CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Brought to you by the Brefi Group: "Developing your business through strategy, facilitation and executive coaching – internationally."

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Editor: Richard Winfield,

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.

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HOT NEWS 1: In June we will welcome Dr Tim Paget as an independent associate of the Brefi Group. Tim has seven years business experience in senior management positions working in product development and marketing for global pharmaceutical companies including Parke Davis, Warner Lambert Consumer Healthcare and Johnson and Johnson. He is a qualified doctor with a background in both hospital and community practice. Tim has recently qualified as an NLP Practitioner. He is based in the south of England.

HOT NEWS 2: Brefi Group will be represented at the Business Support Day at the NEC on 22 June. If you are West Midlands based we would be very pleased to welcome you. There will also be a series of seminars running through the day. Free admission 9.00 am to 4.00 pm.

Issue No. 3 May 2001


  1. Editorial: Words matter
  2. Coaching notes: Corporate coaching
  3. Tools notes: Precision questions
  4. Book review: Birth of the Chaordic Age
  5. Technical tips: Search engine submission

1.     Editorial: Words matter

Who is the most important person in your organisation?

I spend a lot of time travelling to and from London on Chiltern Trains. This company is one of the smallest of the train operating companies and is reckoned to be the best. Certainly, my experience has been excellent.

In the 1980s, bus companies discovered that one of the benefits of replacing large buses with minibuses was that instead of attempting to teach bus drivers customer care, they were able to recruit shop assistants and others who understood customer care - and teach them to drive. Much better passenger relations was the result. Chiltern Trains has been able to take a similar approach. And they have given the staff very smart uniforms and fully involved them in the running of the railway - such that they are known as Adrian's family, because of their close relationship with managing director Adrian Shooter.

To answer my question, the most important person on Chiltern Trains is the steward who pushes the buffet trolley. Mostly young, these are bright friendly people who manage the passenger environment and are able to dispense free drinks if anything should go wrong.

There is one habit that Chiltern has picked up that I wonder whether they have thought through - that of referring to everyone as 'customers'. Maybe we are customers when we buy our tickets. But when on the train, surely we are passengers. I recognise that they are trying to instil the concept of 'customer' care in the staff. But I doubt whether any hotel, for example, would choose to destroy the concept of 'host' by downgrading its 'guests' into 'customers'.

In our work as corporate coaches, we listen carefully to words and language - they reveal a lot about the values and metaphors of an organisation. A slight change of language can lead to major changes in behaviour. Disney, for example, puts great emphasis on using 'guest' and 'cast member' for visitor and staff.

This month we describe another approach to language, in our tools notes. Use of questions to elicit precise meaning. In some cases fuzzy language is useful - it is the basis of hypnosis - but in many cases it leads to confusion.

2.     Coaching notes: Corporate coaching

In the last two issues we have looked at basic coaching competencies and their application to executive coaching. This time we look at corporate coaching. What is it, and how does it differ from executive coaching?

For a start, we undertook a survey amongst coaches in the UK. It seems that there is not yet a single accepted definition of corporate coaching. For some, it is any coaching that takes place in a corporate environment, for others it is coaching that takes place throughout an organisation.

For Brefi Group, corporate coaching is coaching that takes place within an organisation and has a primary focus on the strategy and performance of that organisation. As one coach said, "A corporate coach coaches a corporation, much like a soccer coach coaches a soccer team." Whereas executive coaching focuses on making the executive more effective, corporate coaching focuses on making one or all executives more effective "within the context of the organisation's vision, mission, values - and strategy". The ultimate client is, thus, the organisation rather than the individuals. A corporate coach may be called upon to coach teams, facilitate strategy meetings or act as mentor to a board - as well as coaching executives. Where necessary, the process might also include life coaching and even some simple therapy.

Characteristics which seemed to be shared by other corporate coaches, are NLP training and an MBA, or at least considerable experience of business at a senior level. In addition, Brefi Group uses benchmarks such as the Institute of Directors' Standards for the Board and the MCI competencies.

By working with an organisation as well as with individuals, corporate coaches can extract the synergy that is greater than the sum of the parts.

3.     Tools notes: Precision questions

We cannot describe in complete detail everything we mean. For example, try describing a chair. We need all our senses and our whole brain to experience a chair. Rather, we just say 'chair', 'stool' or 'armchair' and people normally understand enough.

Noam Chomsky, a leading linguistics expert, originated the concepts of Surface Structure and Deep Structure in language. Surface structure is what is said. Deep structure is the deeper meaning behind what is said. In our practical world we delete information, generalise information or distort information. So what is communicated is incomplete or inaccurate and the listener has to make assumptions about what is being said, which might be inaccurate. By recognising that these deletions, generalisations and distortions may be key to understanding, we can use precise challenging questions to reconnect the surface structure with the deep structure.

