A talented accountant had been struggling for a year to generate the extra half a million pounds of business he needed to be promoted to director level. Despite having excellent technical expertise, a reputation for solving difficult issues and a great level of trust from his clients, his difficulties with selling were preventing further success.
- He achieved his target of bringing in £500K of business in six months with just two coaching sessions.
Focus on strengths
Instead of wasting the firm’s time and money analysing what was causing the sales problems, I worked with his strengths as a structured thinker. We explored what would happen if he used his structured approach to sell.
He said that he’d broaden the conversation with prospects to ask them how their business was going in general. But, because he used a structured agenda for meetings, he’d never found a way of comfortably opening up this sort of discussion.
A simple solution
Together, we realised he should place general business at the top of each agenda for client meetings. This allowed him to easily have these sorts of conversations and identify opportunities to solve client issues while also bringing in more business.
Get to what matters quickly
Most coaches are trained to spend hours analysing the problem on the assumption it will lead to a solution. Using that approach would have told me a lot about why he couldn’t sell, but not how to help him solve the problem.
To boost business growth, Countrywide Surveying Services needed a culture change that would bring its remote-working surveyors closer to the heart of the organisation. The leadership recognised that it needed to hear surveyors’ needs, meet its promises to them and create a culture of strong leadership and collective identity.
- 5 years of continuous business growth.
- Staff turnover halved.
- A four fold increase in customer engagement scores.
- Faster valuations and a better digital offering thanks to £18.5 million invested in technology and innovative tools for surveyors and customers.
- Countrywide Surveying Services became leaders in the risk management industry by combining physical valuations with automated hybrid tools.
Ignore the past
The default approach for strategy work is to analyse the past and identify threats and weaknesses, then plan from the present to the future. I turned strategy planning on its head using the solution focused strategy canvas*.
We went to, and stayed at, the leadership’s preferred future. They then detailed this future in a way that went far beyond broad brushstrokes, and described it in ways that made putting it into action surprisingly doable.
Paint a clear picture
I helped them define their strategy in a single picture through the value delivered to customers. We then underpinned this with six critical success factors that could be used to chart progress. The team provided detailed, pragmatic descriptions of how they would notice success in each area, and these critical success factors guided the organisation in the coming years.
Freedom to dream
By separating problems from solutions, the managers all had chance to think in new and creative ways. They were able to focus on their best hopes in ways that made it possible to achieve them.
Comments from the senior management team include:
“What came out of the strategy day was invaluable and made for a better conference in content and tone of engagement.”
“The critical success factors have really helped shape how we target our strategy on measurable outcomes.”
“I see Carey as an integral part of our business, her solutions focused approach helps to create an environment for a freshness of thinking and boldness to challenge both strategically and for key individuals within it. Personally, I have seen myself grow as a business and thought leader and initially I didn’t think I had it in me. With Carey’s help I’ve realised I have not only always had it in me, but it’s much better out than in! We have built a business in Countrywide that is not only people focused, talent focused, but principally action focused and always looking to evolve with agility, innovation and pace. We have enjoyed five consecutive years of Revenue and Profit Growth leading to becoming the stand out market leader, seen a four-fold increase in our Customer Engagement scores and have reduced colleague attrition by half. Carey’s part in helping to achieve this is significant.”
Paul Wareham, Managing Director, Surveying & Conveyancing Services, Countrywide Plc
*The strategy canvas: W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne “Charting Your Company’s Future”, Harvard Business Review, June 2002. My dear colleagues A. Sharif and A. Abington recognised how well solutions focus complements the strategy canvas.
The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer had announced major new projects for England’s road network. The timescales for preparing them for construction were unprecedentedly short. I worked with Major Projects North to hit this goal.
- The division took on 20 new projects in 18 months – a 200% increase with only a 15% increase in staff.
- The annual people survey’s engagement score was boosted by 20%.
Set the right course
Over the course of a year, I facilitated five sessions with the senior management team. During those sessions I used two catalysts for change that enabled them to work freely and creatively.
The first was explaining the benefits of rebalancing their traditional culture towards a more agile approach. They’d already started to feel that they needed to move in this direction. Naming where they were heading and providing the theory behind it gave them the confidence to move further along that path.
The second catalyst was using a disciplined application of Solutions Focus principles to propel them forwards. By drawing out a really detailed description of their preferred future, I was able to move them from focusing on processes to achieving outcomes.
They had a tendency to get bogged down in structuring and dissected goals and tasks mechanically, which was limiting speed and staff engagement.
