Coaching: Waving a magic wand over corporate America

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

The world of commerce has long been an arena where I love to work. I think it started when I was about 8 years old. My father was in the trucking business and once ended up with a semi-trailer full of salvage. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember a basement full of sundry items – brooms, bottles of ink, cleaning products – all new and unscathed.
I got permission from my parents to turn the basement into a neighborhood store, put on an apron that I thought made me look like an experienced shopkeeper and started spreading the word.
Doing business got into my blood right then and has been a part of the fabric of my life ever since. Even while studying and teaching psychology, I was always intrigued by the application of this behavioral science to the business world.
Business is very likely the most powerful global engine and has driven much positive social change – and some atrocities as well. The point is that I have true respect for the institution of business, and for people who grow organizations and themselves through ethical, inspired, creative work.
Most of my coaching clients are business executives, so I get ongoing perspectives about corporate life. My interest has never waned. Still, if I had a magic wand, there are three changes I’d love to spread across corporate America.
No. 1 would be a surgical slash in the number of meetings held within organizations. So many times I hear, "I’ll be in meetings all day." Even, "I’m in meetings all next week." To make matters worse, in many organizations, meetings scheduled for one hour tend to run over, sometimes into the second or third hour. The people are hard-pressed to get their real work don, and often end up taking home a fat briefcase and spending evening and weekend hours working for the corporation.
Any executive expects to put in these hours some of the time – but if it becomes de rigueur, resentment starts creeping in, if not within the exec, certainly within the family circle.
Of course, some of that meeting time is productive and essential. Some of it, though, is used for show-and-tell, some of it for political agendas and some of it as soapbox time for a powerful executive to pontificate to a captive audience.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Mike Vance speak for four hours. Vance is the guy who introduced the "thinking outside the box" jargon, which actually came from his 4-year-old son. He offered several ideas for more efficient communication within organizations, including five-minute stand-up meetings. Another one of his suggestions was to use project bulletin boards on which team members could post visual updates and check on team progress in a walk-through fashion.
With another wave of my wand, I’d order up an in-house coach for each new hire. I don’t mean for training purposes, that is a separate function, which by the way is usually far from adequate. The newcomer’s coach would be there for support, for easing integration into the culture, for creating a relationship that is a safe place for honest feedback and inquiry.
My fantasy is that this would result in a quantum leap in employee retention and productivity. It happens informally in some instances. I’d like to see it become routine.
Well, I still have one wave of the magic wand left. Now, I would sweep across the business world and create effective working relationships between the sales staff and everyone else in the organizations.
We all know that nothing happens without a sale. We all know that without sales, we all will be left stranded and scrabbling for new places to work. We all know that the rest of the company is there to support the sale that happens in the marketplace. And, we all know that the sales staff is often in contention with nearly everybody else in the place. (Although another truth is that every employee is part of the sales staff.)
Responsibility for these contentious relationships is two-sided, of course. Good salespeople are focused on satisfying the customer. They’d better be. In the zeal to please the customer and get the sale, they can over-promise, when we all know the art is to under-promise and over-deliver.
Back home, underwriting, IT, support staff and others often feel they’re put in a bind and wrestling with impossible demands from sales.
So the magical solution would likely involve a ton of conversations between all these players so that mutual trust and respect grew so strong and durable, that all interests could be served, with fun and fluidity.
Well, those are my wishes. I read once, "Don’t have a wishbone, sister, where your backbone oughtta be." So if you would like to see these changes generated, I would be grateful if you would send your ideas to me. Perhaps together we can create our own magic.

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay and can
be reached at (414) 332-0300, or at The firm’s Web site is

May 13, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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