Daring! Imagination Group Coaching

If you live in the Fraser Valley and want to explore your creativity in a safe and supportive environment check out this new opportunity for  Group Coaching (click here).

(I've been focusing on producing my novel, Just Living, and so have not been adding to this creative blog for some time. Thousands haven't noticed.)

Irena and Bob's story

I was welcomed into Bob and Irena’s dining room, and smiled when I saw the coffee cups and plate of goodies in the middle of the table. I’d asked them not to fuss, and if this wasn’t fussing, I was impressed. Bob invited me to take a seat, and Irena joined us from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel she left on the counter.

“Irena, meet Kate. She’s changing the face of our office. I wanted her to meet you,” he said, and Irena offered a firm handshake.

“Helping to bring change to your office,” I answered. “You have hired amazing staff, and they are excited to build some new opportunities.” We sat, and Irena poured some coffee. Bob offered napkins and the plate of treats; I helped myself to crackers, cheese and some grapes.

“So, what were you hoping to talk about today?” I asked, aware that Bob had mentioned Irena was wanting to expand the focus of her busy family practice. He started.

“When Irena and I met in University, we spent a lot of time talking about how we were going to change the face of healthcare, how we would work together to help our patients. And we graduated, and we both got busy building our practices. Lately, with your coaching at the office, we’ve started to talk about it again.” Bob took a deep breath. “This time, we want to do something about it,” he finished. I glanced over at Irena. Her eyes were shining.

“That’s exciting!” I said. “Tell me about your ideas, Irena.” She chuckled.

“We were going to build an integrated practice – a space where people who were motivated to stay healthy could learn more about how to do that with us. We were going to be different. Truly ‘patient focused’.” Her voice grew thick, and she looked down at her coffee. Bob rushed in.

photo courtesy of winnod at freedigitalphotos.net

photo courtesy of winnod at freedigitalphotos.net

“It’s true. We had dreams of being different, but then when we graduated with huge loans, we had to get down to work. Then having kids distracted us – in a good way. Maybe now it’s time,” he said, putting his hand over Irena’s. “Can you help us explore this?” he asked.

“I’d be honoured,” I answered. “Why this is the right time?”

“Well, it isn’t because the student loans are paid off, but they’re manageable,” Irena said.

“And I think if we keep waiting until everything is perfect to start this, we might never do it,” Bob emphasized.

“Things are changing at my office. I need to decide whether to stay in a practice that doesn’t really meet my patient’s needs,” Irena continued. “My colleagues are pushing to increase the patient load, but aren’t wanting to do anything to streamline our practices or add value for our patients. In fact, they want to decrease some of the innovation we’ve integrated in the past few years.”

“Except Ernie. He’s with you,” Bob answered. I was making notes, and referred to them.

“So, you initially had a dream of building a practice where you could get to know your patients and really focus on a team approach to healthcare.” I looked up and smiled. “I heard a sense that you were willing to be unrelenting to get that, but that you weren’t able to start there because of practicalities. Now you want to explore those ideas again.” Bob and Irena were nodding. “And it’s important to capture some of the pieces that drove your early vision.

“I heard patient-focused. And working with motivated patients, supporting their goals.” Then Irena shared.

“It’s true. In training, I got so frustrated when doctors wouldn’t listen carefully, and now sometimes I’m doing the same thing. Rushing to diagnose based on really limited enquiry driven by a process that is narrow and efficient. Not in a good way,” she added. “I want to get to know my patients, to listen better and get some of my curiosity back.”

“And I want to know the other practitioners I’m referring patients to,” Bob continued. “I want to know that how they practice will fit in with serving our patients’ wellbeing.”

“Okay, those are your motivations. And I sense that when you weren’t yet involved in the business of medicine, you were freer to recognize what helped patients,” I said. “You weren’t constrained by billing models, or integrating your practice into a larger health care system. That’s the wisdom you bring now to your early ideas,” I said.

We talked some more about their vision, and they started to plan about what it could look like from a physical lay-out perspective. Their energy was high, and they were bubbling up with ideas, feeding one another.

“I’m noticing you two are really motivating each other, and enjoying your connection.” I said, and they grinned at each other, and then me.

“Yeah. This is fun. Even when we don’t agree on the ‘how’”, Bob said. “It’s like old times, but you’re right. Now, we’re able to gauge how well our ideas will work in the current systems,” Bob said. “And how we can integrate them into billing practices.” We kept going, exploring the “why” as well as the “how.”

“So, we’ve agreed you guys are going to do some homework. You’re going to write a short, pithy statement about what you want to achieve, and another about why. Then you’re going to make three lists.

“What are the strengths and potentials in creating a new plan,
“What are the barriers to creating a new practice together, and
“What resources are going to support you.”

“Let’s figure out why before we struggle with how. And be honest about why others aren’t already doing this in droves. Good first steps,” Irena said, and started to clear the table. Bob was still writing furiously on his pad of paper.

“I bet they are doing it!” he said. “Maybe just not here, in Canada. Or maybe they are but haven’t advertised it.”

“That’s true, dear,” Irena said. “Maybe you can do some research,” she called over her shoulder as we moved into the kitchen. Bob was heading into his home office to access the computer. “That’ll keep him busy for a while.” As she loaded the dishes in the dishwasher, I sensed she wanted to say something else to me. I paused long enough that she looked up, and I realised she was trying to find the words she wanted.

“Thank you, Kate. You’ve really helped Bob. He’d been in a professional funk for a long time, and I always felt a bit like it was my fault because I insisted we leave the city if we were going to have kids,” she said. “He’s been more energized, happier lately. I think it’s because you guys are working together,” she said.

