When Corine suggested the idea of stakeholder-centred coaching to CTO Dave Davies, he thought it sounded like something that might suit the way he works. But he couldn’t have known quite how transformative the process would be. Or how positively it would be received by his DVS colleagues and family alike.
Having done some leadership coaching with Corine previously, Dave had achieved great results, moving past things that had impacted him earlier in his career and learning to manage triggers and react more effectively in certain situations in the workplace. But when Covid struck, he found that with the additional pressure he reverted to type, struggling to keep up the progress he had made.
Recognising that he needed to work on improving his interactions with others, Dave was excited about the prospect of personalised one on one coaching. He was already at the start of a self-improvement journey and felt this approach to identifying and working on specific traits could really be of benefit.
In brief: stakeholder-centred coaching
Stakeholder-centred coaching is built on the belief that the best way for an already successful leader to grow and improve is to recognise in themselves an area in which they feel they want to make improvements. And then commit, publicly, to doing it. A key part of the process is finding and recruiting stakeholders who will actively participate throughout the leader’s journey. A stakeholder is simply someone who has a stake in whether the leader becomes even more effective and will be positively impacted by this change in behaviour. They’ll input at the start of the process and then provide brief but regular feedback and feedforward (their ideas and suggestions) for up to a year.
Improvement comes in making incremental and sustained changes to behaviour, and by engaging the stakeholders, their perception of the leader will also change over time. It might sound simple, but it takes a lot of resolve. And done right, this is genuinely powerful stuff.
In the beginning…
Dave felt he needed support to improve his dealings with others around him, “I was hoping to identify how other people saw me and how I could interact with these people in a more professional way.”
The first part of the process was a 360-degree survey given to peers, subordinates and even family and friends. We’d identified the general goals of improved communication, but wanted to home in on the areas that needed the most focus, where the biggest impact could be made.
The results made for difficult reading. “Although I was aware there was a problem there, it was still a bit of a shock the first time I read the report. It was quite difficult to accept the truth about what people thought of me. We set the ground rules, asking for nothing but honesty from the participants. And although it had a big impact on me, it also hammered home the fact I was doing the right thing.”
We used the results of the survey to agree the specific set of behaviours Dave would focus on for the course of the programme.
Finding and checking in with stakeholders
Stakeholders are valued members of the change process, they should actively participate, and must be honest. Dave ‘recruited’ several people from the wider organisation as well as his wife and best friend. They were all pleased to support him as they could see that he wanted to change and was willing to put in the work.
Dave asked the stakeholders for their ideas and suggestions on how he could improve these 1 or 2 specific behaviours. Dave shared with the stakeholders the action plan we created. He has specific observable behaviours to practice over the 30 day period, things like: “take a pause before sharing my opinion and make sure everyone else has shared their thoughts.” Then once per month Dave held a quick check-in with them to find out how they thought he was getting on. He asked for honest feedback as well as suggestions for improvement over the next 30 days.
“Following the feedback sessions Corine and I would sit down together and look at what the people in the feedback group were saying. We’d look for key words and analyse everything. Then we would look forward and make an action plan for the next month.”
This continued across the course of seven months, with a mini survey around the specific behaviours to find out whether anything had changed.
So how did it go?
“I had a real ‘wow’ moment when we re-ran the survey. I wasn’t looking at individuals, but at scores. A few areas had stayed the same, but most had improved. I had definitely made progress – in fact most people validated it as a marked improvement.
“The repetition of the process has ingrained the good habits and behaviours like a mantra. I now want to keep improving and getting better. I’m still checking in with people as and when the opportunity arises. Because it’s a way of me gauging where I am. And I’ve learned to give better feedback too. Previously it was bluntly delivered in a way that was very demoralising, antagonistic and possibly even spiteful. I’m not afraid to admit that. But the whole process has taught me actually there’s no need to be like that, you can achieve far more in a constructive, adult conversation.
“For me it was always about communication. And I’m now allowing other people to communicate without me jumping in continually. I know when to speak, when not to speak, knowing what’s appropriate at that time but allowing others to speak as well and not feel judged or judgmental. And that allows for more cooperative working which I find generally leads to a higher level of output. I’ve learned that if I don’t interrupt people all the time, dictating how things should be done, they will take accountability and ownership of a task. Which is not just good for them, it allows me the space to do the things I should be doing too.”
And for the business?
“It’s been great for the stakeholders, not only for me. Being involved in my journey has made people feel empowered, like they’re part of it too. I think it’s partly because it is face to face rather than online. They feel they’ve contributed to my success and helped me improve. Genuinely, they’ve really enjoyed it and feel they gained a lot from it.
“Since I undertook the process, I now see the traits I had in others. It’s an interesting insight and I can now offer advice to other people and help them get powerful results. It’s definitely a process that has brought us closer together, creating more honesty around the way we work. And it is supporting a positive cultural shift in the business, which is definitely improving working relationships.
In the end…
“My relationships with other managers in DVS have changed without doubt and I have a reinjection of vigour for coming to work. But the biggest improvement is my relationship with my wife. She commented just the other day about the huge change she’s seen in me for the better over the last 12 months or so. It wasn’t all down to this process, but it has been a large part of the change.
“I think you have to be a certain sort of person and you have to want to do it. But this is probably the single most powerful thing I’ve done in the last few years. It’s given me a powerful tool in my toolbox and the confidence that I can make positive, lasting changes.
“I’m in a good place and I’ve come a long way. It’s an ever-evolving piece but I’m definitely heading in the right direction. I will always be grateful I started this process.”
If you’re in a senior leadership position and want to make positive changes in one or more areas, get in touch to discuss whether stakeholder-centred coaching could be the right approach for you.