Changing company culture – practical steps for HR

The HR department is central to change management of organisational culture – or at least it should be. It’s essential to first understand that culture change starts with leaders, but now that we have acknowledged this, we can explore how HR has the capacity to facilitate powerful culture change to elevate performance across the entire organisation.

Make consistent, clear communication your priority

“We often spend so much time coping with problems along our path that we only have a dim or even inaccurate view of what’s really important to us.” – Peter Senge

Communication is crucial when it comes to change management. Too often during a culture change, what is communicated is confusing and conflicting, with a disconnect between what is said, what is rewarded and what is practised.

A Watson Wyatt survey of 1,000 organisations revealed that fewer than 33% of companies achieved their profit goals post-merger. A similar study conducted by KPMG discovered that 83% of mergers and acquisitions did not increase shareholder value. The reason behind it? The reports say poor communication is the first to blame.

Communication goes both ways. It’s not just what is being said (or frequently just written) top-down that matters. Throughout any process of change, HR needs to listen to what staff are saying about what is and isn’t working. Those on the shopfloor will have valuable insights into processes that executives may not have considered. And when people feel heard, understood and valued, they are much more likely to embrace culture change.

View your role as an agent of culture

“If you expect employees to embrace change, they must understand management’s vision and, more importantly, how change will benefit the organisation. Absent that, you will end up with unmotivated employees that resist change rather than embrace it.”Carl H. Kleimann, President of Odyssey OneSource.

In That Will Never Work, Marc Randolph, co-founder and former CEO of Netflix, writes about how their HR department was transformed into a proactive agent for culture, by the efforts of a woman named Patty McCord:

She dismantled all the systems we had in place that limited the amount of freedom we granted our employees, and designed systems that were almost totally on the side of employee freedom.”

Netflix’s Head of HR did not only view the role as a means of promoting culture top-down, but she “held everyone, including senior leadership, accountable” to the culture they were meant to be upholding. Summarising her work, Marc Randolph says, “She knew how to do something rare: scale up culture.”

HR can act as a curator for culture. This means evaluating processes, hiring those who carry and support the culture, working to retain those who uphold it. It means changing the way that employees are rewarded and how senior leaders, managers and even interns interact. HR needs to create structures that make clear to employees what is expected of them, while ensuring that executives don’t inadvertently undermine the process by introducing ways of working that don’t fit the culture.

Confront the uncomfortable barriers (mergers and acquisitions)

“For acquiring companies, the excitement is almost always about where they are going – that is, their strategy for gaining greater growth and productivity. But when mergers fail, it’s often because no one focused on who they are – that is, their culture, which is critical to successfully bringing different groups of people together.” – Punit Renjen, Deloitte Global CEO

HR’s role in change management comes to the fore during mergers and acquisitions. Christian Scholtes, the current Chairman of TPCL Global, consulted during two very different mergers, one which failed and one that succeeded.

The first occurred when two large multinationals in professional services merged. TPC’s recommendations on how to create a new culture were requested, but Christian witnessed how these recommendations were ignored. The companies instead tried to manage the merger by organising traditional get-togethers, celebration events and company parties. But even at the events, the employees from each company were split, socialising only with those from their own original organisation, forming two camps on different sides of the room. Not long after, the majority of the talent left the company, seeking a better culture elsewhere.

By contrast, Christian consulted on a program developed by a European company that brought the operations of two countries together – one from Northern Europe, one from Eastern Europe. They each operated within the cultural framework of very different nations.

After the initial consultancy – which involved interviews, focus groups, discussions with senior leaders – some potential hazards were identified. To tackle these, challenging meetings were held in which employees from both countries voiced their distrust and what they disliked about the other culture. They said these things in front of one another, with the help of skilled facilitators from TPCL.

It was a turning point for the organisation. They were able to identify what their new culture meant, what values they would continue to cherish and which they needed to let go of. They were able to plan new behavioural strategies, reinforced by training, mentoring and coaching. HR were then able to discern who would and who would not fit in the new culture.

It took between three and five years to implement these changes. But the company and its employees consider it successful.

Whether it’s a M&A or a different cross-cultural situation, HR managers play a vital role in ensuring that both cultures are properly respected while enabling a new culture to emerge. It requires sensitivity and conviction, clear communication and effective listening. Heads of HR can be facilitators of change, agents of culture, and creators of processes that will sustain a positive culture for years to come.

Culture change management is complicated. It requires incredible insight and experience to make a corporate culture successful. But mobilising a positive organisational culture is necessary for growth, if we want to future-proof our companies. We don’t have to do it alone, though. 

If you would like support with changing your company culture, get in touch to speak with one of our experts.

Leaders as culture carriers

“As a leader, a lot of your job is to make people successful,” wrote Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google and Alphabet. Nowhere does this principle hold truer than in role-modelling organisational culture. Your team will imitate the values you communicate and reveal. They will work for the values you reward. They will pick up the culture you espouse. And all of this whether you are conscious of it happening or not…

The trouble is that as leaders, we are often unaware of how much we influence the culture around us. Reflecting on our behaviours is most often secondary to completing our daily “to do” list. Let alone thinking of the values and beliefs driving our behaviours… As Peter Senge wrote, “We often spend so much time coping with problems along our path that we only have a dim or even inaccurate view of what’s really important to us.”