“Thank you! I feel really privileged to help. Remember – he reached out and has done the heavy lifting. He’s working hard, and his staff are, too. I’m enjoying this work.” Bob came in through another door.

“You’re right, Love. It has been good working with Kate. I didn’t really understand what using an executive coach could do for my business, but I really couldn’t go back now,” he said. “It’s like she’s getting everyone to pull together in the office. I’d recommend her to anyone,” he said. “It might be hard to measure, but there’s a definite Return on Investment for me just in reduced stress!

“If we can actually move towards a wellness-focused practice, that would be miraculous.”

As I let myself out the front door, I smiled hearing him show Irena some write-ups on the work being done in Europe. He sounded so excited. I was looking forward to touching base with them in 10 days – they hadn’t wanted to leave it longer than that. And I smiled as I thought about how my work had changed over the past few years. From working exclusively with not-for-profits in the justice system to this. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I was excited that I would be able to report back to my coach, Frank, about where my practice was heading.

And I smiled to myself when I remembered that initially, coaching had been all about creating the huge, emotional “AHA!” moments. Now I loved working with people who were determined to find success over time – the long game, I called it.

Because I’d grown to realise that as long as you are working hard towards a goal, you will get there. Persistence and determination matter most – the “AHA!”s are useful gems to motivate and clear the path, but not the goal itself.

 

Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Amanda's Story

Amanda’s Story

I watched as Amanda pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail, and dropped her gym bag on the floor of the back office in the gym where she offered massage two days a week. She was fresh and clean from her workout, and her yoga pants and loose tank top somehow looked professional. Maybe it was the glow in her cheeks, or her becoming-bump, even more evident when she pulled up her stool to the table pushed against a wall. I smiled at her as she made herself comfortable.

“I hope it’s okay that we meet here, even though this is about Bob’s space,” she began. “It’s just more convenient for me today because I have clients here starting in about an hour and a half,” she explained.

“No problem!” I reassured her. “This is as convenient for me as anywhere else downtown. And it gives me a bit more of a picture into your busy life,” I said.

“Yes! And it’s about to get busier!” Amanda exclaimed, patting her belly. “I work four days a week with Bob, and two part days here. I told Bob last week that since I’ll be going on mat leave in a few months, he doesn’t need to include me in the team coaching project, but he insisted. I’m excited! I have a sister who uses a coach and she raves!” Amanda was bubbling with energy, and I found it infectious.

“It’s great that you’re participating,” I shared. “Bob hopes this project has longer term effects on his office, and he sees you as a part of that.” After a few more minutes sharing a little about the main foci of the project, and a brief introduction to coaching and confidentiality, I turned our conversation to our session.

“We don’t have a lot of time, Amanda, so why don’t you tell me more about what excites you about this project?” I asked.

“Well, Kate, I want to make sure that when I go on leave that Bob is set up in the best way for servicing his clients while I’m off. And for the plans for my return, too,” she added.

“Tell me about those,” I said. “What are your plans ?” I asked. I acknowledged that she wasn’t under any obligation to confirm them now, and that plans change.

“Well, I know this sounds stupid, but I was thinking that I really want ensure my clients are there when I come back to work, and that I want them to get great service while I’m off, but don’t want to lose them to my replacement. Or have Bob find someone else he likes better while I’m off. I have some ideas, but I guess I don’t really know how to move forward when I’m heading off in a few months,” she said.

“Tell me about your longer term plans for your practice,” I said. “Say in 3 to 5 years. What would an ideal workday look like for you?” Amanda sat on her stool, looking down. Her hand rested gently on her belly, in an unconscious way. I wondered how many times a day she ‘touched in’ with her baby, being in a profession that was so healthy-touch focused.

“Ideally, I’d have my own practice as a part of a larger wellness-focused centre,” she said. “I want to have two or three tables, with one other practitioner, maybe two part-time, to give us each some flexibility about work commitment,” she said, looking up. “I haven’t said that out loud to anyone but my partner before now,” she continued. “I want to work about 30 hours a week, including all the administrative stuff, but I want to do it as a team,” she said. I let that sit for a moment.

“Not that it isn’t a team right now,” she continued. “But I know I ‘work for Bob,’” she said, emphasizing with air quotes. “I want to work more for me, to build something I can rely on, be proud of,” she said. Her gaze left no doubt this was a new expression of a long-held dream.

We spent a few minutes talking about her dream, and then I worked to narrow the focus of our conversation.

“So, knowing what you want to work towards, what are the pieces you need to research and put in place now, before you leave on Mat leave. A year’s leave is a long time,” I added. Living in Canada had benefits, but benefits had consequences. Amanda went into brainstorm mode, and I jotted down some of her ideas.

“I want to help Bob hire my replacement, which means I want to talk to him about what I hope to do,” she said. “I have to explore starting my own business, expanding it from just a sole practice,” she continued.  After a few minutes, we had a list, and she had a plan.

“So, I’m going to spend some time talking to a couple of massage therapists downtown I know who run practices I would be proud of, find out their stories,” she began, ticking off the plan on her fingers.

“Then I’m going to talk to Bob about what I want to do, see if he is interested in partnering or staying connected in some way. I don’t want to mess with him if he has no interest; I really want be fair. He’s been really good to me; I’m not going to keep him hanging while I’m on leave,” she continued. I reminded her of the need to research her rights, and to not give them away too quickly. She completed the list, and then smiled at me.

“Can I ask you a question?” I could see she was “wrapping up” our session and getting ready to move on.

“Sure!” she answered.

“What’s the best part of this plan?” I asked, and then waited. She teared up a bit, which surprised me a little. I hadn’t expected my question to elicit emotion, but then, with coaching you can never predict which questions will strike a chord.

