Business Systems Coaching

We have found business focused coaching integrated with a balanced scorecard and tools for communicating commitment and resiliency training to be instrumental in facilitating deep, sustained coaching work. These tools used together define the context, provide an organizing structure, develop a process for meeting objectives and create a map to help achieve objectives. There is a synergy that occurs when the four tools work together, creating opportunities that do not exist when applied individually. In this paper I will provide background on the coaching toolset called Business Systems Coaching, describe a brief coaching case and then examine how I would have worked differently with the toolset above to achieve higher quality results. At the time the case described occurred, I did not use the tools of Business Systems Coaching in my practice.

Business Focused Coaching

The marketplace is glutted with a variety of coaching tools and experts. After conducting a year of extensive research, we discovered the best coaching approach for business people is one Mike Jay of B-Coach Systems developed. So what is it about the coaching approach that Mike Jay developed that sets it apart from other approaches to coaching.

  • The coaching is never initiated until a comprehensive scope of work is completed to determine if coaching is the best solution to the problem
  • The coaching is based on data gathered in a variety of ways: interviews, organizational assessments and individual assessments. The person to be coached gets input on how others see them and how they compare to others in terms of their strengths, preferences, learning styles, and ability to change.
  • There is a clear, distinct methodology that the people being coached can follow so they know the activities they will be participating in, when they will occur and how they link to their goals.
  • Performance and development improvements are linked to business improvements in customer, process and financial deliverables.
  • There is a sponsor who directly participates in the coaching process with the person being coached. He or she has a stake in the outcomes and their importance to the individual and the organization.
  • The sessions are short in duration, yet frequent. They fit better with the schedule of today?s businessperson.
  • The person being coached has an extensive support network that is part of his/her process. Every fourth session includes the participation of their sponsor, who helps in goal setting and performance reviews. The people being coached choose a select group of people to provide them with regular feedback on their progress towards the achievement of their selected goals and targets.
  • The coaching focuses on improvements to the individual and the organization.

Balanced Scorecard

This means engaging key stakeholders in designing an approach that assesses:

  • The financial aspects and implications of the change process
  • Needed process and/or operational changes
  • Customer or stakeholder implications
  • A rigorous exploration of the human resources or innovation quadrant of the balanced scorecard.

We have found the approach developed by Michael Selby of Scorecard Partners to be most applicable to the coaching process. Why? It is simple. Selby's processes require leaders to focus on identifying and tracking leading, not lagging, indicators and rely on organizational strengths and opportunities. His approach also requires users to find opportunities squandered often in the past by not deploying assets from the HR quadrant.

Tools for Communicating Commitment

Recently, we started working with a communication toolset developed by Robert Keegan and Lisa Lahey (How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work) that makes a difference by ensuring commitment and getting change on issues that resist changing. The key insight of Keegan and Lahey is neither about managing resistance nor about getting buy-in. Their key insight is about gaining insight about our inclination(s) not to change and in defining an effective approach to unearth and move forward those things we keep from changing despite our wishes to the contrary.

This critical aspect of change has been largely ignored in the past and creates tremendous opportunity for leaders to uncover blind spots and as a result discover un-thought-of strategies and tactics to move ahead successfully.

Building Motivation and Engagement Through Resiliency Training

Reivich and Shatte in their book The Resilience Factor have done what business people needed with the concepts of emotional intelligence: they brought them to action. Resilience is defined as emotional intelligence in action. Resilience is comprised of seven key abilities: emotion regulation, impulse control, empathy, optimism, causal analysis, self-efficacy and reaching out. Our strengths in each of these areas can be measured through assessment. Given that adaptability will be key to future business success we believe that they have discovered the true ?second click? of adaptability and a proven method for launching it in the real world.


Don is the leader of a large operations organization undergoing major transformation: it?s market and customers had shifted dramatically. Don had already initiated a number of major initiatives to bring new focus and energy to his organization but recognized that quality leadership that modeled key behaviors, clarified and communicated direction and held people accountable was essential for a new level of success. We agreed to work with Don and his leadership team to build the necessary leadership competencies.

Our design was simple but contained a number of key components. One key piece included the leadership team sharing responsibilities across the entire organization and working as a board of directors to manage outcomes in all key business areas. Providing coaching skills and coaching skills training to all the leaders became a core part of our program.

We provided coaching to both vice presidents and the team of directors. One major surprise occurred after we had developed a coaching skills training, designed a tool to measure leadership effectiveness based on their specific requirements and launched our program: the directors, to everyone?s surprise, decided that instead of being coached by external or internal coaches with HR orientations they wanted to coach each other in pairs. The process worked fabulously and continues to flourish today.

One of my responsibilities was to coach Don. Don is a very capable and engaging leader with significant integrity. He was also known as the intimidator. In an organization with a long history of laissez-faire management and no accountability, he was getting results and meeting business objectives by holding people accountable for the first time. He was literally the first leader of the organization to terminate people for lack of performance. He recognized that the most important leadership modeling would come from him. One behavior that we agreed to focus on was his ?flashing.? Under pressure or upon receiving negative information, he had a tendency to ?flash? or to quickly and publicly display his anger or upset with the information. He knew this tendency caused people to shut down and to not disclose difficult, critical business information.

After about six months we had made tremendous progress on the ability of the team to function as a board of directors and on their leadership capabilities. The finance team was in the midst of their monthly report when the team leader casually disclosed that they were short $15 million dollars. (Please note that the company is a large multi-national but $15 million is still $15 million.) Don was sitting directly across from me. He ?flashed.? As he heard the news, his arms gripped the table and his forearms bulged. The veins on his neck and head bulged and his face turned bright crimson. The woman sitting next to him put her arm on his in a calming way and looked as if she feared if would have a stroke in the room. The entire room quieted and we all politely asked a few questions and went about our business.

