A life sciences venture capital firm brought Evoking Insights in to partner with a first time CEO of a portfolio company, “Max." The founding organizational vision was proving successful out in the marketplace, with significant growth and customer engagement after only a year of operation. And while Max was a seasoned executive leader, transitioning to the broader CEO role while rapidly scaling the business was demanding. Max wanted to be as inclusive as he was decisive and drive greater alignment, commitment, and engagement to deliver on his vision. He knew collective leadership was the secret to creating an incredible company that would exceed all expectations.
We took a coaching approach, initially working with Max and later his executive leadership team. Each coaching engagement comprised a discovery, a coaching, and a closing phase, designed to evaluate our impact and craft plans for sustainability. During the discovery phase, we completed one-to-one interviews, first for Max and later for the team, to gain an accurate picture of strengths and areas of opportunity. We then crafted a vision for the future, aligning how each team member needed to lead with the direction they were leading the business.
A two-day kick-off workshop for the team produced an extraordinary business goal to be achieved over the next four months and a leadership vision of how they needed to lead to achieve their goal. The coaching phase comprised bi-weekly sessions with their coach for four months. Based on a clear vision of success and measurable benchmarks, Max and the team worked with Evoking Insights to build a culture of accountability (instead of blame) and to augment their operational excellence with more strategic conversations.
The leadership team enhanced their customer experience by clarifying and refining their offerings and service level agreements. And a new quote process was designed and implemented to address a key pain point for their customers and the organization. They are now positioned to deliver more consistently on customer expectations and are adapting the business strategy, as needed, to adjust to evolving market and customer needs.
Max’s team reported greater candor and alignment as the greatest areas of change. “We operate in a way that is much more constructive.” The team recognized how their desire to achieve too much too quickly was working against a core value of accountability and desire to consistently delivering on commitments. They worked the subtle relationship between accountability and blame resulting in greater trust and engagement. The team practiced the art of achieving stretch goals as well as shifting between operational and strategic leadership, taking a step back to frame options and think more strategically.
While the pressures of the role hadn’t changed, Max experienced less stress and more ease as a result of learning how to reduce his reactivity in times of high stress. Max felt far more resilient. He could now recognize his stress response, which had led him to be impatient, defensive, and directive, and choose responses more consistent with his vision and values. Leaders felt heard, even if not agreed with, and safe to express their ideas and distinct perspectives. This resulted in increased candor, engagement, creativity, and risk-taking in the team and throughout the organization. Max’s time was now more appropriately spent on strategic expansion of the business, rather than the operational details that his team was well equipped to lead.
A large biopharma was facing rapidly changing needs and demands in one of its manufacturing production sites. An ever-increasing level of resilience and adaptability was needed in its leaders. The Learning and Development leader recognized a need to develop their high-potential front-line supervisors into resilient change leaders — first in leading self and then effectively guiding their teams through change. Ten leaders were nominated to participate by their managers.
We used a group coaching approach over six months to enable a highly customized, applied, and sustained development experience for each leader. In addition, the group coaching approach enable “two-for-one” development as each leader strengthened their capacity to lead change while also building foundational coaching, listening, and effective feedback skills through the experience.
A one-to-one discovery process kicked off the engagement as the coach met with each leader to outline and agree on their specific development goals and desired outcomes. All individual goals related to the over-arching focus on resilient change leadership. Specific goals emphasized personal development needs — e.g. providing the business context for change (business leadership), inspiring and motivating (team leadership), or emotional intelligence (self-leadership). Each leader also completed a personality assessment to increase self-awareness and, in turn, leadership effectiveness.
In the heart of the six-month coaching experience, we held monthly in-person group coaching sessions and leaders met between sessions with their peer-coach. In their day-to-day roles, leaders uncovered their own insights that lead to new actions and experimentation. They learned from each other in the group-setting, as group members offered each other honest feedback, accountability, and perspectives. Confidence built as leaders realized they were not alone in navigating through their own obstacles to change.
Throughout the experience, monthly updates were provided to the Learning and Development leader, and each leader’s manager. The experience closed with reflection and plans for sustainability. Each leader reviewed their coaching charter with the program coach and identified go forward actions and commitments.
Leaders highlighted key business outcomes that they had accomplished during the program, and these included implementing the Lean Production system in their specific area of responsibility, establishing a pilot plant network, adopting new monthly reporting approaches, and an organizational change in alignment with a broader vision.