“I want to solidify my service to my clients, and build in some flexibility so that I can meet my family’s needs, too. And have a community of practice that includes other massage therapists. But that isn’t the best part. I want to show my daughter how a strong woman can take control of her life, and provide for her family,” she answered, again touching her baby bump. “I want my daughter to be proud of where her mom works, and what I create. I want it to be meaningful,” she said, smiling broadly.

“It sounds like you want to build a legacy,” I said. “I know you will have lots of support moving forward, and I encourage you to talk to Bob. Dreaming up new directions for the office is one of the goals of this project,” I continued. I wasn’t going to breach Bob’s confidentiality, but reframing the context of our work could provide encouragement.

“That daughter of yours will be one lucky little baby,” I said. “A mother who cares about her patients, her co-workers and her family. And seems to do it all with great ease!” I finished. I wanted Amanda to know I had noticed her capacity to juggle many things, and do a great job at it.

“Thank you,” she said. She bounced off of the stool, and grabbed her bag. “I have to tuck this into the locker room; let me see you out,” she finished, ushering me to the door. I tried to match the spring in her step as we made our way around the weights and machines to the foyer.  And I didn’t even stumble.

It would feel good to make my way home, and take stock of where my project with Bob was headed, and what the next steps might be. I hoped my partner had cooked, and then remembered the last burned attempt at feeding us. I decided, with a chuckle, to stop for take-out on the way home.



Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Bob's Story 2

Bob joined me again in the coffee shop where we had first met, and sat down and ordered. Some things hadn’t changed; Bob smiled at everyone he encountered. What was different, though, was the ease I felt as we ‘got down to coaching’. A few minutes of catching up and I reminded him of our agreement, the ethic of confidentiality, and our time commitments. Our salads would arrive in a few minutes, I was sure.

“So, Bob, how are things?” I asked.

“Great. Really. The office is more…alive, somehow,” he said. And I sensed he was holding back, too.

“And?”

“Well, it’s all good, but…” he looked down, straightened his cutlery, and refolded the napkin it rested on. Then he looked right at me. “It feels like it’s heading in a bunch of different directions I’m not sure of. And it’s…out of control, or something.” Bob’s voice told me he was bothered, but not distressed.

“Hmmm…tell me about that,” I said, and Bob did. Jane was actively working with Tom to implement some “front desk” protocols, Paul was visiting the Elders residence in Mission, and trying to get a contract with the First Nations Housing Authority. He was talking about expanding his work to other senior’s facilities, and Bob wasn’t even sure he wanted to move his practice in that direction. Amanda, a massage therapist, had just told him she was pregnant, and would need to leave work in a few months. And this morning, when Tom had given him newly formatted financial reports, Bob was aware that his billing practices needed to be ‘stepped up’ or he would run the risk of a cash flow problem.

“I think I need some additional support, and I have no idea what,” he said, smiling. “It feels like my practice is on the cusp of something, and I’m not sure if it’s positive, or disastrous!” he said, smiling. “I just realized that!” He looked surprised.

“Okay,” I said. “Last time you talked about the atmosphere in the front office. How is it now?” Bob thought about that.

“Better. Good, actually. Jane and Tom seem to be intent on working things out, and I see them struggle with some personality stuff – I don’t think that’ll ever change – but they’re getting stuff done. Tom doesn’t come to me when he’s frustrated with Jane any more – he goes straight to her. That’s better.”

“And are clients being better served?” I asked.

“I think so. It seems more … professional. Jane has started to take a couple of courses on medical office management, and seems to focus there when there is a lull in the workload rather than chatting with the patients. It just feels…more professional, I guess.” Bob was nodding at his own comment when our food arrived. Bob looked up, as if surprised to see it. We got down to eating, and I saw Bob look at his watch.

“So, Bob, in the time we have left, what did you want to focus on today?” I asked, taking a bite of my spinach. He took a moment before he answered.

“I think I want to have a strategy so that I know we are moving towards something intentional. How do I know where we are going, or if we’ve gotten there, if we don’t have a clear goal?” he asked.

“Can I ask a question?” I said. Bob chuckled.

“Of course! That’s what you do, right? Powerful questions, your website says…” Hmmm…Bob had done his homework.

“Why did you start your practice?” Bob considered this for a few bites. The waiter refilled our water.

“I was an elite athlete for a bit, and I saw my friends getting injured and getting really bad advice about recovery. It didn’t just affect their recovery, for some of them it affected their career potential. I guess I knew I could do better.” Bob looked up. “And I have. I have some really successful guys I’ve brought back from injury. Women, too. It’s great to watch their performances after they’ve been told they won’t be able to compete at the same level.” Now I understood Bob’s passion a little more.

“And what part of your work really energizes you now?” I continued.

“Well, helping athletes. That hasn’t changed a lot, I guess,” Bob said. “But I’m not as connected to the elite market. It’s hard to stay as involved out here in the Valley, and I don’t want to go to Vancouver. THAT’s a tough market to manage – rents are astronomical, and that level of athlete can be fickle. It’s hard to keep patients coming back.” Bob was finished eating, and looked around to ask for a cup of coffee.

“Now I get a charge when I help high school athletes, and ‘weekend warriors’ understand their limits and how to train to support themselves to even really modest goals,” he said. “When I pass a patient out running and they wave and smile that feels good. And last year I worked with the local High School Football team to help rein in the testosterone and build solid workout and recovery plans, and it paid off. They won the Provincials!” Bob chuckled at his own enthusiasm.

The team on the field

“So, you know the client base you want to focus on. What else, Bob? What’s going to get you excited about your practice again?” I asked. “Take your time,” I reassured him. He added some milk to his coffee, and stirred it slowly. The restaurant was crowd was thinning out, and I knew we only had a few minutes left. Bob looked at me.