While leadership without much reflection may have been an acceptable norm for many years, a changing environment and differing stakeholder expectations now impose a different approach. Working in unpredictable environments requires that leadership be thoughtful and purposeful. Leadership that “gets things done the way they always have been done” is no longer a guarantee of financial success, let alone meeting the environmental, social, and governance expectations of today. Organisations that want to thrive into the future need to foster cultures that support innovation, agility, empathy and inclusivity. And for this to happen, leaders need to understand their own values. There is no other way forward.

Change management starts at our core

“…it is no great feat to write down a list of values. It’s far harder to live by them, especially when they are not self-evidently aligned.” – John Pepper, What Really Matters

Everybody is familiar with the iceberg analogy – only one tenth of the iceberg is visible above the waterline. A similar analogy can be applied to behavioural drivers in each of us. What we do, how we behave, how we express ourselves… these are all visible traits of who we are. And yet, impactful though they undoubtedly are on shaping organisational culture, they are simply symptoms of our values and beliefs. We need to look closely at these to be more purposeful in role-modelling the culture we wish to foster.

Core values and beliefs are mostly acquired in each person’s formative years as a child. They are learnt from figures of authority, including obviously each person’s parents, who will have acquired them in their own formative years. Understanding these values and beliefs, and perhaps even questioning whether they serve us well, requires a willingness to ask ourselves difficult questions. Asking difficult questions about why we behave in certain ways is the first step to cultural change. As Adam Grant writes in Originals, “The starting point is curiosity, pondering why the default exists in the first place.” Why do we react to conflict the way we do? Why do we want to appear in control? Why do we dislike feedback?

Vulnerability changes everything

A leader not being expected to show any vulnerability, the “superhero-model”, is considered a key trait in conventional leadership models. People often associate negative connotations to the word vulnerability, defining being vulnerable as exposing oneself to possible emotional harm. Indeed, the potential consequences of being vulnerable include rejection, ridicule, and various symptoms of undesirable public attention. And yet, as Dr Brene Brown’s writes, vulnerability is “not a weakness but rather our greatest measure of courage”.

The bottom line is that unless we accept some degree of vulnerability in our lives, we will neither be able to be ourselves nor connect closely with other people… both of which are key to effective leadership. Once we ask the uncomfortable questions and share the answers with those around us, we can start to take meaningful steps towards organisational change.

Compare vulnerability-taking to risk-taking… We all have a certain appetite for risk, usually driven by our cultural background, upbringing, and life experience. And most of us will have tried stretching the boundaries of risk at some stage. Now try to do the same with vulnerability… a few steps at a time, the occasional leap forward, the odd couple of steps back. And learning through both positive and challenging outcomes, we can gradually accept more vulnerability in our lives.

Storytelling shifts corporate culture

What stories does your company share to the public? What do you tell your peers? What do you share within your team? Are there any common themes? The stories you tell reveal more than you might think.

In Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins, Annette Simmons says all stories are “values in action”. When our success stories never feature elements of failure and learning, we suggest that we do not tolerate mistakes. When we tell stories of heroically working through the night, we risk alienating those who work flexibly or part-time. When we embellish our own achievements, we create a culture of individualism. Yet when we tell stories that reveal vulnerability, when we honour failed experiments, when we recognise risk-taking, we encourage those same qualities in our team. So think of the story you tell, rather than simply telling it.

Getting started

As leaders, corporate culture is on us. We cannot delegate creating the culture we want to others. We need to pause to take time to reflect… to evaluate our true values and whether they conflict with our habits. It’s not easy and we need to feel comfortable asking for help from someone who can hit the pause button and focus us on the wider picture. Get in touch to begin talking through the process. The inner work you do now will affect the culture you foster for years to come.

In the first blog of a series exploring Organisational Culture, TPC Leadership’s Global Chair Christian Scholtes, explores what organisational culture is and why you should care.

What is organisational culture – and why should you care?

In Culture Map, Erin Meyer shares the much-told story of two young fish who meet an older fish. He nods at them and says, ‘Morning boys, how’s the water?’ – which prompts one of the young fish to ask the other, ‘What the hell is water?’. 

Similarly, organisational culture can be an easy thing to forget about, often because, being so very immersed in it, it’s difficult to notice in the first place. As it rarely becomes explicit in its manifestations and because we’re typically drowned in operational minutiae, we don’t think about it much, we don’t prioritise conversations about it, and we very rarely measure its impact.

The fact that we don’t think and talk about it, doesn’t mean that it does not affect us, in the way we build implicit assumptions about ‘what’s truly important and needs to be done’, and in the behavioural and decision-making patterns that derive from these assumptions. 

Defining corporate culture

 “Cultural patterns of behaviour and belief frequently impact our perceptions (what we see), cognitions (what we think), and actions (what we do).” – Erin Meyer, Culture Map

Before we can begin to address the impact of culture, we need to differentiate between what it is and what we frequently believe it is.

