Workforce.com

Team Players Expect Real Choices

December 9, 2001
Forbes magazine recently called Marshall Goldsmith one of the top fiveexecutive coaches in the world. He was also the only coach editors picked whooffered a complete money-back guarantee. In addition to his coaching, Goldsmithis executive director of the Financial Times Knowledge Dialogue and editor of Coaching for Leadership and LearningJourneys.

Of all the challenges facing HR, tell us one that doesn't get the attention it deserves.
One of the great ironies in American business is that while we have professedcapitalism, the most politically incorrect thing to say in a major corporationis "what's in it for me?" At some bizarre level, employees aresupposed to have minimal interest in their own lives or families, but be highlymotivated and sacrifice themselves to the corporate god. Well, to the newworkforce coming up, that game is pretty much gone. They are much more willingto ask the question "what's in it for me?" It doesn't mean they aren'tgood team players, and it doesn't mean they're selfish, and it doesn't mean theylack integrity. What it does mean is they're being honest and they want to betreated as coworkers or partners, not subservient people.
 
So what does it mean to be a good team player and how does this affect HR?
The definition of teamwork in the past has largely been "do what you'retold." Then you're a good "team player." Nobody said that, butthat was the real definition. Joe's a good team player: he did what he was told;he didn't make waves. That's an example of the old idea of HR, the cookiecutter: look at what we want to give you; let us tell you what you want. Asopposed to what I think the new model is going to be: let us ask you what youwant, and work with you like an adult, and work out a deal that is highlyindividualized for you. The whole role of HR is going to radically change. It'sgoing to be much more positive, and much more exciting, and in many ways muchmore important.
 
Given the changes in the workforce, what else needs to change about HR?
Most HR systems were developed 50 years ago. What you see now aremodifications and patches on 50-year-old systems, not new systems. The workforceof tomorrow is totally different than the workforce of 50 years ago. HR peoplehave historically wanted to treat everyone the same way and provide the samebenefits to everybody, and they felt guilty and shamed if they didn't. This isthe opposite of what's going to be needed for the new workforce. More and more,you're going to have to have mass customization, and every person is going toneed to be treated like an individual. I am a great believer in the "newworkforce" feeling that each person is running his own company, that sortof "Me Inc." mentality.
 
What have you learned about coaching in the course of your career?
The historic model of coaching at work has been that the source of wisdom wasthe coach. If I, the coach, became smart, wise, profound, and deep, the ever-so-lucky people who got tohang around me would get better. Then, unfortunately, we did research with tensof thousands of people who had been to our leadership classes and found out thattheir getting better had very little to do with me and lots to do with them. Ifthey did follow-up with the people they worked with and talked with thosepeople, they got better. If they didn't, they didn't. So I changed my approachfrom a "coach-centric" approach to a "coachee" approach, inwhich I started putting my focus on them, not on me.
 
In the last year or two, I've gone through another transition. Now the way Ido my coaching for behavioral change is I work with the people around the personI'm coaching as much as I work with the "coachee." I have threerequests of the team:
 
Request number one: can you let go of the past? That maysound trivial, but it isn't. If I don't say that, they will invariably dredge upwhat the person did 2 years ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago. I can't fix that,the person can't fix it.
 
Number two: can you be honest? Not too positive, nottoo negative, just tell the truth as you see it.
 
Then number three, which iscritical: can you be a helpful coach and a supportive coach, not a cynic,critic, or judge? If you can, the coachee will welcome your ideas andsuggestions. My success rate as a coach has improved dramatically as I'verealized that people's getting better is not a function of me; it's a functionof the person and the people around the person.
 
And you offer a money-back guarantee?
Yes. The way I do it is very simple. I say, "I'm going to be workingwith this person for a year and if this person doesn't get better, I don't getpaid. Better is not going to be determined by me; better is going to bedetermined by this person and the people who work with him."
 
What changes would you like to see in how HR is practiced?
Let me tell you a huge mistake we in HR have made. We come up with ideas,suggestions, and programs. We roll them out to our people. The ideas work.However, the people who are supposed to implement these ideas do absolutelynothing. And then a year later, they come back and blame us because the programsdon't work. What we have done in HR-and I have been just as guilty as everyoneelse-is we have pretended that we are responsible for other people's gettingbetter. Wrong. That is a huge change HR is going to have to make. We have totransfer responsibility for change away from us and to the people who areactually doing it.
 
Can you give us a story from your coaching practice?
The people I work with are smart, dedicated, hardworking, driven to achieve,entrepreneurial, creative, financially independent, and high in integrity. Butthey're also sometimes stubborn, opinionated know-it-alls who never want to bewrong. One important thing that I teach people is to never begin a sentence with"no," "but," or "however" when someone ispresenting an idea to them.
 
For example, I was going over a feedback report withone client and he said, "But Marshall..." I said, "Well, that'sfree. From now on, if I ever speak to you and you say no, but, or however, I'mgoing to fine you $20." He said, "But Marshall." I said,"Twenty." He said, "No." I said, "Forty." He said,"No, no, no." I said, "Sixty, eighty, one hundred." He lost$420 in an hour and a half. As mad as he was after 15 minutes, by the end of anhour and a half he thanked me.
 
He said, "I would rather have died than payyou the $20. I did it 21 times with you bringing it up to my face every time Idid it. How many times would I have done it if you hadn't brought it up? Ahundred? No wonder people think I'm stubborn; anything someone says to me, thefirst word out of my mouth is no." At the end of a year, he showeddramatically improved scores in his evaluations.
 
It's tough coaching your boss. Any advice on how to do this?
As an outside consultant, I have an advantage: I can walk. I can look at aperson and say, "I won't work with you." HR people in the future havegot to be more like me. They've got to turn down bad business. In the past wehave made the mistake of not qualifying our customers. We have not asked,"Is this customer prepared to do what I'm suggesting?" and if heisn't, refused to work with him. In the short term, this has led to increasedpopularity for HR; in the long term, it's led to increased disdain becausechange didn't happen, people have wasted their time, and HR gets blamed.
 
So my advice to HR professionals is to get a clear contract, up-front, inwhich the individual you're working with makes a commitment to the strategy, thedirection, and to the desired behavior. The individual also needs to make acommitment to his team, which will be providing critical feedback. Begin byframing your message as: "You are a successful person. My job is to helpyou further achieve your goals and objectives. But in order for you to do that,there are certain things you must do."
 
Then make sure that theresponsibility for change goes where it belongs: not to HR but to the leadersthemselves. Then, if you know they're not going to do the things they've agreedto, refuse to collaborate in a sham. Have the courage to say, "If you dothese things, we'll get results; if you don't, we won't." Have the courageto say no.
 
Ultimately, your organization wants you to add value. By involvingyour executives in the process of change and gaining their commitment toimplement your HR initiatives, you will better serve your executives, yourorganization, and the entire HR function.

Workforce, May 2001, pp.62-66 -- Subscribe Now!