“I’m not sure. It was really fun building the business, but that’s done.” I let him think a bit longer.

“I think I want to see young health care providers go for their dreams, too,” he said. “That would be great, actually, to help them figure out what work is important to them, and how to be successful.” He took a sip of coffee. “I wonder if Paul has a really solid business plan. I could even get Gerry in to talk to him and Amanda. Maybe even whoever I get to replace her.” Bob was off and running creating a plan.

“So, you said you wanted a strategy to move towards something intentional, and I hear you making plans for mentoring success within your practice. What other information or resources do you need to include in your planning?” I asked. And Bob made a list of twelve questions he had that he wanted to research, from asking the other professionals at the office what they wanted to focus on, to finding out if the Community College offered an entrepreneurial program he could connect with. Soon, we were wrapping things up and planning our next meeting.

“One more thing, Kate,” Bob continued as he gathered his papers. “I get a feeling that the coaching has really helped the staff, but I’m thinking maybe we need a staff meeting to talk about this new direction,” Bob said. “I think that would help me, because frankly, I don’t want to have to explain things twelve times and get everyone’s input individually,” he said. “You’ve already got relationships with everyone. Could you take this on as a bit of a project?” he asked. I offered to send him a plan for a combination of surveys, one-on-one conversations and information collating that would culminate in a project workshop. We shook on it, and Bob headed back to the office.

“Star running-back has a sore knee. We’ve got to figure it out,” he said, “before he heads camping with his Boy Scout troupe.” Bob smiled and shook his head. “I used to laugh at guys like me, but now, I admit, I’m loving this,” he said as he headed for the cash register. I smiled, looking forward to meeting with Amanda next week.

 

Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Paul's Story

Kate pushed open the glass door to the conference room at the business centre, and found Paul, papers spread out in neat piles on the large table.

“Hey Paul! Good to see you,” she said.

“Hi Kate. I’m looking forward to this. I’ve been prepping all week. Bob and Jane were so positive about their coaching!” I was bowled over with Paul’s enthusiasm; clearly the coaching had started long before I walked into the room.

“Wow, Paul. You’ve prepared! How about you catch me up.” I started.

“Well, Kate, I want to expand the business. And my role there. I have some great ideas, and I thought I’d better research them so I could talk to you about them.”

“That’s great, Paul. Let’s get started!” I didn’t want to try to get this horse back in the barn just so our introduction looked like I’d planned. I did take a moment to assure Paul that our session was confidential, and remind him that I wasn’t a business consultant, so wouldn’t be giving him advice on his ideas.

“I am happy to help you refine and develop them,” I said, “so your good work has the best chance of launching well. Tell me about what’s really energizing you today,” I invited.

“Well, after you met with Jane she seemed so … focused, which is weird for Jane. Not weird, but …different. And she talked about how glad she was that Bob suggested coaching. So she told me a bit about it and I got thinking.

“What is it I really want to do with my work life? What really cranks me?” Paul stopped for a minute to regroup. He looked right at me.

“Don’t get me wrong. I love working with Bob. He’s given me lots of chances to get experience. It’s been great.” He took a breath.

“And?” I asked. “It’s okay to talk about what could improve. That’s the point of this project, Paul. Loyalty to Bob isn’t about staying stuck in all the same ways of doing things. I’m hearing you are really committed to your work with Bob, but want to explore some new ideas at the same time.

“Don’t worry – I’m not spying for Bob. I’m not telling him about our conversations.” That reassured Paul and he continued.

“Well, you know Bob was an athlete at school. And now his practice is almost all focused on rehab for athletic injuries,” Paul continued. I nodded.

“I’ve learned a ton about high-performing athletes and injury at the clinic, but I want to do other stuff too.” Paul sat back. I was aware we still hadn’t considered the piles of paper.

“Where would you focus your energy?” I asked.

“Well, my Grandma is in a care home here. I actually like to visit her every week, and lately I’ve been noticing there aren’t enough activities to keep the Elders active. Get them moving. Maybe even improving their muscle health and agility. That’s where I want to work, I think.” Paul sat back and looked at me.

“I get why my Grandma lives there. Really. We couldn’t give her the care she needs daily, and she’d be lonely home alone all the time while we worked. But it could be so much better. I really don’t want her to get worse.”

“You’ve really noticed lots about the care facility, Paul, and you’re thinking about how to improve things there for the Elders,” I said. “You seem to be motivated by compassion. Am I right?” I asked.

“Compassion. And I just really like old people. The have great stories, and are really funny. And they appreciate when I go and do basic stuff with them. Balance beam stuff. Some easy chair or floor exercises. I’d like to explore doing more. Maybe even travelling to isolated elders to work one-on-one.” Paul was starting to reach for the papers, and continued sharing ideas with me. A few minutes later, I wanted to narrow our focus for the session.

“So, this is great Paul. You sound really energized by this.” I smiled at him. “I’m wondering for our time left – what do you really want to leave here today with?” Paul thought for a minute.

“I want a plan to take to Bob. I want to make sure he sees what I want to do. What it will cost, and how it will benefit his practice.”    

“So, what parts of that do you already have, and what information do you still need?” I asked. We bantered back and forth, and Paul identified the research he’d done (about benefits to seniors, and different therapy regimens, group and personal, that had made a difference). He also figured out what he still needed to investigate (how to bill the medical plans for the services, how to ‘sign up’ clients). We also talked about how to gather some of that information, and who to ask for help. It all seemed too easy, perhaps a little superficial.

I sat back for a moment and thought about it.