We often imagine (there may be some degree of wishful thinking involved) that our company’s list of values is our company’s culture. But there can be a vast divide between our stated values and our day to day reality.

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted one of the first and most comprehensive studies of how culture affects the workplace. He defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind,” which distinguishes “the members of one group or category of people from others.” It is a subconscious set of values, a collective way of thinking, that directly affects how we act. It affects how the organisation’s teams respond in times of crisis, how we articulate executive strategies and how we interact with one another.

In other words, as Marc Randolph, the co-founder and former CEO of Netflix, says, “Culture isn’t what you say, it’s what you do.”

This being said, Mazars’ Board Leadership in Corporate Culture survey revealed that only 5% of company board members are able to say they are “very confident” that there is “clear alignment”’ between their desired and actual culture. It is a gap that needs to be addressed, if we want to succeed as leaders.

Organisational culture enables business success

“The bottom line was that while everyone was rowing the boat… there was no forward movement.” ― Ed Catmull, Creativity, Inc.

The impact of culture on the success of a business is pervasive. Often we imagine that strategy – our business idea and our business plan – is what ensures success. But it is our company’s culture that affects our team’s capacity to rally around the strategic vision and to fulfil the strategic priorities.

In Creativity Inc. Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, writes “There is nothing like a crisis, though, to bring what ails a company to the surface.” For it is then that our true culture, not the one we assumed we had, is revealed.

Inevitably, unexpected obstacles will hinder our progress, unforeseen problems will limit our initial vision, and sometimes, a business initiative will simply fail. Our culture affects our ability to recover, to adapt to the unexpected, to learn from our experiences. It is our culture that determines whether we will be sunk by hard times, or rise above forecasted results.

Culture attracts talent

…it’s often something intangible – like a diverse, inclusive, values-driven culture – that determines where the best and brightest talent decide to work.”- Marc Benioff and Monica Langley, Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change

When it comes to attracting and retaining the most talented individuals, ‘cultural fit’ is probably the most important factor. Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg emphasise this in How Google Works, “Many people, when considering a job, are primarily concerned with their role and responsibilities, the company’s track record, the industry, and compensation. Smart creatives, though, place culture at the top of the list. To be effective, they need to care about the place they work.”

Culture determines to a high degree who stays and who leaves. Those that feel at home in a company’s culture will gladly remain while those that strain against it will either tire and leave, or compromise to tow the company line, for a while. But the best leaders, the smartest creatives, will never be content to stay in an organisation that is at odds with their ideas, their work ethic, their ideals. They’re not interested merely in career progression as much as career purpose, in the ‘feels right’ kind of an environment.

Implications for the next decade

 “Leading with culture may be among the few sources of sustainable competitive advantage left to companies today. – Boris Groysberg, Jeremiah Lee, Jesse Price, J. Yo-Jud Cheng, HBR, The Leader’s Guide to Corporate Culture

As the current decade unfolds, the impact of corporate culture on businesses keeps increasing. It affects business reputation, employer branding and the subsequent appreciation among both existing and potential customers and employees. It affects investment – already some major funds only invest in companies that meet certain criteria in regard to gender balance, or approaches to their workforce. It affects the quality of the recruitment pool and the retention of high performers. It also affects the capability to navigate an increasingly unpredictable world. Margaret Heffernan explained at the 2019 TED Summit, “the unexpected is becoming the norm. It’s why experts and forecasters are reluctant to predict anything more than 400 days out.”

As leaders, we therefore need to truly explore our corporate culture, to have lively debates about what currently is part and what’s missing in our culture, and to begin shaping it with intention, so that we can fulfil our company vision. Yet to understand our own culture, we often need an outside-in perspective, the clear, detailed, truthful mirror provided by an external sparring partner. We invite you therefore to check out our leadership consultancy services to begin exploring how to align your company culture with your company vision. The sooner we undertake these steps will possibly determine the level of success we experience in these systemically turbulent times we’re living in.

Interested to learn more? Get in touch to talk with one of the team.

Why every leader needs coaching in their skillset

 We know that coaching is a valuable leadership skill, yet in many businesses it’s not at the top of the agenda to create a leadership culture that empowers a coaching style. Understood as a nice idea, an optional extra perhaps, in some organisations the power of coaching as a leadership style is yet to be fully appreciated. And utilised. 

“Organisations with senior leaders who coach effectively and frequently, improve their business results by 21% as compared to those who never coach.” – Bersin by Deloitte.

 Coaching helps build engagement, improves performance and leads to higher retention. So there is a clear case for it to be embedded in leadership culture.

 The skill of a successful leader is in knowing how and when to utilise different leadership styles – coaching should not eclipse the others. But there is growing evidence that it should be at the forefront of business ethos and in the skillset of every purpose-driven leader.

What are the different leadership styles and where does coaching sit?  

 There are many theories on leadership styles and they all have some truth in them. But one of the theories we often refer to was developed by Daniel Goleman and focuses on emotional intelligence.

