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.