“So, Paul, what part of this is really important to you?” I asked. And let it sit for a few minutes. Paul was thinking hard.

“I want to do this because it makes such a big difference. To people who really matter, who are lonely,” he said. I let the quiet stretch.

“It’s just, working with the athletes feels really productive for them and everything, but I don’t know if they really need my help, you know? They’re already so over-programmed, and have so much help. I just keep thinking about Mr. Gendron, who I helped last week. He’d forgotten how to get out of a chair by himself. And I know he may have forgotten again by today, but last week he just seemed so grateful. And it was nothing for me.” Paul’s voice got really quiet.

“I guess I just want to make a difference where it’s really needed.”

“And what part of this is really hard?” I asked. Again, Paul really considered his answer.

“Telling Bob. I know he hired me specifically because he needed hands-on help with the athletes so he could build the practice. He wants to manage, and I agreed to do the treatments. And I’ve really liked doing them.

“I guess I don’t want him to think I’m ungrateful. Or that I don’t want to keep doing this work. I just also want to learn a little more about the business, and feel like I’ve got a project of my own to work on.” Paul looked up at me. “Wow. I hadn’t realised that before. And maybe Bob’s not gonna like this idea, I guess.”

“Sounds like you think this might be a little risky.”

“Yeah,” Paul agreed. “I’m not sure I’m ready for risk. I’ve still got student loans to pay down.”

“So, security is important to you. And the pace that you’re working to pay things down is enough right now,” I said, truly curious. “You’ve been working for Bob for 18 months, and you’re happy to keep things the same until your loan is paid down?”

And Paul thought about that, too. We talked about some times when he’d played it safe (during his university education) and times that he’d been a bit more daring (during snowboarding competitions years ago), and Paul decided it was time to step back into a more daring place in his life. He wanted to build a career, and learn about business, not just be an employee.

“That feels really different to me now,” he said. “I want to step up. And I think it would actually benefit Bob.”

We spent some time talking about his plans, and what the benefits could be to Bob’s practice. He considered liabilities, both financial and professional. And how a series of packages presented to Bob might provide a starting place for a conversation.

A few minutes later, Paul had a plan that included time-lines and some indicators that would keep track of his progress. I got ready to leave the session, and was picking up my notes.

“You know, I hadn’t realised that.” Paul said.

“What? You did the work here,” I answered.

“I know I did. You let me, though. I didn’t realise why this is important to me. But more important, I didn’t get that I’ve been holding back with Bob because I feel indebted to him. And I really didn’t understand how my ideas could actually be great for both of us. Now I do.” Paul finished putting his papers into his messenger bag.

“That’s why I’m going to ask him for a meeting next week. This just feels so possible!” he said.

And with that we were on our way. I knew I was going to be glad to touch base with Bob next week to find out how his plans were going.

Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Jane's Story

It had taken some juggling, and an intervention with Bob to get Jane out of the office, but we were finally meeting in the local coffee shop. I arrived five minutes early, and she was already sitting at a table, blowing on her coffee, hands wrapped around her mug. Which was surprising because it was a balmy 8 degrees out.

“Jane! You’re early,” I noticed, putting down my briefcase. “Just let me grab a coffee, and I’ll be right back,” I said. Five minutes later, we were diving deeply into our first coaching session. I’d reminded Jane that our sessions would be confidential, and framed the project for her. There was no holding her back.

“I am so excited about this. It couldn’t have come at a better time!” She took a breath. “I can’t believe Bob is doing this for me,” she exclaimed. She took another sip, watching me over the rim. Her voice got quieter.

“Is he really doing this to support me, or did I do something wrong? I know I talk too much in the office and stuff, but the patients seem to like me. Maybe I mess up the billing occasionally, but the patients are coming back. They weren’t doing that before,” she told me.

“Wow! I can see you’re excited, but a little nervous, too. Don’t worry; our focus is to improve the office overall, not to discipline anyone. I’m just really glad we’ve finally connected!”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. First I was going to meet you for lunch, but my coverage couldn’t make it. Then Tom was supposed to cover the desk for me but…” Jane rolled her eyes and I smiled at her reaction. “Yeah. I couldn’t let that happen.” I sat quietly for a bit. “Well, and I guess I was a little scared. Or maybe I don’t believe Bob’s doing this for me.”

We talked a few minutes, and I heard how much Jane liked her work, and about her struggles as a young mother. She clearly adored her son Blair, and loved that twice a week her sister Debbie looked after him. Blair and his cousin Donovan were close, and it made leaving him at daycare so much easier. And he’d be off to Kindergarten next year. She thought things would get easier. Then I refocused on the work.

“What’s the hardest part of your job?” I asked.

“I love the job. I love the people. Really.” Jane looked down.

“And if you could change one thing, what would it be?” I asked. Jane kept looking at her hands, holding her mug. A minute later she looked right at me.

“I wish I had more confidence. That I knew what I was doing more of the time,” she said. “Bob hired me a couple of years ago, and his practice was small, really. I just answered phones, and booked appointments. Now there’s so much more going on.” Jane looked out the window. “I just wish I was more helpful at the administrative stuff, and that I’d be able to keep my job.” I sat for a minute smiling at Jane, offering reassurance.

“You really want to do a great job, in part to ensure job security?” I asked.

“Yes, but also because Bob is such a great guy. I really like working for him. I want to get better at this,” Jane clarified. “I started working with him after Blair was born, without any training. High school business, and one correspondence course in office admin, but really, I think he hired me out of pity,” Jane said. She picked a little fluff off her dress pants. “I’ve tried to help him.” It was a simple statement of truth.

“So, you came with only a little training, and Bob treats you well. It sounds like the job really works for you and Blair.”