Goleman’s leadership styles are based on the idea that leaders need to recognise and understand the emotions, strengths, beliefs and values of others to lead effectively. Goleman’s theory dictates that there is no right or wrong leadership style but reading a situation and reacting using the appropriate style is key.

 So what are the six Goleman leadership styles, when are they most effective and where does coaching fit in?

  1.     Affiliative

 The aim of the affiliative leadership style is to promote collaboration and positive relationships in a team. Done successfully, the leader will facilitate a harmonious atmosphere where all team members feel valued and have a sense of belonging.

 This style of leadership helps build morale and trust and can be an effective solution to healing rifts within teams. Leading this way can help create the right environment for a focus on strategy, innovation, vision and future thinking. 

  1.     Participative (democratic)

 Known also as democratic leadership style, Goleman later switched the word democratic for participative to better represent what he wanted to say. A participative  leader encourages open discussion, equal participation and shared decision-making across the team. It requires an experienced, confident and professional team for this to work. But when a leader has the skills to facilitate and unify, participative leadership can be highly effective.

 It works well for leaders who are comfortable with and value flexibility, and who work in situations where there may be rapid change or frequent problem-solving. Democratic leadership offers challenge and allows for continual individual and team growth.

  1.   Directive (coercive)

 Best preserved for times of emergency or urgency, the directive leadership style comes into play when a leader just needs to get things done. They may have already tried and failed with other leadership styles. It is a firefighting, short-term approach.

 This style of action leaves little or no time for discussion and relies on the assertiveness of the leader and the compliance of the employee or team.

  1.     Pace setting

 For teams who respond well to working under pressure and who are required to consistently meet high standards and frequently hit optimistic targets, the pace setting style can work.

But there are risks and drawbacks to this style. While the pace setting style can achieve excellent outcomes in the short-term, its heavy focus on performance and results can be detrimental to employee wellbeing, engagement and motivation in the longer term. Leaders utilising this leadership style must be mindful of employees’ mental wellbeing and cautious of creating a toxic working environment. 

  1.   Visionary (authoritative)

 In contrast to the pace setting style, the visionary style is generally viewed as an approach that is positive and supportive. Driven by a vision and desire to work together as a team to achieve that vision. Visionary leaders will inspire and motivate teams while offering direction, guidance, feedback and encouragement. 

  1.     Coaching

 The coaching leadership style invests in long-term results, growth and harmony, with a focus on supporting and developing team members. Coaching leaders help employees identify and understand their strengths and weaknesses to improve their skills and working relationships.

 The theory behind the coaching leadership style is to empower employees, encouraging a sense of ownership and accountability, which ultimately leads to positive individual and organisational growth.

How is coaching different to other leadership styles?

 The coaching leadership style is different because of its focus on investing in the long-term. Too often neglected in favour of short-term results and seemingly quick-fix alternatives, some organisations are missing a trick.

 Well trained coaching leaders can bridge the gap between the harsher, results driven pace setting style and the nurturing, long-term style of visionary leadership, to get real results. It empowers leaders to ask difficult questions, lead with purpose and bring about change.

 Coaching leadership works with both talented, skilled and willing employees, as well as those who may be lacking motivation or skills. The leader can tailor their coaching to suit the needs of the individual and help them grow to meet the goals of the wider organisation.

 While coaching requires a greater investment of time, its holistic, developmental approach leads to consistent results across an organisation and loyal, focused, harmonious and productive teams.

 For businesses wanting to appeal to new talent and the modern workforce, a commitment to performance development and professional growth is highly attractive – two thirds of 

Millennials expect their managers to offer professional development opportunities.

 And what of ROI? According to one study, 86% of companies rate their ROI favourably for their investment in coaching, stating that the investment at least paid for itself. Coaching leadership is also proven to improve rates of retention and absenteeism.

 Since investment in coaching leadership style can have such a lasting and sizable human and business impact, every leader should have coaching in their skillset. Contact us to learn more about upcoming courses and how coaching leadership can benefit your business.

Giving feedback to colleagues can feel like crossing a muddy minefield. One wrong move and – boom – you’re no longer the likeable Partner you have tried so hard to be. At least, that’s how we imagine the situation to be. Alternatively, you might feel at home telling Associates how to do their job better, but none of it seems to stick. If there is ever an opportunity for frustration to build – through things left unsaid or undone – this is it.

So how do you turn the feedback culture within a law firm around? Is it simply a matter of walking a delicate tightrope somewhere between the nice boss and the jerk boss? What effective leadership skills can help you when your team is ready to flinch at the first sign of criticism? There is an altogether different way to approach the many-tentacled monster of feedback, and it starts by allowing yourself to get stung.

Invite radical candor

“Not only did he permit Matt’s challenging him—he seemed to relish it… he wanted not just Matt but everyone at Google to feel comfortable criticizing authority—especially his.” – Kim Scott, Radical Candor – How To Be A Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

In Radical Candor, Kim Scott chronicles how she started her own company as the nice boss. After waking up to the fact that her refusal to give candid feedback had stunted the growth of her company and confused those she employed, she switched lanes and started a job at Google.

