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4 Steps to Successfully Grow Your Start Up

by David Swain

In a perfect world your business is booming, the organization is growing, orders continue to pour in and customers are consistently thrilled with your products or services. Sounds idyllic, no? The sad truth is that many companies find themselves in this position but then begin to flounder as they struggle to keep up with demand. They underestimate the time and energy needed for talent acquisition and don’t have a formal training plan in place. The business model that was perfectly suited for a company of 10 cannot properly support a rapidly expanding company of 28 or 50 or 150.

In order to create a scalable organization, one that can maintain a lauded client experience while growing to meet demand, an organization can employ this 4-step approach:

Step 1: Discover the Core Attributes of the Client Experience

This step is designed to identify what makes your organization unique. Here, the organization’s strategies, systems, personnel and procedures are investigated to determine how each of these things contributes to the organization’s culture.

Through an appreciative discussion process, a clear picture of what it is like to work in your organization when it is performing at its very best emerges.

Step 2: Identify Enabling Leadership Behaviours & Beliefs

As an organization grows, certain leadership behaviours and beliefs are required to support the consistent delivery of both key results metrics (the what) and core attributes (the how).

This phase uses the information collected in the Discover Step to guide the initial development of what these key behaviours and beliefs are, resulting in a leadership competency model.

Step 3: Align Leadership Behaviours and Beliefs

This next step sees the leadership competency model put into application with the leadership team.

This is a collaborative process where the key leaders of the organization can explore both individual opportunities for growth and how to work together as a team to support the development of leadership competencies throughout the organization.

This phase is critical to success and usually includes individual and group coaching, team facilitation and training to ensure all parties are in alignment.

Step 4: Embed HR Systems that Reinforce Behaviours & Beliefs

In this last step the company’s HR systems (Recruitment and selection, Performance management, etc.) are also tweaked, changed or created to support the leadership competency model created throughout this process.

The importance of creating a scalable organization that excels in periods of growth and can both maintain and nurture your corporate culture cannot be underestimated. Taking the time up front to discover, identify, align and embed the leadership behaviours and beliefs that make your organization unique can be instrumental in your continued success.



David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



5 Myths About Trust

by David Swain

In most situations today, we tend not to think about being part of why things aren’t working.  Few people trust their neighbours, and even fewer trust government structures.  Why, then would anyone trust their company? Some statistics indicate that just 49% of employees trust senior management, and a mere 28% of them think CEOs are a reliable source of information. Trust, though, is a must if you’re looking to achieve your organizational goals. Unfortunately, few people really understand the truths behind trust. 

Myth #1 – Trust is Soft

Trust is actually very real and very quantifiable. The statistics in the first paragraph were pretty clear, right? You can clearly see, in organizations that are trustworthy, higher loyalty by customers and employees alike.

Myth #2 – Trust is Slow

While it can take some time to build trust, the truth is that once trust is established every thing happens faster. When your employees or network members trust your organizational goals or even you as a leader, trust takes over, and the results are swift.

Myth #3 – You Either Have it Or You Don’t 

Sorry, this one isn’t true either. Trust isn’t like matter. It can be both created and destroyed. You can build trust among your employees and stakeholders, but taking the wrong actions on a regular basis or even in a single situation can help to destroy everything you’ve built. The key is to maintain it once you have it.

Myth #4 – Once Lost, Trust Cannot Be Restored 

If you read Myth 3 you understand that trust can be both created and destroyed, and that’s true even if you have managed to lose the trust of anyone inside your organization. You can rebuild that trust and it is worth the time and effort it will take.

Myth #5 – You Can’t Teach Trust 

Sure, trust is rare commodity in our society today, and it can be tough to teach people how to trust, but with the right knowledge and a strong commitment, trust can certainly be taught to every member of your organization.

The organizational consequences of low or lacking trust are massive, but building trust is certainly possible, and the results can be staggering.



David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



How Today’s Best Leaders Achieve Transformational Change

by David Swain

Creating transformational change is a very challenging task for a leader. It’s safe to say that you cannot do it alone, so to be successful you need a high performing team. This is a group that can consistently meet or exceed their goals over an extended period of time. Developing a high performing team is not a short term effort that can be solved in a single meeting or team building event. When creating a high performing team, here are a few questions you need to answer: 

1. What is it that we can only accomplish together? 

You need to determine what each team member’s individual contribution is to the team’s purpose. Why is this person on the team? What does he or she bring that is necessary?