“Yes! Bob even lets me take time if Blair is sick or something,” Jane said.

“And you don’t want to disappoint him. It sounds like sometimes you don’t think you deliver what’s expected. Can you give me a concrete example of a time you felt like you let the office down?” I asked. It didn’t take Jane any time at all.

“Tom lets me know every time I mess up a billing,” she said. “And if I forget to get forms filled out or something,” she added. “I don’t really get insurance, so sometimes I undercharge people, and sometimes I overcharge. It seems to be different for every company.” Jane looked at me, and her eyes were misty. I felt her vulnerability. “I can’t afford to lose my job,” she said.

“Have you thought about what you want to change?” I asked. Jane sighed, looking into her now-empty cup.

“Last year I looked at college courses.” She looked up at me, brightening. “Did you know you can take courses to be a Medical Office Assistant? You can. Online even.” Then she looked crestfallen.

“And?” I asked.

“They’re expensive,” she said. “And I don’t really get how to apply. I think I’d qualify for some of them, but I’m not sure. And I can’t afford to leave my job to go to school. Not right now,” she said. Her shoulders sagged.

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“I don’t know. A lot,” she said. I took out a book to jot down some notes.

“So,” I continued, “I think you said the current barriers to this plan are the cost, the application process, and maintaining your current job.” I said. “Anything else?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t really know which schools are good.” She paused for a moment. “There’s a lot.”

“So, I’m curious, Jane. What if all the barriers could be removed, and you could do the courses online? What would that mean to you?”

“Oh goodness, Kate. That would be amazing. I can’t imagine it. I’d be able to do this work forever. I’d love that!” Jane’s eyes were sparkling. “Blair could take hip hop classes, and I wouldn’t have to worry all the time about having enough money for next month,” she said. “I always put money away in case I lose my job,” she confessed.

“So, you realise sometimes work is complicated, and you wish you had more training so that you understood more. And you’ve found a solution – there are courses you can take towards a certificate in Medical Office Admin, am I right?” Jane nodded.

“But there are some challenges you’d have to overcome. Any idea who you could approach to help you?” I asked. I suspected Jane had supporters. She thought for a minute.

“Well, Debbie has a friend who works at the career centre downtown, but I think you have to be on welfare,” she said.

“Okay, so you could ask Debbie’s friend, but you aren’t sure that will work. Other ideas?” I asked. Jane was tapping her cheek with her finger.

“I don’t know, but Bob might have some ideas,” she said. “Maybe I could ask him.”

“What would it take to ask him?” Jane laughed, shaking her head.

“Nothing. I can ask him anything!” she declared.

We talked a little longer, and Jane clarified her questions, and built a plan. She was going to ask her sister if she could access the career counsellors. She was going to talk to Bob about which schools she should apply for, and how to tell if she qualified. She decided she was even going to ask him for a loan to help her pay for her tuition, if their conversation was going well. A few minutes later, she’d written down her plan. She looked up at me.

“Do you think this is really possible? I might be able to go to school?” she asked. She reminded me of a young man I’d known who’d asked if it was possible a kitten really liked him. There was a hopefulness, born of years of disappointment.

“I absolutely think this is possible, in fact, I think you are resourceful and bright, and have figured this all out on your own. I think in four months, you’ll be doing courses.” And I believed it.

Jane looked at her watch and gasped.

“I have to get back to the office!” she said, and I chuckled.

“And you wonder why Bob treats you so well,” I said. “From my perspective, you are dedicated, and responsible, and you care about your work and the clinic patients. He’s got a gem, I think,” I said. Jane giggled as she headed to the door.

“Three weeks?” I said, and she nodded. It was so great to be working with someone so enthusiastic, and I noted in my book to send her an encouraging note to follow-up.

 

 

Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

Tom's Story

 “Hi Jane. I’m Kate. I’m looking forward to working together, but right now I’m here to meet with Tom. Is he available?” I had arrived at Bob’s bustling practice five minutes early.

“Yes, he’s waiting.” Did I see an eye-roll? “Let me show you...” A fellow in a grey suit appeared from the back – the only suit in sight.

“No problem, Jane. I’m here,” he said, and ushered me to his small office. We squeezed in, Tom behind his desk, and I took an uncomfortable chair facing him. His desk was pristine; computer turned off, pens lined up with precision on a fresh pad of paper, not a photo or personal trinket in sight.

“So, Bob says I need coaching,” Tom began. Ah, I thought.

“Bob wants to offer everyone coaching, but I understand it’s voluntary. He wants this to be the best workplace possible. You’re an important part of that, Tom.” Tom nodded, slowly. I had circulated information about coaching, and the goals of this project. It was time to let Tom lead.

“What do you think would improve things, Tom?” I listened intently.

“Well, I’m not sure people here understand that this is a business, and needs to be run like one. There are bills to be paid, insurance reimbursement s need to be collected, and accounts receivable followed up on. Some people spend way more time chatting than doing what’s important. And I get receipts for expenses without any information. I can’t make hide nor hair of them, but the staff expect me to keep it going, financially, and get the cheques out on time.”

“So, your work is fundamental to keeping the financial management of the practice current and liquid,” I clarified. Tom nodded, straightening his tie.

“And, you are concerned that staff don’t understand how important financial health is to the business. Am I right?” He nodded again.

“Exactly. That’s why Bob hired me – to make sure the accounting is up-to-date. All the resources, really. Sometimes staff just order stuff without asking if we can cover it. They presume they can restock at any time, or order new equipment. Sometimes it gets really close to the edge, frankly.”

Photo by Michael Jastremski

“You carry a great deal of responsibility, and I hear some stress,” I acknowledged.

“I do. The staff don’t understand.” Tom sat back, looking a little deflated.

