Case Study: A Magic Moment in Coaching

Most of the case studies I have presented have occurred in the past.  I rarely describe a current case because the results of coaching may not be clear.  As I have said many times, coaching is a developmental process, and it can take several sessions before positive outcomes are realized.  That being said, I decided to describe a current case because it has provided one of those magical moments that broke through a major barrier with the coachee.

Rick is the owner of a small but growing manufacturing company.  I have had a long-term coaching relationship with Rick.  He was approaching his late 50s and was at the point in his career when he needed to plan for succession of both leadership and ownership.  His plan was to transfer ownership to his three sons.  He was also hopeful that his sons would step into leadership roles. I was asked to coach each son and two other senior executives to prepare all five of them for leadership succession.

Kenny is Rick’s middle son.  His skills were in the manufacturing floor, where he was familiar with each piece of equipment. His job was to calibrate each machine so that it would yield the maximum output.  Kenny was very proud of his ability to improve productivity.  There was a problem, however.  Once the machines were calibrated, the machine operators often changed the settings that Kenny established.  With 40 machines, Kenny was not able to help out when a problem popped up and the operators went back to their old ways of adjusting the machines and thereby eliminating his improvements.

Before I get into the details of Kenny’s coaching, I need to describe how we got started.  I had asked Kenny to take three assessments and explained how they would be used to create his balance sheet of assets and liabilities.  He seemed okay with this.  The assessments were all online so he could take them at his leisure.  Weeks went by, and he had not completed the assessments.  Finally, after some prodding from me and, I think, his father, Kenny completed two assessments.  We were ready to start coaching.

In the first session, we established a few short-term goals for Kenny in his current role as machine calibration expert. Gaps were recognized between his desired results and the current problems operators were experiencing in maintaining his changes.  He appeared motivated to work on the gap. The first two sessions were also devoted to creating a balance sheet for Kenny.  It became clear in these initial sessions that Kenny had some serious liabilities in communicating and follow-through. While he was able to improve each machine’s functioning, he was not able to train the operator or supervisors to maintain the changes he had made.  I had hinted that the balance sheet could give Kenny some clues to help him close the gap and reach his goal. After the second session, Kenny had agreed to add his personal assessment to those that were revealed from the formal assessments and present it at our next coaching session.

At the next session, Kenny explained that he could not access his balance sheet because his computer had frozen.  He also had not taken the Strength Finder assessment as requested.  In the following session, he still did not present his balance sheet. This time, he explained he had the balance sheet on a thumb drive in his office and someone borrowed it without letting him know. He had completed the Strength Finder but could not access it on his computer.  Finally, together, we were able to access the Strength Finder results.

The reason I went into detail on Kenny’s excuses and lack of preparation is to point out his passive resistance to coaching.  While he seemed cooperative and talked freely about his work, his successes, and his failures, he came to each session unprepared.  This is generally not a good sign in a coaching relationship. We discussed his lack of preparation, and he acknowledged that he was poorly organized.  This confirmed one of his assessments findings and gave us some insight into one of his liabilities.

When we looked at the Strength Finder’s top five strengths, there, staring at us was the answer to the mystery of why Kenny was struggling in maintaining the machine changes he had made.  Kenny was an achiever and maximizer. He was competitive and self-assured. He had no problem claiming the importance and value of what he was doing on his job.  He blamed others for not maintaining his changes, acknowledging that he had struggled at keeping up with all the demands for his time.

What was unusual and unexpected was one of the strengths, ideation.  In my experience, this is not one of the strengths found in people doing his type of work.  For those not familiar with the concept of ideation, it refers to a fascination with ideas or concepts, and creating a new way of thinking. When asked to explain this strength, Kenny lit up with excitement.  He wanted me to go with him on the manufacturing floor to see an invention he had created to save time and money in machining parts. I followed him to the floor, where he showed me his invention.  I asked how much time and money this invention would save the company.  He was not sure, but I could see he was mentally working on the answer. He then told me that this could save as much as $100,000 per machine per year.

This took me by surprise. We had been working on how he was going to close the gap in maintaining the work he had done on each machine, while it never even occurred to either of us that his real passion was an invention he had created to speed up the manufacturing process while greatly reducing waste.  The cost savings was a game-changer.

So much of what I have described in my book and blogs offered a process for change.  In Kenny’s case, the gap between his stated desired goal and his current performance was clear; he just did not have the assets to make it happen. While still a work in progress, it appears that Kenny could use a partner with follow-up assets that compliment his skill in calibrating machines.  But his real contribution may be in creating machine processes that could save millions of dollars for his company.  The savings could give his company a competitive edge in gaining work.  In a future blog, I hope to report more on Kenny and how coaching influenced his contributions to his company.

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