The work I undertook with ‘William’ came out of a management development programme I was delivering for ‘Brentbros Ltd’, a smallish family-run machine parts and assembly operation.
‘John’, the Managing Director, was under pressure from his wife (who did the books) to take more time out from the company. They were both in their late 50s and she wanted them effectively to go into semi-retirement.
Brentbros, in Adizes LifeCycle terms, had been in ‘Go-Go’ for years without ever having seriously attempted the journey into ‘Adolescence’. John, typical of an Adizes ‘Founder’, still made nearly all decisions in the company.
For John to acede to his wife’s wishes would mean he would have to delegate decision-making to others – and they would have to be capable of making those decisions. So I was brought in – on a recommendation from one of Brentbros’ customers – to develop the management capabilities of those people in his team John saw as having potential.
5 people, including ‘Delia’ (John’s daughter and office manager), workshop manager ‘Adrian’ and his assistant, William, went through 5 months’ twilight training (2 hours at the end of every second Monday). The length and format of the training allowed the participants plenty of opportunity to put their learning into practice.
At the conclusion of the programme, John was delighted with the changes he saw in 4 of the 5 and asked me to do further work with William whom he perceived both as having changed the most and as having the most potential. So I devised a coaching programme for William who, through the training, had started to think much more about his work.
The one who hadn’t really changed was Adrian; though he certainly ‘talked the talk’ in the training sessions, he didn’t ‘walk the talk’ in the Brentbros workshop. Prior to commencement of the training, I had interviewed each of the 5 to assess their readiness to change – dissonance being the first catalyst for change. The only dissonance I found in Adrian’s life was that he felt he wasn’t being paid enough; otherwise he declared himself totally satisfied with life at Brentbros. During the time of the training, John – against my advice! – gave Adrian a pay increase, thus removing what little incentive there was for change.
While technically very knowledgeable, Adrian was domhttp://vMEMESinated by the RED vMEME in his dealings with others. Most of the Brentbros staff disliked him. In particular, there was a lot of tension between Delia who was very BLUE Prodedural and Adrian whose RED-driven Self-Referencing and Mismatcher meta-programmes led him to do things his way, regardless of policies and procedures. (The only person Adrian was compliant to was John!)
Adrian was also very demeaning to William, treating him like an unthinking ‘gofer’ and rubbishing any suggestions he ever made as to how they could improve efficiency in the workshop.Despite this, it had become clear to me – as it also was to John – that William was relatively high in self-efficacy (Albert Bandura’s (1977) term for belief in one’s ability to acquire and use learning).
From our first coaching session, I learned that William’s self-esteem was being fed from two sources:-
a) John’s belief in his potential which went back a year or so. Having only been with the company a relatively short time, William initially showed little interest in his job and was persistently late for work. After several dressing-downs from John, the Managing Director told William he had every right to sack him and it was only the potential he saw that prevented him from doing so. Although William left that meeting with a final warning letter, he felt elated: someone had expressed faith in him! As a consequence, William had a tremendous PURPLE loyalty to John.
b) His girlfriend, ‘Julie’. His ‘first true love’ at 16 years old, they had recently got back together again and their passion was in full bloom.
I drew out a number of positive affirmations from William about these two relationships to build up his self-esteem. However, it was also clear that he had a number of limiting beliefs (maladative schemas) and that these were holding him back from developing his potential – as well as leaving him vulnerable to abuse by Adrian.
By meta-modelling, we found that a major root belief for William was the fear that he would be punished if he made incorrect decisions. Thus, letting Adrian make those decisions in the workshop that John didn’t make and just doing as he was told was a protective behaviour. We also learned that the person who had originally installed the belief was William’s father. (As a case study, this anecdotally supports Aaron T Beck’s view (1967; 1976) that adult attributional styles are influenced by childhood experiences – with harsh criticism from parents in particular leading to a external (situational) attribution for success and an internal (dispositional) attribution for failure – see Meta-States & the Cognitive Triad.)
I used Penny Park’s Mistaken Belief Visualisation (1994) to get William to hand the debilitating belief back to his father and choose a replacement positive belief. He chose: “I can do it.”
The next time I saw William he told me he had started standing up for himself when Adrian was being demeaning.
Sloughing off manipulation
That second session William revealed his feelings about a growing issue between John and his staff over Saturday working.
The Managing Director had told him, when they had first met to discuss the original management development programme, that he liked to bring in a minimum 2 staff on a Saturday even if there weren’t pressing customer orders. It provided opportunities to tidy up, maintain machinery and manually check stock that a busy working week often precluded.
With a slight (and relatively short-lived) downturn in customer orders, Saturdays had been becoming more about this kind of catching up than working on customer orders. Adrian, unsurprisingly, disliked the routine side of things and seemed unconcerned if the workshop was a mess. Since the pay increase he had been more and more disgruntled at working every second or third Saturday.
He had proposed to John that all staff should work an extra hour on a Friday evening to do the routine work, thus leaving them with the weekends completely free. John, on the assumption that his staff on a Friday evening would be tired and likely to rush work carelessly, turned the suggestion down.
Unwilling to accept John’s decision, Adrian began stirring up staff resentment at Saturday working. Cleverly he got William to think about how much more time he could spend with Julie. Soon there was a ‘whispering campaign’ John was only too aware of.
William found himself torn between his loyalty to John and his distaste for the decision – “totally unreasonable”, according to Adrian – which prevented him spending more time with his girlfriend.
To enable William to develop some different perspectives, I got him to do Robert Dilts’ Meta-Mirror (1990) for both his relationship with John and his relationship with Adrian. At the end of the exercises, William was quite shaken up. “I never realised just how much Adrian manipulated me and how much I accommodated him.”
