CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 22, 28th July 2003

Brought to you by the Brefi Group: "Helping you get from where you are to where you need to be."

Welcome to this issue of CorporateCoach – a free newsletter for senior executives and teams in organisations interested in using coaching to improve corporate performance. Please share it with colleagues and contacts who will benefit from reading it. Subscribers: 5475 copies, worldwide

NB. You are very welcome to copy these articles to your web site or newsgroup as long as you credit us and include our contact URL:

To SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE to this Newsletter: /newsletter.html


  1. Editorial: What might have been
  2. Tools notes: Six Sigma and Human Performance

1.     Editorial: What might have been

I have seen my own ghost. The life that might have been.

I went to a lunch addressed by Richard Bowker, the chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority. He was very impressive and gave the audience hope that at last there was someone capable of sorting out Britain's railways.

I understand that he is 38 years old. For a long time I have been wondering how someone so young could achieve such a high position. During his address I began to think "At last someone who is doing what I would do."

Then I began to put the two together. When I was ten years younger than Richard I was starting a job on a much smaller scale that was very similar to what he is doing on a national scale. I won two national and one international award for my work. When I was his age I was not only the co-founder of the bus industry's definitive newspaper but the organiser of the conferences through which the Government launched it strategy to privatise and de-regulate the bus industry.

So why am I not the chairman of the SRA?

Well, the first thing is that when I finished my last degree I decided I did not want to work in London. Although it is helpful to know what you don't want, it is much more important to determine what you do want. As a result, I launched Brefi Group, building on my experience of the public sector, small business and the management of change in large organisations. This decision has allowed me to work with lots of exciting and creative people. I have worked or done business in ten countries, including two countries in Africa and many of the states in the USA. I have developed a whole range of skills that I would not otherwise have done.

It also allowed me to spend another two decades with a home in rural Wales, before deciding to move back to Birmingham – an exciting new business environment with easy access to London.

I have enjoyed this part of my career, but it has been as an outsider. Would I have enjoyed a conventional career more – working within large organisations? What other people would I have met and what other talents would I have developed? Where would I be now? And where should I go next? What tools can I use to decide?

Brefi Group has helped client organisations move through thresholds. These typically occur for businesses at 10-12 employees and around 50, or when faced with a major challenge or opportunity.

Brefi Group is now faced with such a threshold for itself – an opportunity adopt a new structure in order to grow faster. How do we decide what we want, and what form would be best for us all?

This time, I have tools to help make decisions. I know we should focus on what we want - not what we don't want. I know the criteria for setting a well formed outcome. We can return to the neurological levels exercise that is so powerful for our clients and which we periodically update for ourselves. We can also use the new workbook Seven Ways To Figure Out What You Want and we can arrange a session with our own Andrew Halfacre to coach us through it.

As executive coaches, we know the value of working with a facilitator!


2.     Tools notes: Six Sigma and human performance

You may know that Six-Sigma has been around for a long time now, and like many quality improvement tools, it has gone in and out of vogue as time goes by. Six-Sigma is a bell-shaped statistical measure of distribution. "Six-Sigma error" is a statistical measure of error. Small Six-Sigma numbers indicate a consistent level of quality (a good thing).

Six Sigma value proposition

The whole value proposition of a Six-Sigma HR process is to improve profitability by improving personal productivity. For example, research shows that a company with 100 managers/professionals earning an average of 40K will lose the company around 1,920,000 each year from individual productivity differences (100 x 40K x 48% average productivity difference). If this sort of waste happened in a manufacturing unit, it would warrant immediate corrective action.

Measuring "people quality"

Measuring human performance is harder than measuring manufacturing output. People metrics often include "fuzzy" data like turnover, units, pounds, opinion surveys, integrity, speed, or work accuracy. These measurements are often affected by dozens of unrelated factors such as economic trends, politics, delayed feedback from information systems, etc.

There are four major influences affecting human performance. These are:

  1. Hiring systems
  2. Management practices
  3. Training and development
  4. Environmental factors
Analysis shows that performance tends to cluster into four general areas. These are

  • mental ability
  • planning skills,
  • interpersonal ability
  • attitudes, interests and motivations or aims.

No matter how good the manager, training programmes, or environmental factors, performance can never be better than the four skill areas possessed by the employee.

Mental ability affects problem solving, learning, technical knowledge and decision-making.

Planning and organising (although somewhat associated with mental ability) is classified separately because job failure is often associated with poor organisational ability.

Interpersonal ability refers to an employee's ability to get along with team members, a manager's ability to coach and counsel, a salesperson's ability to persuade, etc.

This human performance has significant impact. For example, when job requirements are misunderstood, applicant skills are left unmeasured or overlooked. This leads to wide differences in individual performance. Hiring scientists estimate the annual cost of these differences in the millions of pounds (19% of annual salary for unskilled workers, 32% for skilled and semi-skilled workers, and 48% for manager/professionals).

Therefore, bad recruiting and placement contributes a huge burden to the organisation. It should be considered a primary source of Six-Sigma error because it sets the base line for every other system.


Six-Sigma in HR applications may seem like a topical, leading-edge application, but requires a Herculean effort to accomplish. The greatest opportunity for improving employee performance is in the recruiting phase. After that, the managers' skill in coaching or mentoring their reports has the next greatest effect. Effective management must:

  • Develop clear and measurable job standards and goals
  • Develop internal and external hiring and selection tools that actually relate to job performance
  • Make necessary management changes among present managers and implement better selection standards for future managers
  • Seamlessly weave training, coaching and development programmes into daily job requirements
  • Integrate performance management and performance appraisal content to match individual job standards
  • Uncover and tailor environmental systems that enhance desirable behaviour and extinguish undesirable behaviour


Michael Skirving is the founding director of Whitewater Executive Search Ltd, a Midlands based search and placement firm specialising in performance based recruiting techniques for their clients.

We aim to make the Brefi Group web site the premier UK developmental site for teams and individuals in organisations, so do please send us your suggestions and requests for further development. And let us know what you think of this newsletter, and comment on the content.

THIS IS A FREE PUBLICATION! Please SHARE it willingly with a friend or colleague who could benefit from knowing more about corporate coaching.

Copyright © 2003 all rights reserved.

To SUBSCRIBE or UNSUBSCRIBE to this Newsletter: /newsletter.html

We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield