What do you do as a coach or a manager when there’s a mismatch between talent and attitude? An HR director called me in to coach Lucy, an experienced senior manager in a city IT and software company. He said she was excellent at her job, but her attitude was terrible. While she was good at what she did, the pressing problem was that she was rude to people. She had a poor attitude towards company initiatives and so she was continually overlooked for promotion. If it didn’t improve, regardless of how much they valued her skills, it would be time for her to move on.
When I hear that kind of description, my first response is that I need to speak to the coaching client directly, because everything so far is another person’s story and perspective. For the moment, I simply asked the HR director what they needed to see to be different to know that the coaching had been effective. In this case, I sat down with the client and her manager to find this out and they said that she would have a more positive attitude, a better relationship with her boss and be a positive advocate for the company. All of us were happy to work with that.
So we started the coaching, and what struck me about Lucy was how engaging she was, how intelligent and how passionate about getting results. She was keen to do her job and gain promotion. We established immediately that she was excellent with external customers, but couldn’t be bothered with her colleagues as she lacked the patience to apply her relationship-building skills inside the organisation. She found the whole process time-consuming and cumbersome.
We explored the crucial platform-building question of why she should even bother to change her behaviour. ‘Why bother?’ is a great topic when attitude is the issue. And we explored what she liked about working at the company. Her reason for making a change was that she wanted to be promoted. She wanted to do interesting work. And she wanted her boss to leave her alone.
We knew she was an excellent project manager, and so she titled her personal change project as ‘Managing my PR within the company’. Within weeks, Lucy made impactful changes such as praising people for what they had done (before telling them what they could do better). She started meetings by asking people what they wanted from them, rather than demanding explanations for slowness or mistakes. And most significantly, she treated people in the organisation in the same way that she treated her clients – re-applying something she already knew how to do.
Within four months Lucy was promoted to director – and she had a very positive attitude towards that.