At Google, she noticed that everyone was giving feedback to one another. Especially – to her surprise – to those they worked for, not only those that worked for them. She began following their example. Instead of focusing on giving feedback to her team, “I did everything I could to encourage people to criticize me…the team started to open up. We began to debate openly, and we had more fun together.”

Creating a culture of effective feedback starts by enabling others to feel they can give leadership feedback to you. And this requires being willing to change. You need to model how this feedback thing works from the top, asking questions about your work together, actively listening and learning through the process. As Kim remarked, “I learned just as much from the people who worked for me as from the people whom I worked for about how to be a good boss.”

Can this really work in a law firm setting?  Yes, it doesn’t have to be difficult! 

It starts with two minutes: two minutes at the end of a client call, a meeting, a document review.   By helping Associates to grow the longer-term pain point is significantly reduced; they will perform better, continue to do better work and it’ll be able to address what’s not working more easily.   Short periods of feedback increase productivity and performance.  With Associate millennials this is an expectation – if law firms and their Partners don’t address and enable this, they will lose the talent they’ve worked so hard to find and train.   These short interventions is what makes the difference to law firm performance, team alignment, individual motivation and development.

Swap ‘being nice’ for radical transparency

“In an effort to create a positive, stress-free environment, I side-stepped the difficult but necessary part of being a boss: telling people clearly and directly when their work wasn’t good enough..” – Kim Scott, Radical Candor – How To Be A Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

Chances are, if you want to be the nice Partner, what you really want is harmony between people. This isn’t a bad thing at all. But you need to recognise that real harmony, the kind that is rooted in trust, can only come about when people are candid as well as cared for.

You can still take the time to care. But demonstrate that care through spending time with your team, listening to what matters to them, and opening up about your own life. Share your struggles in radical transparency. When people know one another, it removes a layer of reserve that enables better feedback to flow both ways.

Point out people’s strengths, but don’t be false about it. Praising people where they are weak only confuses them and can invalidate the other encouragement you give. But always be looking for something to encourage – and add your feedback to this habit. As Amy Jenkins, the CEO of Education Elements, says, “get them to a place when they can’t wait for you to come because when you do they know they will learn something too.”

Create a 360 feedback environment

“Believe me, you don’t want to be at a company where there is more candor in the hallways than in the rooms where fundamental ideas or policy are being hashed out. Candor isn’t cruel. It does not destroy. On the contrary, any successful feedback system is built on empathy, on the idea that we are all in this together, that we understand your pain because we’ve experienced it ourselves.” – Ed Catmull, Creativity Inc.

So how do you give feedback? Removing feedback from the formal context of an annual review and placing it firmly in your everyday work together takes the pressure out of the process, and makes the whole affair feel like a normal part of your working relationship.

Once you are in flow with receiving criticism, being transparent and encouraging the strengths of others, you’ll likely find people are near-desperate to hear what you have to say that could improve their work. Your feedback will also be a sign that you respect them enough and care enough to help them raise their game.

As Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall note in the Harvard Business Review, Learning happens when we see how we might do something better by adding some new nuance or expansion to our own understanding.” This kind of feedback can and should be given at any opportunity.

Don’t just stop at yourself. When you encourage this giving and receiving of feedback among all team members, your entire team gets smarter. Your team might have more disagreements, maybe even more arguments, but they’ll also have a lot more fun. Team coaching could help you with this. Everyone will feel invested in everyone else and the word team will have more weight to it than ever.

It’s commonplace to believe there isn’t time during the day when the work’s got to be done, fast, accurately responding to highly demanding clients to take time to build your relationships internally.  This doesn’t have to be time-consuming – invite feedback from your Associates and Partner peers, open up a little, share their strengths with them authentically…you’re on your way!

If you’d like to speak to us about developing a feedback culture in your organisation, we’d be happy to discuss it with you.

In this blog post, Andrea Cardillo – managing partner of TPC Leadership Italy – outlines some important questions that are key to co-creating an effective leadership development intervention.

Understanding leadership models

Clients sometimes ask me about the leadership models or approaches that we suggest for creating an effective leadership development intervention.  As a trainer and an executive coach, rather than pointing them towards a specific theory or a model which is ‘good in every season’, I prefer to explore some key questions with them: answers to which can give us some hints on what is happening in their firm and what (explicit or implicit) leadership models are already being used and influencing its performance.

We address questions like:

Answers to these questions may yield precious information regarding the leadership culture and styles in a law firm.

Understanding how a firm sees and recognizes leadership today is also important for another reason: developing leadership means building on what exists and leveraging on strengths.

Facing changes in leadership culture can raise resistance, especially in moments of organisational stress or during tough transitions – i.e. when a change in leadership approach and performance is often most required (!). Some people may feel personally questioned, while others may just be concerned about changing something that has always worked well.

Identifying behaviours and attitudes that have led to success in the past shows that the firm has already demonstrated the capability to flourish. Moreover, appreciating the past rationales of winning leadership behaviours is an important starting point in understanding the culture and values of a system and in creating a sense of mutual acknowledgement and trust. These are both basic elements in starting up a shared conversation to identify which behaviours can still be beneficial and which might not be useful anymore.