Instead, we developed a strategy canvas* focusing on the real enablers of change for them, which were:
- Their approach to leadership.
- The behaviours needed in the new culture.
- Having adequate staff.
- Supply and delivery.
- Customer satisfaction.
Record, replicate, repeat
In each session we recorded signs of progress with penetrating detail so they could do more with what was working well. The team started cascading what they’d learnt to their teams, creating a strong positive ripple effect.
“We were trying to face up to change and deal with it, but it was a bit nebulous. I didn’t want to work from top-down theories and models of organisational change, because making them real is so difficult. I was interested in the discussion we’d had about how we could use Solutions Focus to create change realistically and I was keen to take that next step.”
“We’ve moved more in the right direction and it’s noticeable. We’ve been able to absorb great volumes of work and people are flexible. Without that it would be impossible to adapt to our new world.”
Jeremy Bloom, Network Planning Director, Highways England
See published article: Moving Fast At Highways England
*See the Countrywide case study for more information on the strategy canvas.
Syncro had just undergone a difficult financial restructure, which resulted in low morale across the business. The General Manager, Paul Carpenter, needed to rapidly reengage the 500 employees in this £50 million turnover business to improve its results ready for sale.
- On a scale of 1 to 10 employees said morale moved from 1 to 7.5.
- The team solved an invoicing problem that had been threatening a multi-million pound contract for two years. It was renewed for another three years.
- Sales increased.
- The engineers came up with a successful marketing initiative.
- The business was sold successfully.
Clear, detailed descriptions
Instead of wasting time analysing why morale was low, I asked Paul to describe how he would notice if morale had improved in each area of the business.
Rather than accepting statements such as “productivity would improve” we focused on specifics. How would he notice productivity was improving? This enabled Paul to quickly map out exactly what needed to be done.
Maximise what’s working
We also looked at the areas of the business where morale had remained reasonably good. This allowed Paul to define what was working there so it could be applied elsewhere.
Simple, doable changes
Through our four coaching sessions, Paul came up with 30 small, doable actions that he and his staff could implement immediately and wouldn’t distract from the bottom line.
For example, the employees on Paul’s floor felt they were more in the know because of the casual conversations that can happen when people sit together. Paul moved one of his managers to another floor and regularly strolled up there to replicate this feeling of being in the know.
Spending more time with staff he didn’t know also resulted in the engineers thinking of a great marketing initiative. And Paul helped sales to increase by working with the strengths of his sales manager and passing administrative work elsewhere.
“These were just small initiatives, but each of them on the back of the others helped to continually raise morale. Going away from each meeting with small actions to kick off the next day made it easy to start things moving with colleagues – this had a good impact on actually getting them done.
This work has equipped me far better to take on larger general management roles and has given me another set of tools to approach problems with business performance.”
Paul Carpenter, General Manager of Syncro, The Co-operative Group
See published article: The Power of One
This rapidly expanding accountancy firm wanted to introduce formal HR processes for its growing workforce. What the practice didn’t want was the disruption and morale problems that often accompany performance appraisals and competency models.
One of the team summed it up perfectly: “Performance reviews should develop strategies for improving future performance. They shouldn’t focus on the detail of why things have gone wrong in the past.”
- Staff began welcoming regular performance appraisals.
- Changes were introduced without causing disruption or dissention.
- Specific risks to the business were minimised by improving understanding and discussions between partners and staff.
- Interview questions were developed from new appraisal competencies, which significantly improved the quality of information gathered during recruitment.
New thinking, new conversations
I explained what I believe to be the profound error innate to all rating systems. I then trained the partners in an alternative way of thinking about appraisals.
I trained partners to paint detailed, accurate pictures of what they wanted based on this new way of thinking. Then I showed them how to develop realistic steps for change with team members so they could maximise the benefits of this new approach.
Structure and measurement
To provide a framework for their HR processes, we developed some core competencies.
Finally, I helped the partners identify and measure the effectiveness of changes made.
“Carey helped us to develop a solution focused performance management system that is such an important part of how we do it here. She encouraged us to think and act in different and more positive ways and as a result there have been fantastic changes in the firm over recent years.”
Graham Kirk – Managing Partner
The UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit Report described a vision of a state that “should empower citizens to shape their own lives and the services they receive”.
The aim, in the health, disability and aged care sectors, is to maintain people independently in the community and meet their desires to be in control of their own lives. It’s also about building capacity in the community to meet low-level needs rather than using public sector resources.
