with low morale among the staff, which is manifest in a steady revolving door of people exiting and joining the organisation.

In particular, he and the Board are having trouble filling a senior position, which is impacting on the organisational culture. A particular role – that of HR director – has had many occupants in just a few years. Even seemingly well-qualified candidates have struggled, and the current incumbent, who Simon chose, is also struggling in the role.

Generally, Simon intuitively feels that there are ‘skeletons’ – and unfinished business – in the organisation that are holding it back, but:
a) he can’t put his finger on what they are, and
b) he doesn’t know what to do about it.

Attempts to improve the situation, through coaching the current HR director, putting in place a new strategy process, and attempts to create a more open, transparent culture, have as yet yielded little benefit. How can coaching help?

 

The Interventions

Edward Rowland

Founder, The Whole Partnership

Problems such as Simon’s are typically ‘solutions in progress’, from the perspective of systemic coaching and constellations. In other words, what we find, through this mapping lens, is that problematic patterns are often reactions to something that happened, and the attempt of the system to find a solution.

Taking a slightly different approach, the question we systemic practitioners ask ourselves is: “For what phenomenon is this problem or pattern a solution?”

We might begin with a fairly typical contracting process that includes: deeply listening to Simon, exploring feedback from others on his leadership style and also the outcomes he wants from the coaching process.

However, our systemic perspective might then encourage us to ask some slightly different questions, such as: Which earlier or present member(s) of the system was excluded, devalued or forgotten? Has anyone been dismissed in an unnecessarily disrespectful way?

These questions are likely to yield answers from Simon that have a certain energetic charge, which the systemic coach is trained to pick up.

The next step would be to take Simon to a bespoke constellation workshop – attended by a business champion or two plus neutral representatives – so we can see the hidden systems dynamics at play.

This process would reveal the real issue.

We would thus find the resolution that the system is seeking: perhaps to remedy a prior imbalance.

Follow-up coaching would explore how this ‘re-membering’ can be embedded in the organisation through conversations with the HR director and collective ritual (and dialogue) – while helping him navigate all his other challenges.

 

Alison Whybrow

Alison Whybrow Coaching and Consulting

The HR role challenge is not the problem, it’s the systemic ‘cry for help’. Close attention is required to the dynamics of the system and, in particular, how the HR director position is a ‘conductor’ or the point of emergence for what is happening.

With existing attempts to fix this in mind, the coaching enquiry needs to shift: stepping back and widening the lens. Rather than 1:1 coaching, a more systemic arrangement is required. Creating a coaching space with Simon and the current HR director together is a good starting point.

As co-enquirers, an investigation can begin. When did the shift towards stagnation occur? It may be hard to pinpoint as it may be before anyone in the room was at the company. Perhaps a lifeline exercise, revealing a rich picture of Simon and the HR directors’ tenure, could draw out incidences that reveal positive and negative responses: what worked, what didn’t. Who were the people in the HR role, what was their approach, what did they try to do, what happened directly before they left? What is the current HR director’s experience? What are the patterns, what are the blocks?

A simple constellation enables a closer look at the SLT and the wider organisation, offering greater insight into the nature of the patterns and relationships between elements.

I always bring a box of colourful buttons to the session. Physically moving people around the available space can be particularly helpful.

The patterns discovered are likely to repeat around initiatives and conversations that relate to trust, psychological safety and engagement.

The evidence will be there to reveal the situation. Pay close attention to the clues, be curious, catch the asides, the throwaway comments; observe your felt-sense and emotions as situations are described.

Phase 2 is likely to include the entire senior leadership team, and attention to micro skills and activities that build and foster trusted relationships.

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