Defining success factors and envisioning future leadership

Looking to the future, one of the main challenges for people in a leadership position is that they are expected to be a role model in embodying the attitudes and values they want to see in the firm. Often leaders, even when feeling the urgency to change, have a clear idea of what they do not want to see any more – but a rather more ‘general’ or vague idea of the specific actions and attitudes they do want to see in the firm in the future. During a process of cultural change, the reasons for change must translate to a detailed and specific vision in order for that change to be effectively communicated, promoted and understood.

With this in mind, we often engage in a further exploration, covering the following questions:

In stimulating these kinds of conversations, the goal is to co-create with our clients the basis for an intervention that is fully aligned with the goals and strategies of the firm and also fully integrated with its culture and history. This sets a solid base for an intervention that can add tangible value and provide concrete return on investment, with a rationale that can be easily seen and understood by every member of the organization. This brings significant impact on trust in the process and motivation to change.

If you’d like to speak to us about leadership development in your organisation, contact us we’d be happy to discuss.

Annelieke Jense, Global Managing Partner TPC Leadership and Jacco Levits, Executive Team Coach TPC Leadership, discuss the impact of teams working virtually and how we can maintain connection.

As the separation from working with your team physically in the office continues, what is the impact of this extended period of working from home on the team spirit? How do you effectively work together at a distance and how do you keep the connection with each other?

Virtual communication offers new possibilities

The major difference with the pre-corona period is the lack of physical contact and non-verbal communication. The impact of making eye contact or leaning forward is different during a virtual interaction for example. Research shows that these kinds of signals boosts confidence and contribute to a sense of belonging. During videocall sessions, there is little to no non-verbal communication. Furthermore, in a virtual workplace, we are missing out on the informal chit chat at the coffee machine.

Yet the new reality also offers opportunities for a team. For example, it is easier to create more equal voice time during a virtual meeting. The chat function lowers the threshold for team members to get involved in a discussion or to bring in ideas during a brainstorming session. This also supports more in-the-moment involvement from the people with a preference for introversion. Besides, there is little opportunity for subgroups to emerge, simply because you are not together in a building, making the team more of a whole.

Three lenses for the well-being and effectiveness of virtual teams

By looking at legal firm virtual teams through three lenses: the team itself, the individual and the team leader, then overlaying some core coaching and leadership models we deep dive into how the current virtual reality just requires a different emphasis.

The team

The first lens Jacco illustrates with the pyramid of Patrick Lencioni. This consists of five functions of a team.

A team functions optimally when all five functions are well developed. The team leader has an essential role in this. The foundation is to create an atmosphere of trust, in which every team member feels free to express his or her opinion and ask questions. Vulnerability and being vulnerable in your team feeds trust. As a team leader you can do this by sharing a bit more about yourself, for example what difficulties you encounter during this period. Expressing genuine interest in the well-being of your team members is a second element that nurtures trust. The virtual space might actually be helpful in this. As a team leader, via Zoom or Teams, you now literally enter the living space of your people, and for some it might come more naturally to ask how someone is doing and to work on the personal relationship.

In addition, involving people and delegating responsibilities is really important, for example by embracing initiatives and allowing team members taking ownership for them.

The individual

A team benefits from everyone performing well and leveraging the individuals’ potential. But the virtual environment and an economically uncertain time could actually create new external and internal interferences that might hinder individual excellence. Externally, because working from home with children around and lack of a sufficient workspace might not be ideal. Internally, because potential concerns about job, health or family might cause ‘noise’.

Coaching often makes use of Timothy Gallwey’s model, Performance = potential – interferences. A team leader can help the individual by putting extra focus on the potential; confirming the qualities of an Associate or Partner peer and emphasizing the ones that are specifically beneficial for the team in the current virtual situation. Allowing flexibility with regard to working hours and sharing a considerate smile observing the home distractions and background noise will mean a lot. It will help the inner voice of “feeling guilty” to tone down.

The team leader

The third lens is that of the team leader who one could consider having three roles: leader for the long-term vision, manager to make sure things get done and coach to help people with their performance. In times of crisis, a different balance between these three roles seems necessary.

Annelieke indicates that in times of a crisis, a leader tends to quickly get into the doing modus. Whereas there is a huge need for a team leader with a focus on team well-being and who continues to consider the long term. Hence a focus on the role of coach & leader. As a team you can manage and “do” together. For example, small task forces within teams appear to work very well in the virtual space. In this way, the creativity and the need for individual contributions and sense of adding value are fulfilled. In the meanwhile, the team leader can focus on the longer-term agenda and guidance.

Virtual teams in a legal setting require a different way of working together and ask for more attention and care for each other. They benefit from the right balance between driving the business agenda and care for the people – between action and connection – and that can be quite a challenge for both team members and team leader.

However, “Never waste a good crisis,” according to Winston Churchill. Good things can be obtained from every crisis. Helpful to keep that in mind.

Book Tip: Jacco recommends the book Culture Code, The secrets of highly successful groups by Daniel Coyle.

Want more insight on how to move forward with your virtual teams? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.