North East Lincolnshire were early adopters of these objectives. Although the remit was to give people independence, it involved a huge cultural shift in expectations for both care staff and the community.
- A 10% cost saving on the social care budget.
- Power was put back in the hands of the community.
- Social workers were able to do social work again.
- Clients’ independence increased in ways they found satisfying.
- A self-sustaining legacy was created.
To change the ethos and culture of care, I worked with:
- Staff on the newly established single point of access phone line.
- Social workers making visits.
- Senior management.
I helped them understand how care conversations and systems can heavily influence outcomes by unintentionally creating dependency.
Provide skills to make a difference
Next, I helped them with the thinking and skills needed to have conversations that would foster and maintain their clients’ independence and efficacy in the community.
Set up the right systems
I also worked with senior management to align the structure and systems with this new way of thinking that created greater individual and community control. For example, job descriptions were loosened up to give staff the flexibility necessary to respond to clients’ individual needs. By doing this, they could hear and respond to the ever-changing needs of individuals and communities in a timely, interactive way.
“Staff have spoken of the moment everything clicked into place during the training and have never looked back. I can only recommend Carey as someone who opens your eyes and brings a fresh approach to working with individuals. Carey is passionate about her work, which she delivers in a professional and knowledgeable manner.”
Christine Jackson, Head of Case Management, Performance & Finance, Focus Independent Adult Social Work
See published article: Using SF to create whole system change in social care.
This firm had an annual turnover of more than £350m and is one of Europe’s largest suppliers in its market, but can’t be named for confidentiality reasons.
The production site in mainland Europe had a very traditional organisational model and was producing traditional products. The UK site was used to dealing with shorter product cycles and an ever-increasing demand for new products.
This agile approach in the UK was responsible for the company’s rapid growth there. But it caused constant cultural clashes with the production team in Europe, which had different markers for commercial success. This was threatening to hamper further growth in the UK.
- Many of the problematic differences were quickly overcome.
- There was a 65% reduction in delivery and invoicing errors caused by discrepancies between the amount of product ordered and the amount delivered.
- The UK team hit its target of always giving timely, accurate information about promotions and new product pricing to the European team. This helped to improve planning and supply.
- Stronger relationships were forged between the UK team and every team in the business’s European arm – not just the production team.
Get straight to the goal
I held two half-day sessions with the UK team to release new ways of aligning them with the European operation and improve production commitments.
During these sessions I used questions that unearthed and captured their goal of getting operations right first time.
Find new ways to succeed
My questioning also revealed that, by adapting to the more traditional expectations of the European production site, they could gain some of the flexibility they needed in the UK.
Simple actions, great results
By the time we met for the second session, changes discussed in the first session had already been implemented.
Many of these actions were very simple, but very effective. For example they increased the number of face-to-face and phone conversations with the production team in Europe rather than relying on email. And they improved their knowledge of the European team’s production operations. They also introduced a management information system to provide detailed expenditure plans per customer.
A dramatic drop in the mortgage market and a large restructure meant Halifax needed to rapidly plan for the future. In particular, its mortgage dealers needed to introduce other income streams to sustain their brokers. Morale also needed improving.
- Extra income streams were introduced successfully and the annual target was achieved in just nine months.
- The goal for the fourth quarter was massively exceeded.
- Team spirit and morale improved quickly, which had a direct effect on performance. For example:
– A staff member due to go on holiday was 10% below target so the other team members banded together to secure her sales for her while she was away.
– Due to the team’s success, every employee applying for a role during the restructure got their first choice.
- Complaints reduced so much that the regular calls set up to pre-empt or address them were no longer needed.
Focus on the positive
I met with the regional sales manager just twice over two consecutive months for two hours each session.
In these sessions I focussed on helping her to isolate what would work in the current market. By doing this, we identified a series of small actions needed to reach the required goals.
Small actions for big change
It was vital that any change could be worked into everyday activities in bite-size chunks rather than being labelled as a large change, which would have added to existing anxieties.
“As a result of these meetings we did a number of things. We isolated what worked and replicated it. We were able to say why is that individual successful? Let’s go and look at what they do and how. We were much more structured about using best practice and spreading it to other people. We also really focussed on sorting out our customer service issues at source so that our business development managers were able to focus on getting sales rather than solving problems.
That piece of work became the foundation when the economy was going haywire around us. We have since used the approaches Carey taught us to launch our year ahead meeting focussing on what our world will look like when our goal has been achieved.”
Paulette Tajah Bell, Regional Sales Manager, Halifax Intermediary Sales