Managers, given their role within the organization, are subjected to growing pressures. First of all, they have to channel the ever more demanding strategies designed by their hierarchy and translate them into concrete results. Secondly, they stand in the front line when it comes to addressing the frustrations and tensions of the people they are in charge of, as they are entrusted with the mission of forwarding them to their hierarchy. The pressure that is inherent to this role as a go-between is, moreover, aggravated by the environing crisis.
Authors: Jean-Marc Riss and Vincent Held, respectively CEO and Junior Consultant at Pro Mind Consulting S.A.
In the past few years, organizations have abandoned their old pyramid structures and have been reengineered along workflows and networks. However, although these reorganizations have allowed them to become more flexible and to gain on reaction speed, they also demand from managers that they get more exposed, thus challenging their ability to evolve within an unstable environment. The support that was traditionally offered to them by their organization and hierarchy has faded away, thus resulting in increasing stress levels accompanied by all kinds of psychosomatic illnesses.
This is the context in which the Management through Professional Coaching (MPC) methodology has come to light. This management system aims to deal with every professional mission by simultaneously considering both its activity and human-related workflows (i.e. all the activities that are related to a hierarchical superior, a member of the Board, an important customer, etc.). This approach resorts to a simplified project management structure which is compatible with a workflows-oriented organization and which integrates the management of the personal skills involved. Developing the managers' activities in the form of projects in which the human factor is included indeed offers the advantage of allowing them to take all the components of their professional mission into account, from the very simple to the most complex ones. Also, note that this method can be regarded as a "systemic" approach, as it embraces all the partners, competencies, financial processes and workflows that relate to each manager's professional mission.
The second particularity of the MPC method is that it will involve "coaches" who will be in charge of following up the managers all along their respective projects. Their role - whether these individuals come from inside or outside the company - is to help managers acquire a global vision and obtain the adhesion and support of the human factor that is involved in the project. This implies the implementation of a continuous validation process based on the partners' feedback. The regular control of the compliance with the set constraints (deadlines, costs, quality, etc.) can also be part of the follow-up process, thus allowing managers to simultaneously strive to 1) reach their professional goals and 2) achieve well-being in the workplace. Finally, we may point to the fact that the managers who benefit from the coaching will themselves be entrusted with the task of replicating this approach with their team members.
The steps of the coaching process
An MPC coaching process (illustration) starts with a dual audit aimed at measuring the gap between the project's requirements and the project leader's skills.
Thus, it is on the basis of this double assessment (of both the project itself and its leader), that the goal setting contract between the manager, his/her superior and the coach should be designed. This goal setting contract has to very clearly state the values, the mission, the goals (quantitative and qualitative) and the resources (technical and human) that will be put at the manager’s disposal.
The project is thus structured around this contract and the following elements will have to be clarified: the values and the mission that are specific to the project, its performance indicators and a representation of its activity workflows, as well as an organization and planning designed to respect the constraints (budget, resources and deadlines). The designed action plan thus allows for the monitoring and control of the project’s progress. It also eases the delegation of certain sub-parts of the main project which allows maintaining a global vision.
Thanks to its dual workflows structure (that integrates both technical and human-related workflows), this management cockpit represents a tool that helps uniting the diverse teams that are being supervised. Its indicators are updated in the course of intermediary sessions, the periodicity of which is totally dependent on the rhythm that has been set for the completion of the different tasks.
An example of practical application
Let us illustrate the method with a real case study. Yvette, 40, is a Project Manager for the top management of a Swiss-based multinational company; she enjoys a 20-year experience in the marketing area. In the context of a merger, she is appointed to a Regional Manager position and thus suddenly finds herself leading a team of 10 in spite of never having had to manage more than 4 people at the same time…In addition to this, she still has to conduct several projects she has inherited from her previous occupation.
It very quickly becomes apparent to Yvette that the reengineering process has damaged the team and that the latter has become very critical and distrustful. The tension within a group - that is “made up of strong personalities” in her own terms - is palpable, and rather harsh words are sometimes exchanged. Moreover, the team has been somewhat left alone by her predecessor (there is, for instance, no coordination in the follow-up of customers). All this is further complicated by the fact that the team is dispersed on two different sites.