The word pressure is thrown around a lot in leadership circles. But pressure is a broad term when discussing how it might be navigated. Growing the capacity to lead under pressure is essential if an emerging leader is to become effective. But an understanding of what kind of pressure you are facing is equally important if you do not plan on burning out – and to ensure you avoid making rash decisions in the name of rising to the occasion.

Each type of pressure is its own leadership challenge

“We’ve been trained to think of pressure as the enemy, the unfair burden that holds us down…Pressure is nothing more than the shadow of a great opportunity.” – Michael Johnson, Slaying the Dragon

The two main kinds of stress caused by a single event or stimulus (stressors) are eustress and distress.

Eustress is a healthy response to a stressor. It inspires us to engage at a deeper level, dive into the moment and increase our performance. When stimulated in this way we are able to respond and adapt effectively, often with a sense of fulfilment swiftly following. This is the kind of stress we cannot afford to avoid if we want to grow.

Distress is an unhealthy (but often inevitable) response to a stressor. We believe the challenges to be greater than our resources – either because they feel too large or too numerous. So we cope instead. We might seize up, over analysing the situation. Or blame others, to try and shift responsibility somewhere else. Or we could take control – leaping into action as the hero we think everybody clearly wants us to be.

With coaching and by asking ourselves difficult questions, we can slowly shift the thoughts that underlie our distressed behaviour. This is a necessary but gradual process. In the meantime, how do we keep eustress at an optimum, while keeping distress (and subsequently destructive actions) at bay?

People management under pressure

“Intensity clarifies. It creates not only momentum, but also the pressure you need to feel either friction, or fulfilment.” – Marcus Buckingham

In the Harvard Business Review article, How to Bounce Back from Adversity, Joshua Margolis and Paul Stoltz say we need to be quick to move from analysing the causes of a challenging or adverse event, to making a plan of action that focuses on moving forward. Resilient people are able to move their thinking from orbiting the problem to actioning a response.

On the flipside, Ron Heifetz warns in Adaptive Leadership, that in times of stress, a false pressure can result in hasty decisions. “You may have been there before. You know how to rise to the occasion. Even if you do not have the foggiest idea of what to do, you have a strong incentive to give in to others’ demands that you: ‘Do something!’”

Ultimately, there is not a single method that will always produce the ‘right’ response to pressure. Probably, those who usually step back and think could benefit from actioning faster and vice-versa. The key though, is that you don’t perceive yourself as the sole saviour of the situation. You can retreat into your own thoughts because you are terrified what those around you expect from you. Or you can act rashly, without asking for input, in an attempt to seem like you have everything under control.

The real trick is to bend with the situation, to engage with it actively while creating enough space to decouple ourselves from our immediate response. And then to face the challenge without hiding our limitations and our need for the perspectives of others.

Leadership qualities to keep you in the game

We’re often told that the key to learning is to get out of our comfort zones, but… Take us very far out of our comfort zones, and our brains stop paying attention to anything other than surviving the experience. – Marcus Buckingham & Ashley Goodall, HBR, The Feedback Fallacy

It can be exhilarating to live on borrowed energy, but everything has a cost. Some kinds of distress can be sustained for long periods and, if left unchecked, can become chronic.

We can throw ourselves into the most difficult situations because of our drive to grow and become. But we need to stay aware of when the effect takes a downward turn. The Yerkes-Dodson Law identifies a point where eustress generated by stimulation that increases performance – maximises and begins grinding down into distress and reduced performance. A desire to stay on top of things, and perhaps to be the next big emerging leader, can cause us to outstay our welcome in the stress zone. It’s in those situations that we need to ask for help, to let go of pride and the urge to save face and to seriously engage with the why behind our actions. You may find our exploration of the link between happiness and purpose helpful.

Often, the real problem is not the situation, it’s the demand we place on ourselves to be in control of it.  But we don’t have to solve anything alone. The best ideas can come from anywhere. When we trust, we share out a load that was never meant for us alone.

If you want to grow as a leader, difficulty will always be ahead of you. But if you invest in yourself you will be ready for it, and ready to thrive in it.

Legal firms can learn lessons from Agile leadership even though they may not perceive themselves to be in a fast moving, ever changing world.  Over the past few months, almost everyone has experienced significant change to their working practices. Compared to many other working environments, the legal world is traditionally fairly stable, with best practices delivering the best results.  For now, many lawyers find themselves living in an environment dominated by complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty. To maximise performance in this environment we need to be able to remain flexible and open to what is emerging to allow firms to achieve their potential.

Agile leadership is made up of three aspects of leadership practice: agile influence, agile intelligence and emotional endurance.

Agile Influence

Agile influence is the ability of a leader to empathise with others and the environment they operate in.  It is the ability to shape the thoughts and actions of those they lead and understand their actions and behaviours.  It applies equally to strategic leaders who must influence the external environment as well as the internal organisation as it does to team leaders who have a key role in influencing front line operations and therefore organisational effect.