At the end of the meeting I asked Don if he had a few minutes. He gave me a look that I will never forget. It was a
combination of you've got to be kidding and reluctant acceptance. Basically, I was terrified. I figured I was about to get fired for doing my job. We agreed to meet in five minutes.

The next 30 minutes were very uncomfortable for both of us. I feared getting fired for confronting the "flasher." He squirmed as he recognized that he was at a personal point of inflection. With the help of Don's personal integrity and with the support of our agreements for coaching success, he acknowledged the consequence of his behavior and its impact
and determined to continue to work on better managing himself. And he did for the next six months of our engagement. Despite the difficulty and discomfort, he got hold of himself and struggled to change behavior that was counter-productive.

What Was Effective in the Coaching With Don

  • Developing value for leadership and its impact on business effectiveness
  • Making and keeping agreements
  • Elevating significance of values (like keeping your word not to get angry in front of the team) and their impact on leadership effectiveness
  • Measuring leadership effectiveness
  • Changing direction and having the primary focus of coaching be peer to peer

What I Would Have Done Differently With the Business Systems Coaching Tools

  • More rigorous scope of work to articulate organizational and system impacts Over time we discovered how limiting the HR organization was in effecting change. By engaging in a more rigorous scope of work process around the coaching for Don and his staff, we could have seen more clearly how negative the HR organization was going to be and how that would slow down our process. Their role was to keep the status quo and they tried to do just that. They did not think the coaching was a good idea.
  • Gotten more active participation from sponsor for VP We knew that this would be important, attempted to get sponsorship oversight but ultimately were unsuccessful. This is a tricky issue because to push too hard here can cause you to lose. Don?s boss was supportive, came to a number of events and took the position that Don was a mature, senior manager being paid to make quality decisions. What was missing was the real opportunity to link Don?s goals with those of the larger organization through his sponsor's direct participation. That would have helped us with the HR impediments and with drag that other organizations, who needed to know in great detail (they were
    competitive with us) what we were doing, imposed.
  • Had a more clear, consistent strategic method in place to guide coaching The business systems coaching approach is grounded in a strategic methodology that is based on the cornerstones of solid business planning and requires looking in all corners to develop a comprehensive plan. In Don's case, if we had used this strategic approach we would have had more solid anchors to address current behaviors and their impact on the future and we would have been able to keep his obsession with too much detail while planning in front of him as a limiting action.
  • More frequent, briefer coaching sessions Like most managers, Don got busy with the day to day activities of running his organization. Most days had meetings from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. In this flurry of activity, focus on what he needed to do personally often got lost and coaching appointments were cancelled. Shorter, more frequent sessions would have helped keep his attention on what he needed to do and would have enabled him to become more proactive.
  • Involved network of peers Don's organization had a long history of people not quite telling the truth to avoid being punished. The $15 million example says it all. If Don had established a small cadre of folks to inform his coaching process, our work would have been more laser-like and time-efficient. The choice of the directors to opt for peer coaching validated the significance of peer coaching in the organization. In the absence of formal requests to provide constructive feedback, organizational members observe but most often don't say. If we do not know how we are doing, we cannot make the appropriate adjustments.
  • Used communication tools for commitment and resiliency and scorecard for a clearer and more articulate framework and map for guiding our trip across the landscape A map for moving forward would have helped us keep focused. In this case, we could have achieved greater clarity on the organizational issues that kept this monolithic organization from changing despite its intentions. Also, naming and then focusing on emotional regulation and impulse control (these were the two resiliency factors most problematic for Don) would have greatly supported our efforts. In a managerial world that chooses only the most important activities, we could have focused more rigorously on the resilience areas of greatest need.


The world still improves in a pendulum-like manner:back and forth. It?s often three steps forward and two steps back. It seems to be the nature of progress. As we made significant improvements over time in cutting costs, improving processes, improving service to customers, and reducing cycle time, we began to discover other places where we could improve how we do business. The two primary areas for improved leverage today are in Human Resources or Innovation, the lower right hand quadrant of the scorecard and in the overall balance or alignment of the scorecard. A standard scorecard looks like this:

Financials Customer

Internal Operations/Process Development or Human Resources

Until now there has not been as much effort exerted in the lower right quadrant. We believe that the effort here has not been as significant simply because people have not had the tools or the vision in the area of human resources to gather historical data and to measure progress. Today, the quality of the tools discussed above and the behavioral data now available provide us with the potential for improving business in ways that did not exist previously.

Leaders and managers familiar with the power of aligning organizational components from past efforts will resonate with the possibilities and opportunities created by coaching leaders, launching a true balanced scorecard, building resilience and teaching people how to communicate for commitment. Like power that comes in the financial market from a truly balanced portfolio or from a choir that has all the altos, sopranos and basses matching and pacing with each other appropriately, it is balance that often provides those who are most successful with the final impetus, poise and power to succeed. Skillful use of the human resource tools now at our disposal provides us with the potential for balanced and leveraged improvements not previously possible in the business world.

One of the key tenets of business systems coaching is right action. Right action is composed of: right information + right time+ right reasons+ right things + right people. If we had been able to articulate and then evaluate Don's progress according to this template we would have not only helped him more but his entire organization as well. Increased focus in the HR quadrant and a more balanced approach across the scorecard would have accelerated the results of his coaching and the leverage it provided for change across his organization.