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19 Sep, 2008

Translating Personal Success In Organisations

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Executive Coaching Articles

Many organisations are sceptical about return on investments for sponsoring employees on personal success coaching programmes as benefits reaped are quite intangible and not directly linked to the bottom line. However, if the links between personal-organisational relationships are identified, actively worked upon and clearly communicated, the outcome is mutually rewarding.

Most companies use coaching predominantly to upgrade management skills, not personal development. Others encourage executive coaching only to senior management to enhance personal impact. However, personal development interventions go a long way towards stimulating high performance working if properly aligned with organisational goals, as employees find their work more meaningful, believe in their contribution and give it their 110%.

Personal success here means success as defined by an individual’s personal objectives. Ideally, it is aligned with business goals, pumps up employee satisfaction, and promotes workplace harmony. It isn’t all bad if the alignment is in the opposite direction because then, misfits get flagged so that organisations do not retain the actively disengaged. Instead, natural attrition is supported.

The challenge really lies in selling a solution that pokes at development, on the surface of which seems more personal than organisational and disturbs present equilibrium – how? Who should decide on the mechanics and the links back to the performance management systems? Who is ultimately responsible for translating individual success to organisational benefits?

Such debates continue to weaken the support for custom development interventions at an organisational level to help someone become personally successful. And although some companies support lifelong learning or encourage learning of any kind, significant playing field in personal success coaching exists than the ubiquitous practices of deploying basic ‘self-centred’ development interventions.

“Hot Links” is one application technique to translate personal success into organisational benefit. The five steps are: identify success indicators, put into an action plan, consider alternatives, communicate benefits, and demonstrate impact.

Jane* has solid finance experience on paper but loves marketing. She was not interested in the CFO job ‘everyone thinks I should pursue’. Frustrated and afraid ‘if I go to HR for help, my boss will find out, he will perceive a drop in motivation and it’ll impact my salary and opportunities’, she claimed, ‘I’m stuck!’

We flipcharted her limiting beliefs, set it aside and then, using the “Hot Links” technique, analysed the business situation, outlined options and trade-offs. In the process, Jane’s eyes lit up. She realised she needed a stronger support network, to shed her bean-counting image, to find opportunities that demonstrate her talent and minimise risks from misperceptions. She also wanted to revalidate her desire and allow passion to underpin her actions. We brought the ‘beliefs’ flipchart up at that point. Jane said they were no longer valid.

This technique assumes, however, that basic set-ups of a performance management cycle and a developmental culture exist. For Jane, these were, allowing her to follow through the Hot Links.

But what if, as is so often the case, an organisation had neither a clear business direction nor robust performance management system in place? What if your client was an individual contributor valued for ‘maintenance’ or ‘crisis prevention’ vs. ‘adding value’ or ‘change management’? What if image and development were culturally unimportant?

Then the Hot Links technique is not that ‘hot’ anymore.

So do we give up and not bother finding the links between personal successes and organisational benefits? No, because work features prominently in the average person’s life today and resource scarcity in organisations demands prudence. How then do we help our clients find and prove the links? How far should we go?

In scoping programme deliverables, coaches and consultants should be wary not to fall into the trap of justification. There is striking similarity here to HR’s obsession in the past decade to demonstrate added value as it tried to justify existence. Channel energy instead, towards execution that, in turn, builds trust and confidence. Both client and practitioner must genuinely believe that the work they are doing ultimately links positively back into the organisation as that shapes the communication.

A global CEO survey conducted by IBM in 2005 found that CEOs and senior managers have faith that learning contributes positively to organisations and don’t require direct evidence to substantiate their belief. They expect HR Development to help build their strategies and capabilities to address future challenges, not simply focus on current business needs. In other words, they are saying ‘We know that practitioners add value, now please, add value.’

While techniques like Hot Links demonstrate tangible benefits the way the business world prefers, it is equally valuable to recognise the interdependencies that do arise from the relationship between people in an organisation, between people and the organisation, and between the people-organisation entity and the wider network of entities. It is crucial to be mindful and consider these relationships in the ‘summing’ of total benefits.

Take the case of John*, an ambitious young graduate who obtained a double promotion after completing a two-year graduate management program. He quickly realised in his first line job that there was no ‘assignment leader’ to ensure that he got the development opportunities based on an agreed performance plan. John responded proactively by developing his own for basis of discussion. However, the business unit operated with strict adherence to the company’s wider planning calendar; it was ‘not the time yet’ to discuss about development. John ‘was new and ‘yet to prove himself’.

Personal success to John was not about proving his ability to investigate variances, but was about achieving a bigger goal in mind as a powerful motivating tool that inevitably drives high performance, proving his worth in due course. As he pondered his future, he realised that the business unit was not the place to be and requested a transfer, offering to serve the notice period.

Conversations with his manager failed to get the message through. His manager had no other intention in mind than to convince John to stay on. As a result, John’s frustration grew and this accelerated his resignation. The company lost a talent it had invested more than £90,000 within a year because one business unit failed to see the bigger picture and understand how personal success translates into wider organisational benefit. Because of that business unit, the company lost John, and in losing him, they lost someone who was passionate about the company and its talent management system.

John’s case highlights the micro vs. macro-view conflict typically plaguing multinationals. While research findings tend to be anecdotal and highly qualitative, in the ‘business of people’ they are valid, provided that critical evaluation is applied just as one would towards quantitative data before analysis. The global disparity of such incidences and the fact that few can afford to quit as quickly as John did mean that many cases get dismissed as isolated without considering that the issue is potentially widespread.

Significance of links is one of the greatest lessons I took away in Finance, where I spent a chunk of my early corporate life. Quantification was crucial not purely for forecasting purposes, but so that attention areas were identified and addressed. It is easy to point out that poor PO approval and budget accountability drive overspend, but it is equally important to communicate the impact of poor teamwork on lost productivity.

A final point here is to remember to know your customer/client and know your purpose of quantifying. Be aware of the essentials and think carefully what information to include or exclude. For example, dollar cost of removing a person from his day job for organisational purposes may not be as important as perceived unless the project is distinct and large-scaled. Oddly, it has become a standard feature in many proposals even though managers are more interested in the number of days out and degree of positive business impact post-intervention.

In summary, the guiding principles in translating personal success to organisations are:

- Find the alignment and links involved but don’t dwell on them too much that you forget to execute
- Always remember the bigger picture
- By all means quantify but only as much as necessary

Translating personal success in organisations is not rocket science, but it does require thoughtful planning and effective communication. The Hot Links technique helps make translations more explicit than otherwise. While there is no need to link every personal success to organisational benefit, it definitely pays to orchestrate a compelling mutual success story in alignment to demonstrate increasing value, engage hearts and minds, and help people become successful as whole persons rather than merely as professionals.

Adele Lim is a research-practitioner in the field of personal and organisational development. Her book on learning is scheduled for release in 2008. If you wish to contribute, email

* Names have been changed to protect confidentiality

1. Identify personal success indicators that link to a business goal
2. Translate the success indicators into your personal development plan at work
3. If you cannot find a link, get help and consider alternatives including career change
4. Communicate personal success that benefit your work and the organisation
5. Demonstrate impact on the image you project to others at work

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