Agile intelligence

Agile intelligence is the ability to think and act creatively and operate in an appropriate manner for the dominant situation.  This involves the combination of creative thinking combined with tacit knowledge to adapt and adopt an appropriate approach for the environment and organisation that the leader operates in to be able to cut through complexity, thrive in ambiguity and navigate in uncertainty.

Emotional endurance is the ability of the leader to react appropriately in the moment through an innate knowledge of themselves and their emotional and decision-making biases.  Through emotional intelligence a leader is able to respond quickly to priorities and recover and learn from adversity and diversity allowing for enduring and lasting leadership to emerge.

Agile leadership

By combining these three competencies and leader is able to embody enduring leadership which will allow them to operate in a complex, ambiguous and uncertain environment.  A leader not only needs to be able to think about the way they lead, they need to be able to feel their way through leadership and intuitively execute leadership.  This means that they must be able to reflect in the moment, be aware of their emotions and be able to act on their instinct.  Much of this depends on the leader’s level of adult development and emotional intelligence.  Coaching can help in this process by allowing the leader to embody their authentic selves and build a space for creative collaboration.  They are then able to act in the moment to create and seize opportunities through instant execution.


In this blog Biran Yilancioglu explores the benefits for organisations of investing in an external coach. 

Why invest in an external coach?

There’s no denying the benefits of a coaching culture – an environment where coaching is the norm is often one where employees and leaders are engaged, motivated and productive.

But there are times when the responsibility for professional development needs to be shared. Times when individuals, even a company, will benefit far more from working with external coaches.

Here’s what an external coach can provide for your company:

Specialist skills and experience

Some leaders and managers will have received training in coaching. But they may lack the depth of expertise and experience of a certified, professional coaching practitioner who will have undergone more extensive training.

External coaches have specialist knowledge and training in the complex theories and practices of coaching and know when and how to utilise them. For example, the Process Communication Model is particularly effective in giving managers and leaders a practical framework to understand personality differences and how to engage with them more constructively. 

Particularly in situations where internal coaching leadership has been ineffective, investing in an external coach can be invaluable to reach goals, resolve conflict or settle discontent.

Another point to note is that external coaches often have a specialism. This means an organisation can seek out an external coach with the relevant industry or situational knowledge and match them with the needs of the company.

No other agenda

As a leader, you have multiple responsibilities – the company deliverables, your own performance goals, the targets of those you lead. And this is not always conducive to an effective coaching partnership with those in your organisation.

An external coach doesn’t carry the load of an internal agenda. Because they don’t drive the direction of the company or set employee targets, an external coach has the luxury of being able to focus solely on coaching – they are free of accountability, authority, company politics and preconceptions.

External coaches can be objective partners, motivated only by the aim of helping the individual understand issues and fulfil their potential. And when there is no agenda, open conversations, creativity and increased performance can emerge.

Absolute confidentiality

While discretion is expected in any coaching situation, it is more difficult to trust in absolute confidentiality when the coach has an internal role. Managers have other responsibilities and allegiances. They may be involved in decisions about promotions, pay and performance reviews. Consciously or otherwise, this could impact on their ability to maintain confidentiality and impartiality outside of the coaching partnership.

Because they are not involved in internal decisions or obliged to give feedback on conversations that take place within the coaching environment, an external coach can create an environment where trust can flourish.

Creating a safe, relaxed, confidential environment where people feel confident to talk openly about their feelings and situation, without judgement or repercussions, is essential to find a breakthrough. That’s when the power of coaching can really come alive.

The right outcome

Coaching often starts with a story of dissatisfaction. As a result, an employee may have decided there is no other way to resolve their issues but to leave the company. In this case, the employee is less likely to feel comfortable talking openly with an internal coaching leader.

An external coach, who has no investment in whether the employee leaves the company or not, can focus on finding a solution that is both right for the individual and the company.

The focus for the coach would first be to help the employee understand why they wish to leave, before helping them explore a range of solutions. Often, the employee finds a different perspective – a resolution within the company – and freely chooses to stay. But without the input of external coaching, the company could have lost that talent.

In other cases, the coaching helps the employee understand that the best solution is, in fact, to move on. It may be that they aren’t a good fit for each other and their role isn’t fulfilling the expectations of either party.

Either way, both parties can arrive at an outcome that is right for them, without the pressure of internal agendas or expectations. And in many cases, this turns out to be right for the company, too.


While the ROI of coaching services can be difficult to measure, there is increasing evidence in its favour. More and more companies worldwide are starting to see external coaching as a proactive, positive way to manage, motivate and improve the performance of their teams.

One study found that 86% of companies rate their ROI favourably for their investment in coaching, stating that they at least made their money back. What’s more, according to the International Coaching Federation (ICF) leaders who participated in coaching saw 50 – 70% increases in work performance, time management and team effectiveness.

The success of an organisation relies on the wellbeing, engagement and collaboration of its leaders. Investment in external coaches who can develop leaders without the complications of a multiple agenda, judgement or bias, will see huge benefits for your business and everyone in it.

TPC Leadership has been providing specialist external, executive coaching for leaders since 2000, working with clients across over 110 countries. Get in touch to learn more about how our coaches can reap benefits for your business.


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