People Smartz

Is "Systematic" Coaching the real answer?

Tony Perkins - Thursday, August 19, 2010

Recently I read a blog by a member of a large international coaching organization.  In the blog, the writer quoted W Edwards Deming (a guru of quality management and credited with the rise of Japan as a world powerhouse in manufacturing after WW2).

According to the writer, in the quote, Deming said that “that 94% of all failures in a business are the result of the “systems” in the business and only 6% of the failures are caused by the people in the business.”

I agree with Deming, however I disagree with the blog writer (who even managed to spell Deming's name incorrectly) who basically then went on to use this quote to explain why systems over people will create “leverage” in the organization.

The basic fault with the article was that it was designed to promote a systematic version of business coaching that is more concerned with short term gains rather than long term ones.  It is designed to encourage people to take a one size fits all approach to a business without taking into account the individual aspects of; or the people in, their business.  In short, it was an article designed to inform about how to save time, create a picture of short term success and promote their product.

Now, I’ll be up front and say that my blog is designed to raise the profile of my business.  I believe you were probably aware of this when you started reading; however my approach here is to ask you to think about the relationship between people and systems.

I believe that a business’s success is a result of the direct relationship between efficient systems and the people running them.  Systems are not the end, they are the beginning of the real process – that of creating a long term viable business.

See if you agree with the following comments:

  • People run the systems, not the other way around.
  • People make decisions, not the systems (the system can guide them in the right direction but in the end it is the people who make the decision). 
  • People create relationships with People, not with systems. 
  • A business succeeds because of the drive of the people running it – the systems make sure they are all on the same road.

I am not writing here saying that systems are not important.  In fact I believe they are important tools in maintaining consistency and quality, setting expectations and ensuring your business succeeds.  The more systemized a business is, the more likely it is to succeed.  Not because it is systemized, but because the systems create the time to concentrate on the important factors of business success. 

The important word in the previous paragraph is “tool”. Because that is what a system is - a tool that assists you, and your team, to achieve business success.  Imagine telling a carpenter that he didn’t build the shelf, the power drill did? Would he or she accept that? No way!  It is the same with your business, you need the systems as a tool towards the end product – and success for your business is the end product.

But regardless of the systems you have in place, it is important to have the right people to run them. This means becoming very good at knowing who the right people are in terms of attitude, skills and abilities.   Simply getting the right person in your organization, training them and working with them is probably one of the most important roles of a business owner or manager.

I know of one coaching organization that is so systemized in its recruiting approach that it advocates placing an answering machine on the phone, asking people to sell why they should get the job to the answering machine and then inviting the best answers to a “group interview” (Don't believe me - drop me a line and I'll give you the title of the book!)  The designers of this "system" know business owners are time poor, they know that saving time is attractive - so they have come up with a system designed to “save time” not to select the right person.  Ask yourself would such a system really work for your business?  Would you be confident of selecting the right person?

In the last week, I have received a call from a client of one of the bigger coaching groups.  They are looking for a business coach who is “people” rather than “system” orientated. 

They commented that they had commenced coaching on the same week as another business run by a couple they are friendly with.  They were in different capital cities, using a different coach from the same international coaching franchise.

The funny thing is that they had compared notes and found that the things they were being asked to do, the information they were being given and the advice they were being given was exactly the same – even to the point of them receiving exactly the same fax one day before a coaches visit on the same week of their program!  What’s more, they both saw red when advised that all future coaching sessions would be over the phone to “save them time” – and that advice was given in the same week! 

Maybe they were similar business you say?  No - one was retail and the other light manufacturing, one had 120 employees, the other 15.  One had been established less than a year, the other more than 10.  In short, they were being coached via a system with no tailoring for their individual needs.  Both companies are now in the process of finding a new coach.  Why - because it was the system that was coaching them, not the coach.

To end this article, I would like to go back to W Edwards Deming.  In his book “Out of Crisis”, he advocated a 14 point plan to save US industry in the 1980’s.  While Deming was a big (read this to mean big) believer in systems, he was criticized for providing a set of goals (his 14 points) without providing any tools to make them happen.  When asked about this by managers his reply was “You’re the manager, you work it out”. 

And to end, another quote from Deming – “A system must be managed. It will not manage itself” (The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education (1993))

Seems even the quality guru, Deming, believed that business was about a relationship between people and systems....

I can only say that business coaching and consulting is the same.  Think about this next time you look for a business consultant or coach – regardless of their specialty area!

P.S.  I have made several comments and criticisms in this article, If you would like details of where this information has come from (i.e. links, books etc.) please contact me and I will be happy to provide (except where it would break client confidentiality).





Anonymous commented on 24-Aug-2010 12:26 PM
Hi Tony,

Thanks for the great read. I have to say as a business owner myself I would never hire a coaching company to coach my staff via the phone. Nor would I indulge in the thought of making potential future staff to phone in to an answer machine to state why they would be the best person for the job. What has happened to human contact and communication? I know in this modern day we're all pushed for time but if you can't take to time to even chat to a potential future staff member to weed out the good from the bad you should be in another business we're you don't manage staff. I'm shocked to say the least at the way some of these systems are going. Systematic coaching may have it's place, however taking into the equation that there are different personalities that take in things differently I think you'd be ignorant to think that one system fits all and that it can be drummed into everyone the same way.

My opinion only, for what it's worth.

Thanks Tony, interesting read.
Andy Klein commented on 26-Aug-2010 06:18 AM
Great post Tony, some really interesting thoughts in here. Love the analogy with the carpenter and the power drill! Spot on in describing the right interplay between people and systems. I'm going to have to remember that one... may come in handy in the future!

And a real shame about the coaching franchise. Was it intended irony that this business seems to operate exactly as the one you cited at the beginning of the post, with the nearsighted, non-customised systemic approach?
Tony Perkins commented on 26-Aug-2010 01:21 PM
Thanks for the comments.

While not intended during writing, I can see the irony you are asking about - large companies, similar coaching models.

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