A key benefit of a group coaching approach is to strengthen cross-functional relationships with other program participants through the shared learning experience. 85% of participants expected to sustain the peer-coaching relationships established in the program, and their intention was to continue to meet as a group on a quarterly basis. One participant said, “I feel like I can lean on them if a challenge comes up regarding change management.”
Through the coaching experience, each leader engaged in their own change process as they were leading significant changes in the way work would get done in the organization. Leaders reported an increased awareness of both strengths to leverage and obstacles in the way of increased impact. Behavioral shifts included greater assertion, empathy, curiosity, and active listening. One participant shared: “In addition to the expected outcomes of learning, practicing, and developing as a change agent, one big gain was my growth as a team leader. All of us grew in our ability to coach up / down / across and came out better versions of ourselves as people leaders because of it.”
A new CEO of a life science company needed to present a corporate strategy to the board of directors within months of starting in his role. Many robust growth initiatives were underway, but they seemed to take the organization in differing directions. A clear articulation of the organization’s strategic direction was needed to inform focus, priorities, and resource allocation. The CEO asked us to work with his head of strategy, “Darcy,” to help refine the existing corporate strategy and crystalize a succinct articulation of the strategy.
We partnered with Darcy in a 1:1 strategy coach engagement. Our role was to be an objective sounding board and thought partner to Darcy, to challenge the current thinking and make explicit the driving strategic assumptions. We began with a baseline of the current strategy and identifying (a) areas of activity or investment that Darcy believed were out of alignment with the current strategy and (b) gaps in strategic clarity needed to drive decision making on key issues or opportunities before the organization. We provided various frameworks and templates to help crystalize the current strategy in a whitepaper format, the agreed strategy deliverable with the CEO.
Darcy remained in the lead role, crafting the strategy and deliverable. Through a series of coaching sessions, we worked collaboratively to articulate a robust strategy that would create sustainable sources of competitive advantage. We used a question-based approach to challenge assumptions and perspectives, expand his thinking to create new options and / or clarify the strategic focus and priorities. The whitepaper clearly conveyed an integrated set of choices around where the organization would and wouldn’t participate (markets, customers, geographies) and how they would win with their customers, relative to the competition.
The CEO was able to present a clear and cohesive strategy to the board of directors — including the organization's internal and external strategic context, the strategic response necessary to capture the opportunities before the organization, and the strategic pathway over the next few years to position the company to win in the marketplace. The top-down strategic framework enabled a more aligned set of specific initiatives to be created from within the business. With increased strategic clarity, the leadership team was better able to allocate resources in a way that really supported the strategy and future state vision. Focus and alignment increased across the organization with clear strategic imperatives, initiatives, measures, and the supporting strategic rationale behind those choices. Core strategic assumptions and beliefs were made explicit to drive alignment and enable ongoing review and debate on the driving assumptions and adapt the strategy, as needed, with market evolution.
A new head of strategy for a division of a large life science company, “Finn,” was looking to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of their strategic planning process. As a market leader facing increased competitive intensity, the team needed new ways of thinking about the market, its customers and how they create customer value and differentiate from competitive alternatives. Finn requested design, facilitation, and advisory support. The strategic planning approach and facilitated sessions were designed to help the team challenge the status quo, derive distinct strategic insights, and translate that into new strategic initiatives and priorities.
Discovery interviews were conducted to characterize, and assess alignment, across the leadership team the (a) strategic context and implications to the business, (b) future state vision and strategic direction for the organization (3-5 years), and (c) key strategic decisions before the team. We worked closely with the core strategy team to design a top-down approach to strategy development to augment the traditional bottom-up approach of each business unit. Two workshops were designed and facilitated to align the leadership on the strategic direction of the division.
Together with the core strategy team, we framed strategic options to be considered and evaluated by the leadership team, including the strategic implications of the options. Each option represented a different strategic endpoint for the division and varied by focus, priorities, and key investments. Throughout the process strategic declarations were captured that would guide the organization in making key investment decisions going forward. Aligning the leadership team on both the urgency and degree of change needed to position the division for the future was a critical output.
The leadership team aligned on a cohesive three-year strategic vision and plan that cut across the division with a clear set of strategic imperatives, new capabilities, and a shared sense for the degree and urgency of change needed to sustain their market-leading position. A new source of competitive advantage was defined as well a shift in emphasis across their priority customer and market segments. A clear strategic context and intent now guided difficult investment trade-off decisions within and across the R&D and commercial organizations.
The leadership team reported greater strategic clarity and alignment resulting from our work together. Finn and his team appreciated the different type of strategic conversations than had been possible in the past with the leadership team.