Several factors are thus contributing to Yvette’s inner pressure and stress, among which: her low degree of managerial experience, the need to reorganize her activity, the high number of ongoing projects and the tensions she experiences within her new team. This results in an overload that could prevent her from dealing with her new responsibilities in a satisfactory and confident way. Upon her superior’s demand, it has been agreed that she would benefit from an MPC-based coaching, in order to help her adjust to her new duties and support her as she seeks to reorganize her sector of activity.
First of all, Yvette’s initial personal skills assessment allowed highlighting strengths such as: a high level of commitment, the ability to make quick decisions, a strong willingness to reach her goals, a strong capacity to take up challenges, and an ability to communicate in a concise and precise manner. A few weaknesses have also been identified, in particular a very high level of independence, coupled with a rather average capacity for teamwork. Moreover, Yvette’s leadership has proven to be significantly influenced by a strong reserve. The combination of these strengths and weaknesses thus created a significant risk for Yvette to expect too much from others from the start; she thus sometimes had a tendency to "rush ahead" alone, with the risk of losing certain team members in the process. This type of communication – which was sometimes limited to a "question and answer" way of functioning – thus didn’t appear as the ideal tool to support her management.
Simultaneously, the audit of her project has lead Yvette to identify the main potential blocks in her sector of activity. Among others, it allowed highlighting significant lacks in the follow-up of customers, as well as a work overload caused by administrative tasks. These issues have been dealt with by creating sub-projects to which the MPC methodology has been applied, just as it had been to the main project itself.
The issue of obtaining administrative support has, for example, been regarded as a priority. This lead her to conduct an analysis of the administrative situation, which allowed her to list up all the tasks that need to be completed while taking into account the nature of and time dedicated to each one of them on a weekly basis. It very soon appeared that, although they were necessary to the service’s functioning, these activities nevertheless had a too strong impact on the time dedicated to the team’s management. It was thus decided that some of these tasks would be entrusted to an administrative assistant who started working part-time for her team. This allowed Yvette to 1) spare a lot of time (and be spared a lot of stress!) and 2) support her team in a much more efficient way.
Moreover, the implementation of the MPC method has lead Yvette to perform an audit of the situation before conducting any important action. She was thus able to regularly take some distance and keep a global vision. Moreover, she learnt to make use of her listening skills to get her people involved and include them, little by little, into the team’s decision-making. The establishment of this frequent dialogue with the team thus allowed her to express her sentiment on a more regular basis.
One year after the beginning of this process, Yvette notes significant changes in her activity, to which she says she has grown accustomed after "a moment of intense doubt". She has taken the leadership in organizing her team: the customer portfolio is now clearly attributed to the different salespeople, the schedules are known by everyone and goals are explicitly formulated. This allows her not only to coordinate the activity of her team members, but also to defend their results within the organization. Her people thus feel that their work is better recognized than with her predecessor and the best members finally did not leave the team, although several of them had originally planned to. On top of it all, the yearly turnover has grown by a two-digit figure!
At personal level, Yvette notices that she is now better equipped to face criticism when she presents her projects, i.e. when someone puts the finger on a flaw. It also has become easier for her to enter a discussion, while she previously tended to cut debate short.
Another element that contributed to increasing her well-being is the fact that she learnt to delegate more and give more responsibility to her team, while she previously tended to "take responsibility for everything". This learning process has been eased by the design of sub-projects that allowed her to pass on the MPC approach to her team through delegation.
The study of Yvette’s real life case illustrates the fact that the MPC methodology can prove a useful support, whether to improve efficiency in the workplace or to bolster the manager’s work-life balance. Moreover, it has repercussions on all the partners involved and allows consolidating the adequateness managers’ skills to their jobs’ requirements, with a snowball effect on their team. The tools commonly resorted to in management practice – such as decision-making, delegation, planning, employee involvement and human development, the building of performance indicators or of management cockpits, etc. – materialize naturally as the method is implemented.
Since 1995, hundreds of managers have benefitted from a follow-up based on the MPC method, whether in the form of a coaching process or of a training-coaching program. This empirical experience has allowed us to observe that this approach fits the Board members of large international groups just as well as the managers of small teams with little or no managerial experience. Occasionally, the MPC methodology has even been successfully applied to executives without management duties (salespeople, IT people, administrative managers…).