2. What are the outcomes we will deliver as a team? 

These are the team’s performance goals. They include the final goal (what the team was formed in to accomplish) and sub-goals of each individual to help track progress.

3. Do we have the requisite talents to achieve our purpose and goals? 

These are the collective talents of your team members including skills, knowledge, and expertise. If your team does not have what it takes to achieve the goals then you need to bring in people with the requisite skills, or form a new team altogether.

4. How do we work together to achieve our purpose and goals? 

It is essential that a high performing team establish how their collaboration will operate, and it is a collaboration. What are the roles and responsibilities of each team member? What kind of behaviour is expected or not tolerated? How will the team approach any given task? Thought should also be given to the interpersonal dynamics of the team. Your team has to function well as a team. That doesn’t mean they have to like each other, but it does mean they have to respect each other.

5. Are we all committed to work together to achieve our purpose, goals and deliver results? 

If your team makes the commitment to work together they are agreeing to be mutually accountable. They agree to trust and respect one another, to collaborate and support each other, and take ownership for their role in the success of the team against it’s goals.

Forming and nurturing a high performing team takes time and effort. The questions above provide a good starting off point to help leaders choose team members, create clarity around roles and responsibilities, and identify critical success factors. The time spent building and maintaining a high performing team will provide a significant return in faster decision making, greater commitment, and in leading transformational change. 


David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



3 Ways to Create a Space for Productive Conflict

by David Swain

As a leader, much of the responsibility for creating an environment that fosters productive conflict lies with you.

What can you do?

1. Model Behaviour

Be accountable for your actions. Take responsibility for your decisions and the consequences. Let your willingness to discuss, argue, and compromise demonstrate the kinds of conversations you want to have.

2. Address the Important

It can be tricky to listen for what has not been said. If your team is not talking about obvious challenges or risks, you should initiate conversation. Whatever issues are looming over your team, you have to address. 

3. Create Space for Conflict

Good conflict only happens when the people involved feel safe. Encourage your team to voice their opinions. Show them you appreciate divergent views. Remind your team that they have agreed to be accountable for doing the best they possibly can.

When executives engage in productive conflict, they collaborate better and make progress toward goals. Conflict shows passion and commitment, and leads to great innovation. Remember, it takes heat and pressure to make a diamond.




David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



Close-Up on the 5 Stages in Team Coaching

by David Swain

Team coaching is quickly becoming a go-to solution for organizational teams who are looking to increase their efficiency, effectiveness, and team dynamics. While you may already know the benefits to this approach, do you have a clear understanding of what to expect of the process? Here is a breakdown of my method: 

1. Interviews

I start off the team coaching process with one-on-one interviews with each team member including the team leader. The interviews are structured to assess both the team’s strengths and where their effectiveness is being hindered. These interviews give us a good picture of what is going on with the team.

2. Plan Development

Based on the information discovered during the interview process, I then introduce the team to a sequenced plan that will help them work on the problems and issues they have identified. This plan usually spans a 6-9 month period.

3. Coaching Sessions Commence

The first full team coaching session takes place over a few days as part of normal business operations. As part of regular meetings, I observe how the team interacts. I draw the team’s attention to problems or areas of interest as they arise with a question based approach. The purpose of this and subsequent sessions is to work as a team to:

  • Overcome resistance, doubt, and disagreements through open communication.
  • Uncover hidden doubts and give space to team members reluctant to voice ideas or opinions.
  • Allow productive conflict to happen and resolve it by creating an environment of mutual respect and trust.
  • Reaffirm team goals, and team members’ mutual accountability to each other.
  • Learn coaching skills, and how to coach each other when necessary.

As an example, I might observe the team avoiding making a decision. In this situation I would draw the team’s attention to the fact that the conversation keeps going off track when it comes time to make a decision, guide them through a discussion on why this is happening, and help them create their own solutions to the issue. Every situation is different, but I might ask “Are you all committed to making a decision for the good of the company? If you are avoiding committing to this decision, does that mean there are reservations or doubts about the decision being the right one?” These questions help the team understand and resolve the problem.