Wanting to be Somebody
As a preplanned part of the third session, I had William do a Values Mandala. At the end of this complex NLP exercise designed to eliminate social desirability bias – saying what you think people want to hear – and get to what’s really important to someone, William said: “At heart, I do want to be somebody. I do want to do something with my life.”
Since he wanted to ‘be somebody’, I suggested he might want to be the workshop manager, took him up to the mezanine floor above the workshop and had him ‘walk’ it, saying how it would be if he were in charge. His conclusion was that the organisation of the workshop was “shite”.
For ‘homeplay’, I set William the task of designing a Present State-Desired State Plan for improving the workshop.
At the next session William seemed rather distracted – with a drop in performance being commented on by John!
By meta-modelling him, I forced him to face up to the fact that Julie had told him she loved him and had asked him to move in – but he was afraid their relationship would break up, as it had done before.
This time I used another Robert Dilts (1994) exercise, the Walt Disney Strategy, for William to work through his options. From this William concluded that he really wanted to commit himself to his relationship with Julie and that he could see now how he could minimise the likelihood of it breaking up.
By this time relations between William and Adrian were at an all-time low. When William had shown a list of ideas (derived from the Present State-Desired State Plan) for improving efficiency in the workshop to Adrian, the latter had very deliberately put the list to one side and refused to discuss it.
I persuaded John to offer Adrian coaching sessions with me, to resource him for the changes William was now undoubtedly going to bring. However, from one session, Adrian declared himself totally competent and I concluded that, for the time being at least, he was ‘stuck’ – with not enough dissonance to trigger change. Adrian refused any further sessions.
William was now producing ideas for improving things in the workshop which Adrian was doing his best to ignore. He was also answering Adrian back when the latter attempted to be demeaning – which seemed to be increasing William’s credibility with other staff. It especially raised his stock with Delia.
That led William and I to the conclusion that a way to try out some of William’s ideas without outrightly challenging Adrian’s authority was for William to work on an area of concern to Delia: stock control.
How information on purchasing, stock levels and usage was transferred from the workshop to the office was a major bone of contention between Adrian and Delia. So she was delighted with the system William proposed, took it to John and insisted they try it. After a month’s trail, William’s system was formally implemented.
Delia told William: “I wish you were in charge of the workshop” – and John asked to see his other proposals for improving operations in the workshop. He then summoned Adrian into his office and told him he wanted him to work with William on refining and implementing his ideas.
John told me later that these proposals were just what he had been wanting as hard evidence of William’s developing management capability.
The formal coaching programme had reached its conclusion – and both John and William expressed great satisfaction with it. William asked for quarterly follow-on mentoring sessions and John agreed to fund them.
I had warned John that the situation with Adrian was untenable and made several suggestions as to what he might do about it. However, though he acknowledged the problem, John was reluctant to do anything about someone who had been with the ccompany virtually since its inception. (Here his own PURPLE loyalty was getting in the way of action his higher vMEMES would have taken.)
When I returned 3 months later, the situation was as bad as a couple of e-mails from William had indicated. Adrian had effectively isolated himself from the other managers and there was a de facto split in the workshop. Adrian was handling his regular accounts while William and Delia were dealing with new customers.
However, Adrian was only sharing his technical expertise with William when either Delia or John applied pressure – making William’s job rather difficult if it took him beyond his existing knowledge. Adrian was also becoming more and more unpleasant in his dealings with other staff – to the point where one of the drivers had threatened to hit him! – and he had even managed to upset several customers.
At John’s request, I spent as much time with Adrian as William. However, while there was now significant dissonance in Adrian’s life and he was showing some real signs of stress, he seemed determined to carry on exactly the way he was.
John asked me to meet with him and Delia – now acting as his unofficial deputy – to discuss how to resolve the situation in the workshop. My suggestion was to make William workshop manager and have Adrian become the Bentbros ‘technical adviser’. This new position would feed Adrian’s RED identity positively by playing on the importance of his technical knowledge. However, it would remove all authority over others and put Adrian in the position where his job was to share his knowledge.
Delia enthusiastically supported the idea but John and William – when he was brought into the meeting – had doubts as to just how far Adrian would co-operate. They both feared he might leave. I told them I doubted he would do that because his PURPLE was to some extent rooted in the company. (It had been his only job since leaving school at 16.)
As a precaution – and for William’s further development – John decided to send him on a day-release college course to build up his technical knowledge.
Having come from almost being sacked for indolence to being made workshop manager in less than 18 months – having never held a job down for more than a few months previously – was a bit overawing for William and he began to doubt he could actually run the workshop fully on his own.
So I did Penny Parks’ Resourceful You exercise (1994) with him and then had him ‘walk’ his timeline to see how his ‘ultimate self’ would manage the workshop.
When I made my next follow-on visit 3 months later, William had implemented many of the ideas from his Present State-Desired State Plan and the workshop was running much more efficiently. He and Delia were managing customer relations between them and John was at last taking some time off. As for Adrian, he was more or less settled into his ‘technical advisor’ role – though still surly and unpleasant at times and still showing signs of stress.
Partway through our session, I said: “William, I’m not sure you need scheduled sessions anymore.”
My assessment was that William’s ORANGE had grown strong enough for him to see his own way forward and he could now manage his own development needs.
After some consideration, William agreed to let go of what could have become a psychological crutch. However, John took a little more persuading . He had become so accustomed to the sessions leading to positive change in William that it was only with the proviso that William could call me back any time he felt it would be useful that he agreed.
Some 15 months after the last session, I made a complementary call on Brentbros. William had made no contact in that time but John was full of praise for the improvements in his performance.