“Is that the most important issue to address today?” I asked. Tom paused, then chuckled.

“No. I don’t think so.” Tom was looking at his blotter, so I gave him time. He looked up.

“I’d like to change the way we do patient intake, so the important pieces around payment are dealt with up-front, and they’re done right the first time,” he said. “I spend hours sorting through patient records to extract information for third-party benefit providers. It takes way too much of my time.” Tom looked down at his blotter again, and I gave him a few more moments.

“If we took care of collecting for our services on time, all the rest of it would be easier,” he said, looking up. I smiled.

“So help me understand,” I said. “Concerns around cash flow are pressing, and the most effective way to reduce the pressure is to get payment for services in a timely way,” I summarised.  Tom nodded and I continued. “What piece of this do you want to talk about today?” I asked. Tom looked up, his eyes brightening.

“I think the biggest headaches for me, and for the office, begin when a new patient comes in,” he said. “Jane is really friendly, and everything, but she is a complete ditz when it comes to getting accounting information. She just chats about anything, recipes, people’s pets, but doesn’t do intakes well.” I could hear Tom’s frustration.

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

“Maybe she doesn’t realise how important it is. Or she just doesn’t follow through, even after I tell her what’s important. She sometimes inputs data incorrectly.” I nodded.

“I want to make sure I understand your frustrations. There is a system for intake of new patients, and it isn’t working well. You aren’t getting the information you need to bill quickly and successfully. Is that right?” Tom nodded again, his eyes narrowing just a bit.

“And at the end of our session, what do you want to have in place?” I asked. Tom’s eyes got bigger as he kept thinking. A couple of moments later, he spoke.

“A plan. We have forms and stuff to gather information, but they don’t seem to be working, and I don’t know why.” He said. He reached for his pad of paper. “I need to make a list of the information that’s most important. What I can’t do without,” he said, starting his list. I let him work on it for a minute, and then refocused on today’s goals.

“So, some changes in how the information is received,” I said.

“Yes,” Tom answered, continuing to re-draft the form.

“Okay, so that’s one part of an action plan you can follow through on. What else?” Tom looked up, blinked, and put his form aside.

“Hmmm. I need to understand what Jane is doing, and how I can help her do the financial bit better,” he suggested. “Do you think that’s a good idea?” he asked.

“I think it’s worth putting on the list, along with some other ideas, and then when you’ve got them all down, you can assess which actions are most likely to bring you the results you want,” I suggested. Tom tore off a new sheet of paper, and quickly jotted down about 6 ideas. I could sense his frustration lifting as a plan developed. A few minutes later, he looked up at me, his pad of paper filled with columns, ideas, and even some scribbled out bits and arrows indicating amendments.

“Here it is,” he said. “I’m going to start off by talking to the staff involved, and finding out what parts of the money bits are hard for them. Then I’m going to suggest some changes to the system we use to the collect information I need. I’m going to pass it by Bob, and then hopefully take it to the staff.” He looked satisfied.

“Great!” I added. “That seems like a plan you have energy for. What three things are you going to do today to get it off to a great start?” Tom didn’t stop at three.

“Book a meeting with Jane. Maybe I’ll suggest we go out for coffee, because I can’t get her to focus here. There’s always something going on at the front desk,” he said. “I’m going to make a flowchart of the plan, and take it to Bob. And start redesigning the forms,” he finished.

“How will you know if the forms are better than the current ones?”

“Hmm. Maybe I’ll set some parameters that have to be improved, and ask for Jane’s help. Even Bob’s.” He thought about it a few more minutes. “And I’ll create a time-line for the plan. I’ll put together some questions, and ask everyone for input at the next staff meeting.” He sat back for a minute.

“I think I need to make my interactions with staff more productive, less tense,” he said. I let that rest for a minute.

“And why is it important to you to improve your relationship with staff?” My voice was quiet, curious. Tom took the time he needed.

“I don’t like being the hard-ass all the time,” he said, and his voice cracked. He reached up and loosened his tie, just a bit. “Everyone else seems to get along here. Be respected. I guess I wonder what it would be like to be on the inside of that,” he said. I smiled at him, and nodded.

“That’s huge, Tom. And it sounds like it’s important to you.” Tom nodded slowly, shuffling his papers. “How will you remember that?” He smiled again.

“I guess my usual strategies – post-it notes, lists, reminders in my calendar.” We chuckled together.

“Well, those strategies work for your other important reminders, so…” I shrugged. “I’ll check in and see if it works in this case the next time we’re together. I know you’ll focus on what’s important.”

 “You’ve given me lots to think about. And a plan I can work on,” he said, touching his notepad. I was aware our time was almost up.

“Great!” I assured him. “I’m glad this was useful. You’ve come up with concrete ways the accounting challenges can be shifted,” I said, making sure he knew he’d done the heavy lifting. “And you’ve got some pieces to work on for personal growth. Do you want to send me some notes with time frames so I understand your plan?” I asked.

“Good idea, I’ll do that by Friday” he committed, jotting it down. He stood up, shaking my hand.

“One last thing. Did you want to book another appointment for a few weeks down the road?” I asked, and we did.

Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Bob's Story

October 23, 2014

We’d agreed on a soup and sandwich joint that served good quality food quickly, and I arrived early. I sipped my coffee and looked around. The wait staff knew what they were doing, carrying trays above their heads to avoid crashing into the busy crowd. I was glad I’d reserved a booth on the quieter wall, and decided on a chicken salad sandwich with sprouts.

Soon I saw Bob making his way across the restaurant, and smiled. He stopped to ask a stranger about their meal, then caught the eye of our waiter and ordered his usual drink – a tall tomato juice on ice. I stood and offered him my hand.