4. Coaching Sessions Continue

I will continue to attend meetings on an ongoing basis (again, these meetings are a normal part of your organization’s operation). During these meetings, I work with the team on problem areas in real time—staying in the moment and facilitating the conversations that will overcome the problems at hand. Depending on the team’s identified needs, I would visit once every 2 weeks or once every month

5. Individual Leader Coaching

While the team coaching sessions are underway, the team leader will also receive one-on-one executive coaching. These sessions help the team leader understand the dynamics unearthed in the team sessions and develop strategies to best manage these individuals and issues. These sessions are also preparing the leader to maintain open, healthy dialogue between team members after the coaching process is over.



David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



What Every Leader Needs to Understand About Conflict

by David Swain

What you want in a team is effective collaboration, not necessarily harmony. Team members do not have to become friends to work effectively together. When it comes to high performing teams, the best teams are the ones that are able to argue, disagree, challenge, reach a decision and then commit to taking aligned action. You want productive conflict, not false harmony. 

False Harmony

When your executive team nods, agrees, and generally goes along with decisions or ideas, your meetings seem harmonious. This is not necessarily good. False harmony is agreement on the surface, but inside your executives have unvoiced disagreements, doubts, and alternative ideas.

How can you detect false harmony? Look at your executives’ actions outside the meetings. Are they not doing what they said they would? Is little or nothing really getting done? Are people blaming others, and not being accountable for their actions? These are all signs of false harmony.

Productive Conflict

Conflict is not necessarily bad. You actually want good conflict because great innovations are often born of it. In order for conflict to be productive, there needs to be effective conversation, and mutual respect. All parties need to be able to say “We see things differently, but we can stay in the conflict long enough to find a way to work out our differences.” Collaboration is not about fighting over “your way” or “my way”, it’s about creating a “third way” of doing things—creating something new.

How can you tell productive conflict from other kinds of conflict? If the conflict leads to an agreement to move forward it is positive conflict. If the parties involved are satisfied that they have had their say, even if their ideas are not implemented, that is positive conflict. Outside the meeting room you should see plans moving forward, and your executives taking responsibility for their actions.


David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



Are You Having The Right Conversations?

by David Swain

The strength of an organization is in its conversations. If those conversations are all directed towards a goal, the company will move forward. When those conversations are unproductive, or focused on short-term solutions, the business stagnates.

What do I mean by conversations? 

Well, Steve Jobs was a man who focused the conversations at Apple around one question: is this the most elegant product we can design? This question was asked about the way the product appeared, felt, functioned, and interfaced. Rumour has it Steve Jobs could be pretty harsh in his criticism to people presenting ideas, but it was because he was so committed to his design ethic of elegance. He knew what he wanted and would not settle for anything less. What was the result? Apple has prospered because internally the conversation has been so focused.

The best leaders are constantly interjecting what is important into the conversations of their organization.

What is important is your vision for the future

You don’t have to be as harsh as Steve Jobs, but you do have to keep reminding people to help them stay focused on the right things. This doesn’t mean blind devotion to a cause. Actually, in my experience some of the most important conversations to have are around these 2 questions:

  1. Why do we do that?
  2. Why do we do it that way?

As a leader you can ask these questions about both the organization and yourself. What can I do that will really make a difference? If what I am doing is not of great value, can I stop doing it or delegate it? Is my team aligned and committed to the goals of the organization? If not, what do I need to do?

Coaching can help you answer these questions, and focus those conversations on what is important. When you and your executives are having the right conversations, they will start happening at every level of your organization. 


David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



Winning Influential Resisters in Times of Change

by David Swain

You know the influential resisters in your organization. If you don’t, you need to find out! These are important people to identify in any effort to change. These are the people who will help (or hinder) the transition. What I’ve found is that in any organization about 20% of people are ready and eager to make changes. Another 20%, though, are going to dig in their heels and resist change with everything they have. The rest, the remaining 60%, are somewhere in the middle, and probably unsure which way to go or they don’t have an opinion. I see this over and over again.

So where do you focus your efforts? 

1. Pay attention to the Influential Resisters

What I see is leaders spending too much time trying to convince the stuck in, die hard 20% to get on board, and not enough time with the 60% of neutral employees. Start by identifying the influential members of that bottom 20% and listen to them. The rest, it’s not that you ignore their negativity, but you don’t devote all of your efforts to a group that may not be willing to listen.