The Meta Model, developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler, identifies many sub-classes of these linguistic shortcuts. A simpler approach is to focus on the five key cases: universal quantifiers, modal operators of necessity, unspecified verbs, unspecified nouns and comparative deletions. No need to remember the terms, just listen for these: -

When you hear someone say: You check:
"all, every, never . . . " "Do you really mean all, every, never? Surely there are some exceptions?"
"should, shouldn't, must, can't . . " "What would happen if you did? What causes/prevents it?"
"I 'verb' . . . they 'verb' . . " "How, specifically?"
"They, people, things. . " "Who/what, specifically?"
"Too much, too many, too expensive . . " "Compared to what?"

Not only will you be able to clarify your understanding, but in many cases you will identify a blockage in the thinking of the speaker. This is a very useful technique when you want to bring about change. However, use carefully and remember your rapport - if you challenge everything all the time you just might become a little bit irritating!

4.     Book review: Birth of the Chaordic Age

Do you know who owns VISA, the world's largest commercial enterprise? Classic question when discussing 'chaordic'. For VISA is unique. Like the Internet, it is fundamentally different - and it works! VISA is a $1.25 trillion non-stock, for-profit organisation in which the owner/members from every language, culture, currency, race and economic and political persuasion simultaneously engage in the most intense co-operation and fierce competition.

It was founded by Dee Hock, a maverick banker, who put his own wild ideas into practice to create something the likes of which the world has never seen.

I was so excited when I first came across Dee Hock and his chaordic organisations that I copied the articles that I had found on the Internet and sent them to my colleagues.

Hock has since published a book, Birth of the Chaordic Age, telling the whole story of how VISA International was conceived, founded and established. Just like Ricardo Semler's Maverick, this is a book everyone should read to sample a possible business model for the future.

Both Semler and Hock took empowerment to an extreme - and created successful enterprises. Hock's text, which tells his own story as well as VISA's, is filled with concepts, ideas and radical philosophy that challenge our fundamental beliefs about money, organisations, leadership, management, the human spirit and our relationship to the natural world.

Hock defined the concept of 'chaord' from chaos and order; a blend of competition and co-operation. Chaordic: the behaviour of any self-governing organism, organisation or system that harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos. Patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos nor order. Characteristic of the fundamental organising principles of evolution and nature.

He is a great believer in what others would call vision and mission statements. He does it in depth - he believes it justifies a year to do it. He lays out six elements: purpose, principles, concept, structure, people and practice that he suggests people should use to examine the need to conceive a new organisation or reconceive an existing one.

He argues that "If you get the purpose right, you may get the principles right. If you get the principles right, you may get the concept right. If you get the concept right, you may get the structure right. If you get all four right, you are very likely to get the people right. If you get purpose, principles concept, structure and people right, you will inevitably get the practice right and realise your purpose far beyond your original expectations. Properly done, the inevitable result is a self-organising, self-governing complex capable of constant learning and evolution."

"In the chaordic age", he says, "success will depend less on rote and more on reason; less on authority of the few and more on the judgement of many; less on compulsion and more on motivation; less on external control of people and more on internal discipline."

In 1984 Hock left VISA to demonstrate that his model was not dependent on any individual, and went to live on 200 acres of remote forestry land. In 1992 he was recognised as one of the eight individuals who most changed the way people live in the past quarter century. Birth of the Chaordic Age, 1999, represents his return to public life to promote his ideas.

My copy is heavily marked in various colours of highlighter - a sign of book full of ideas. I thoroughly recommend this fascinating story.

Birth of the Chaordic Age Birth of the Chaordic Age Maverick Maverick. Or visit our books site for more ideas and recommendations.

5.     Technical tips: Search engine submission

We have recently had confirmation of how important it is to maintain a continuous programme of submission to the main search engines if they form part of your Internet strategy. While we were re-building our site we let our search engine submission programme lapse. Our hit rate continued to increase very satisfactorily – at about 30% a month – but then collapsed after we had launched the new site. We restarted submissions on 21 April and during the last week our hit rate has returned to an acceptable level, with a similar rate of growth.

We had a similar experience in November and December when we stopped submitting while I was abroad. Hits continued to grow but then fell off in January. There seems to be a six week lag in impact. It is essential to submit key pages at least once a month.

This has become both more effort and, perhaps, more worthwhile since AltaVista has introduced a graphical submission code into the process so that automatic submission programmes do not work. A real chore, but, presumably, it gives better exposure to those who take the trouble!

Opportunity: One way to improve search engine rating is to increase the number of links into the site. We have an open offer for a link exchange with any site that fits with our philosophy. If you link to us, then we will link to you from our useful links page. Not only should this get both of us a higher rating, but every time we submit the page to a search engine with a crawler, your site should get crawled too.

The Google Toolbar

You can download the Google toolbar for free at This puts Google on your browser and gives you various additional facilities like searching within a web site.

We aim to make the Brefi Group family of web sites the premier UK developmental web 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.

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Telephone: +44 (0) 7970 891 343