Case Study: Jack Creates Powerful Partnerships

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Jack was thrilled when he received his promotion six months ago to

become a VP of client relationships for three medium-sized customers

of a large benefits services company. In his previous position

as the manager of operations for one of the company’s larger customers,

Jack was the expert who knew the systems inside and out

and who could seemingly solve any problem. He was the go-to

person, and he loved it, but he was ready for a new challenge.Having

supported various VPs of client relationships during his 10 years of

operations work, he was certain that he knew what it took to do the

job well.

Six months into his new role, Jack felt as if he was drowning, and

he regretted that he had ever agreed to take on this new position. It

was Jack’s job to understand his clients’ concerns and then work with

the various constituents within the company to create solutions.

With no direct reports, Jack had to rely on his ability to influence

and persuade others to get his job done. In his previous role, Jack’s

opinion carried so much weight that most people just followed his

lead—not so in the new role. He was deeply frustrated at the time

and energy it took to get things done.

Jack’s boss could see that he was struggling and suggested that Jack

work with a professional coach to find new strategies for dealing

with the complexities of his new position. Jack reluctantly agreed.

After interviewing three coaches, he chose to work with Anne. Anne

initiated the coaching relationship by collecting in-depth information

from Jack and his boss about Jack’s work situation, current challenges,

and desired outcomes from coaching. It was decided that

Anne would conduct in-person multirater feedback sessions with

some of the key people with whom Jack worked. These are some of

the insights that were gained from the feedback review:

_ Jack was generally liked and respected, although some of his

internal working relationships were strained. Many interview

participants noted that Jack tended not to listen, especially

when he was under pressure.

_ Jack was perceived to have a hard time managing difficult or

demanding clients and tended to “beat up” his internal service

groups to deliver whatever the client wanted, rather than negotiating

the client’s demands.

_ Jack sometimes had difficulty incorporating the ideas of others

into solutions that he proposed. As a result, Jack would try to

strong-arm the internal operations people into going along

with his plan.

Initially, Anne worked with Jack on the Quadrant 1 touchstones

that needed to be addressed, including helping Jack to better control

his schedule, integrating some techniques for remaining calm and

present when under pressure, and articulating what was most

important for Jack to focus on to be successful. One of the key shifts

that Jack made was letting go of the notion that he needed to be the

expert who served the client. With Anne’s help, Jack could see that

he needed to change his way of working to become a partner with

his clients and the internal service providers. With this fresh perspective,

Jack chose to focus his coaching on improving his ability

to foster commitment within his internal service providers and

expand his relationships with key customers in order to be seen as

a partner, rather than an order taker.

Jack and Anne had some in-depth coaching conversations about

what it means to be a real partner. One of the shifts that Jack could

see he needed to make was moving from being overly directive to

engaging others in dialogue to find shared solutions. Initially, this

task felt daunting for Jack, who believed that being directive was the

only way to move others into action. Jack acknowledged that this

approach did not always work and often left others angry with him.

Anne pointed out that partnerships are built over time, and the first

step was learning how to really listen and engage others in deeper

levels of conversation.

In their next coaching call, Anne could tell that Jack was pretty

upset about an exchange he had just had with one of the technical

support staff. Jack had promised a customer that the customer’s benefits

Web site would be updated by the end of the week. Jack had

just come from a preliminary review of the changes, and they were

totally different from what Jack was expecting. It had taken every

ounce of control that Jack had not to blow up. He wanted Anne to

coach him on how to handle this situation appropriately.Anne asked

Jack to recount the conversations that led up to that latest incident.

Then she asked Jack at what point he felt there was going to be a

problem. Anne prompted Jack to notice how he felt during the previous

conversations. He admitted that he had an uneasy feeling

when he first gave Stan, the IT person, the assignment that Stan did

not really understand what was being asked of him. Later when he

asked for an update, Stan had seemed vague about his progress, and

Jack recalled feeling a little anxious at that time about Stan’s ability

to deliver the changes on time, but he had not wanted to upset Stan,

so he did not say anything.

Anne asked Jack what he wanted the outcome of the situation to

be. After some discussion, Jack stated that he wanted to engage Stan

in a conversation that clarified what was expected and moved the

process forward as quickly as possible, and in a way that preserved

the relationship with Stan. Anne and Jack role-played some different

approaches to the conversation, and Jack left the coaching call

with some clear next steps to take. Jack and Stan were able to work

out an acceptable solution and also made agreements on how they

would work together more effectively in the future. Jack continued

to practice tuning into how he was feeling during conversations, and

he found that he was becoming better at detecting and addressing

issues earlier, before they had a chance to get out of hand.

In a later coaching conversation Jack asked Anne to coach him on

dealing with a client situation that he needed to address. One of

Jack’s customers was becoming increasingly demanding, insisting

that Jack offer some extended services that were outside of the scope

of the contract. In the past, Jack would have given in to please the

customer, but Jack knew that was not the right answer. Anne asked

Jack several questions to explore the relationship further, including

what might be motivating his customer to make such a request. Jack

noted that this customer tended to push the limits when he felt

he could. Jack added that this customer tended to have temper

tantrums when he did not get his way. Anne reflected back to Jack

that he unconsciously encouraged this behavior by giving in when

the client got angry. This insight enabled Jack to see the situation

from a new perspective, and he was determined to set clear limits

with his customer in a way that did not jeopardize the relationship.

Jack was visiting the customer at the end of the week.

Jack worked with Anne to get clear on the outcome he wanted to

create and role-playing the conversation. The toughest aspect for

Jack was preparing for the possibility that the customer would

become overly emotional. Anne encouraged Jack to practice in

advance at remaining calm and focusing on the outcome he wanted

to create, rather than the emotions that might be flying. The customer

did get a little hot under the collar, but he abandoned that

approach when it became clear that Jack was not going to give in as

usual. They were able to talk through the request and find a solution

that the client could live with.

Jack continued his work with Anne, and with practice and persistence,

he was able to create the kind of partnerships with his

clients and colleagues that he had hoped for. Jack’s boss reported

that some of Jack’s customers and internal partners had offered

unsolicited praise for the changes Jack had made. Most important,

Jack began to really enjoy his work.