2. Acknowledge Concerns & Ask for Feedback

Acknowledge that these “influential resisters” have some valid concerns and there is a grain of truth to what they say. Acknowledge the grain of truth and invite them, publicly, to be a part of shaping the changes. If they accept then you have a powerful convert. If they don’t accept your invitation, but instead show their aversion to work towards a solution, their influence will decline. People only stick with naysayers for so long if all they do is criticize and are not willing to help make things better.

3. Focus on Connecting with the Middle & Communicate Early Successes

Don’t forget you cannot please everyone, and some people will never be convinced that change is for the better. While they may be a vocal minority, they don’t deserve all of your attention at the expense of the non-vocal majority! More than half of the organization is waiting to be convinced about the change. Communicate early success stories to all employees. Have your ‘influential adopters’ present the benefits of the change(s) and reinforce the importance of these new ways of operating. Work to build positive momentum that can shift the neutral majority into adopters of the change.



David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



Overcoming Resistance with a Robust Case for Change

by David Swain

Changing an organization is like performing a heart transplant. Does it have to be bloody and cost a lot of money? No! But, an organization has an immune system, like a transplant patient’s immune system, that is resistant to change even when the change is necessary for survival. As a leader, you need to overcome this immunity to change by building a robust case for change so your people will accept it. There are two steps to this that you should pay attention to: 

1. Create enough dissatisfaction with the current state that people are willing to make change

The simple fact is that people are resistant to change. It’s human nature! People get comfortable even in situations that are unpleasant and are hesitant about learning new skills, procedures, or habits. People like the familiar, and need to be jolted out of their complacency. It’s about breaking down the natural resistance to change by drawing awareness to what is not working and what needs to change.

2. Create a compelling vision about where the organization is going to go

This is the healthy heart in our organ transplant comparison. Not knowing what to do is terrifying, so you need to have a strong and clear vision about what you are doing. You need to spend time talking to people about what will be possible as a result of the change. Making change happen may be frightening, but often it’s not as much effort as people initially think. Even then, there is a good chance people will tend to fall back into old habits. As a leader, you have to constantly remind your people what is important for the health and survival of the organization.

Successfully implementing organizational changes, from small incremental changes, to large transformational shifts are difficult for both the company’s leaders and employees. Building a strong case for change that reinforces the vision and benefits of change will help accelerate the adoption of change and make your “recovery time” easier.


David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.



What You Need to Know About Question-Based Consulting

by David Swain

‘Process consulting’ is a question-based approach where a consultant will work one-on-one with their client to develop strategic, targeted solutions. In my opinion, it is the most effective way to create lasting strategies because it ensures that the client drives the changes, not the consultant.

Now, a consultant will not likely refer to himself/herself as a “process consultant”, but you can use the checklist below to know if he/she is utilizing this approach.

A ‘process consultant’ will use insightful questions to:

  • Help clients establish clear objectives and goals
  • Investigate what solutions have been implemented in the past and why they were or were not successful
  • Generate conversation around possible next steps
  • Bring to light various perspectives and unique angles to the problems at hand
  • Look at issues – and solutions –  holistically
  • Finish conservations with actionable steps

Ultimately, a process consultant is not there to tell a client what to do; they’re there to guide the client through his/her own discovery process.
Consider, for example, a difficult math equation. There are two options; the first is to have an expert tell you the answer. The second is to have someone show you the steps to figure out the problem yourself. The quickest solution in this case is probably option number one, but should another problem come along of equal difficulty, you will need to reach out for help again. The most cost effective solution is definitely number two; but it takes an upfront investment of time and effort. Once you have the know-how to do it yourself though, you will be self-reliant in solving similar problems down the road.

Believe it or not, as a consultant employing this approach, I know that I have been successful when I am not hired to return to work on the same problem. If I’ve done my job well, it won’t be needed. With clients being involved in the solution development process, they are (or should be) equipped with the skills and know-how to implement solutions that will serve the organization as a whole, for a long time.



David SwainDavid Swain, BSc Mgmt., MSOD, CEC, PCC with over 30 years’ experience in both coaching the leaders of large organizations and leading them himself.


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