“Bob, so good to see you! I’ve been looking forward to today,” I said.

“Good to see you, Kate. I’m interested in your ideas.”  I laughed.

“Well, we’ll see. My ideas aren’t as important as yours. After today you’ll have a plan, though.” Bob had agreed to a free trial session, to figure out whether he wanted ongoing executive coaching. He owned a small physiotherapy practice with a few employees, mostly treating athletes and people who were in rehab following work-related injuries. He’d confessed to me that things weren’t running as smoothly as he’d like in the office, and I’d suggested he try my services.

“Well, bring it on! I’ve heard you’re great – so prove it.” Competitive Bob. I wasn’t surprised, but I did a double-take; time would tell if I was up to Bob’s standard. I took a sip of water and looked him straight in the eye.

“I don’t know, Bob. What would be a great outcome for you today?” I was genuinely curious. His eyes widened.

“Well, I’m not sure. Progress, I guess. Moving forward.” He paused. “So you think you can help?” he said, looking me square in the eye. A gauntlet, for sure.

 “Well, Bob, let’s give it a go,” I said smiling. “You’ll know if coaching is for you. Based on how successful you are with your business, you know what works. How about we spend half an hour, and then you can judge?” The challenge energized me. Almost everyone I’d worked with appreciated my coaching; most clients were very enthusiastic, and the really motivated ones had made incredible progress creating change. I thought coaching could help Bob.

“Where do we begin?” he asked, the gleam in his eye returning.  We got started.

“You remember that I’m a member of the International Coach Federation, governed by their ethics and regulations. Everything you share with me is held in strictest confidence. You can talk about today, but I won’t. I’m here today to serve you, it’s that simple. I want you to be successful.” Our sandwiches arrived and we got down to it.

“Kate, some of the folks in the office just don’t seem to get along. They’re really good at their jobs, but there are personality clashes, and sometimes I think things could go smoother. And of course, when it gets bad, I know it affects our service quality.” He paused. “That’s not okay with me.” Bob’s voice rose. Not strident, but getting there. 

“So, let me see if I understand. You have a small competent staff, about what, five people?”

“Six, actually. I just hired a new OT.”

“And generally, they perform well, but you’re aware that sometimes client services are impacted because they don’t always work well together. And giving excellent service is important to you. Am I right?”

“Yes,” Bob agreed, “that’s it. And the atmosphere in the office is affected. I want to feel great at work, and I want the staff to feel good, too. Happy staff, happy clients. I want our office to be a place people want to be.”

“Okay, Bob. So what part of this would you like to focus on today?” I knew with his skill and determination that some added focus would help. Within minutes, he’d decided he wanted to build an action plan for working on the human resources ‘issues’ in his office, and we’d defined what that meant to him. He wanted to support staff development, encourage more cooperation, and cultivate a more positive atmosphere in the office.

“So, Bob, what have you tried in the past that’s worked?” He thought about it, sipping his juice.

“Well, actually, I’ve never had these problems before. A year ago, it was Janey, me, and Paul. And that was it. Now, with five, no six, of us, it just seems to have snowballed,” he said. “But I’m darned if my inexperience is going to lead to bad service. Or a negative workplace for the staff, for that matter.”

It took us a few more minutes to figure out that Bob didn’t have the skills to deal with sticky HR concerns, didn’t want to develop the skills, and was feeling frustrated. “I feel like I should know how to do this. After all, it’s my business,” he said.

“Okay, so what other day-to-day tasks are hired out because you don’t have the time or skills to do them?” I asked.

“Well, Tom does the books. All the accounting, actually. Accounts receivable, budget development, taxes. I hire an agency to do the website and marketing. We have cleaners, and I have a laundry service, of course. And the new OT has skills I don't have," he finished. I let that sit, finishing off my lunch, and then looked over at him. I let the silence stretch a little. A couple of moments later, he looked up at me.

“I could hire this issue out, too,” he said. “Of course. Oh, you are good. Why not hire an HR firm to help with staffing issues?” He grabbed his notepad, already jotting down ideas. “I’m going to investigate that. See if it will help.  I have a friend who runs a law office – I think she uses someone. Maybe my buddy Gerry who teaches at the University has advice. ” He hadn’t looked at his phone for the past fifteen minutes, and hadn’t fidgeted for the past five. I smiled back. He made a couple more notes. Another pause, and he looked up at me. “You wouldn’t happen to think coaching could help them, would you?” he said, smiling across the table.

“Tell me Bob, how are you feeling right now?”

“I feel pretty good. Relaxed, I guess. Energized. Lighter. It feels good to talk about this. Why?”

“You sound so much lighter than when we first talked about this. And I’m not good – you are. You did the work. One more question, though.”

“What’s that?” he said, taking another sip of his juice, now watered-down with melted ice.

“Do you think coaching might help them?” I said. He actually chuckled.

“I do believe it might,” he answered.

It didn’t take long for him to create a plan. He had some ideas to follow up on. I promised to send him a proposal for staff coaching to consider as one of those ideas. As I started to gather my stuff to leave, he whipped out his phone.

“Wait a minute. When can we meet again?” he asked, and I smiled as we booked another lunch for a couple of weeks down the road. “And you’ll invoice me for the next session,” he said. I reminded him that if he wasn’t satisfied with our partnership, we would talk; I was rigorous about my “satisfaction guaranteed”. He smiled as we shook hands.

It was great working with such a motivated client.

 

Meredith Egan is a certified executive coach with Wild Goat Executive Coaching. She is committed to high professional standards and a strong code of ethics. As such, confidentiality is foundational to her client work. This serial blog is a work of fiction, through and through.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.