By Ooi May Lee

I have been in Human Resources for the past 25 years, exposed to various industries ranging from manufacturing, FMCG sales & marketing to complex management. I was a HR Generalist, knowledgeable and competent to manage HR operations for the organizations that I was attached to over the years.

I was happy doing what I did. Yes, I did change jobs over the years but that was to gain more exposure and experience, and of course to earn a better income. But generally, I was comfortable with my HR Generalist work and felt I was doing a good job.

Then ‘change’ happened in the form of a new superior, Mr. C, a newly promoted General Manager (Operations). I felt my whole world at work fell apart. Mr. C was a ‘numbers’ person (not a ‘people’ person) and preferred to look at statistics, instead of people. I was struggling to get through to Mr. C in our weekly sessions/meetings. I was at my wit’s end and was considering leaving the organization. But I didn’t want to give up that easily.

For the next few weeks, I pondered and asked myself what I wanted to do. Have I been complacent all these years? Have I been true to myself? I knew ‘Executing HR Operations’ didn’t bring me much joy in recent years – it was just a job….something I was familiar with and it was ‘doable’, something ‘safe’. ‘Managing People Development’ instead, had always excited me. That prompted me to do some online research on what opportunities there were in the people development arena…..and articles on ‘Coaching’ constantly popped up on my laptop screen.

As I read through the coaching articles and asked my trainer/coach friends about coaching and its relevance to people development, that got me interested to find out more information about how I can be a Certified Coach.

Before I knew it, I was asking Mr. C whether he would allow me to take up a Coaching Certification program so that I can acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, tools and resources to become the Internal Coach at my Company. He did (somehow or other, I had managed to convince him)…..that was the CAC program from Corporate Coaching Academy in 2018/2019.

After taking the CAC program, I felt I had changed….in a GOOD way. I started to see things in a different perspective, in a more positive and curious manner. The type of questions I asked changed, the conversations I had with Mr. C, my fellow colleagues and even with my family members and friends changed, my listening skill improved…..I was amazed how the program ‘changed’ me (I didn’t realize it then, but the coach in me started to appear).

I was using the 3 Stage Coaching Model of See, Say & Do and its 10 Coaching Milestones in my coaching sessions with my internal coachees in the Company – making the shift from directive to non-directive leadership. I had acquired Empowerment and empathy skills to become people smart and a people strategist. As an Internal Coach in the Company, I was able to help my internal coachees look at the intrinsic aspect of their performance and for them to gain high self-awareness to move forward. I was applying the High Performance Coaching model with them; brainstorming and co-creating with them to find solutions and help them make behavioural changes successfully and to sustain those changes.

All the changes (in me and my coachees) and my Internal Coaching sessions were going well. My relationship with Mr. C had improved tremendously since I took the CAC program as I was able to indirectly ‘coach’ him and made him aware about his leadership style that needed some ‘tweaking’. He was appreciating the need to engage with people rather than just looking at the bottom line. I was feeling on top of the world as I was enjoying my new role (in people development) and was happy how the Internal Coaching program had rolled out in the Company.

Then in March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic came to Malaysia and the whole country was locked down. The Company was hard-hit by lockdowns at our customers’ countries and our export sales dropped by eighty percent. From thereon, the Senior Management stopped all people development activities (including my Internal Coaching program) and went to ‘business survival mode’ till April 2021. As a result, I was ‘thrown back’ to execute HR operations once again at the Company.

What happened next? Well, the Senior Management decided to do another round of company restructuring and the HR Department was transferred to be under Finance. In May 2021, I started reporting to the Financial Controller, Mr. L. It was another major shift in my superior’s leadership style once again as Mr. L was the dominant type (DISC leadership profiling) and used directive leadership.

I told Mr. L that I would like to continue on with my Internal Coaching program as I would like to help my internal coachees progress forward during this pandemic period. Mr. L was not keen on people development; he just wanted to get the business going (as overseas market was opening up). I was instructed to focus on HR operations, ensure adherence to the government’s Covid-19 SOPs and bring in manpower to support the production of our products for export.

Two years after my CAC program, I was pondering and asking myself (again) what I wanted to do. This time around, there were more doubts, more challenges, more obstacles to consider/think about as the pandemic was not only affecting businesses but it was causing every individual some form of agony/misery, including me.

The very important question that lingered on my mind was ‘Should I stay on in HR Operations or should I move to People Development?’ That was what I was asking myself again and again, for a couple of weeks. If I was to choose People Development, I would not be able to stay at my current company. I would need to move to another company as Mr. L was not interested for me to execute any people development activities in my current Company.

I thought back about all the Internal Coaching sessions that I have had (during pre- pandemic time) and how much I had enjoyed them. I loved how I have changed (after taking the CAC program) and became a Non-Directive Leader – the positive impact my new leadership style had on my immediate staff (they had given me good feedback). The improvement in the HR Department – how the staff worked well with me, appreciated my assistance, how morale was boosted ….other Departments were not experiencing this kind of positive leadership (the coach in me became clearer as the days went by).

I had started thinking maybe I could execute more people development activities, maybe not at my current company but somewhere else. I did not need to restrict myself to one company; I did not need to tie myself down as a full-time employee. With all that in mind, I told Mr. L that I had decided to pursue my People Development dream and will leave the company after I had served the required notice.

In the meantime, I had registered to take the CPC program with Corporate Coaching Academy as I had wanted to acquire the knowledge and skill to be a professional coach. So after 2 years, I was back at the Academy (via virtual classes) to learn from Dr. Michael. It was a major decision for me, with a lot of uncertainties. But the thought that I would be able to help more people develop their potential (after I have completed the program) made me feel energised and willing to take whatever risk that may come along.

However, on and off, the fear and the low self-confidence would reappear and I would be questioning myself whether I had made the right decision. But it was too late to ‘regret’ my actions. I could only look forward and try to make the best of things. I knew I had to change/reframe my ‘Doubt’ and ‘Significant’ frames to ‘Trust’ and ‘Game’ – just like how I had helped my past coachees. So ‘Reframing’ has become a very good tool for me to use on myself as well as my coachees.

As I took the virtual classes, I found that the CPC program was very helpful to me NOW. I think if I had taken it directly after my CAC program 2 years ago, I may not have been ready for it then but now, the 4 coaching niches – Life, Executive, Business and Organizational – made a lot of sense to me.

I guess it was also about the ‘right timing’. I had recently ‘connected’ back with the Operations Director of the medical centre (Mr. S) that my mother went to after she suffered a major stroke. At that time, we were visiting the centre daily and saw instances of poor service due to the indifference of some of the nursing staff. Members of my family had brought this up with Mr. S and from that exchange, he learned of my position as a HR Manager and we had spoken about people development. When I reconnected with Mr. S recently, he had asked whether I could help him build his nurses’ communication and leadership skill through group coaching activities. So voila! Whatever I learned at my virtual CPC classes could be applied with the nurses/coachees.

Even from the very beginning, when I spoke to the Operations Director, Mr. S, I had used the Coaching Protocol – Trial session and Contracting – that I had learned in class. As Mr. S was the sponsor, I had used the resources taught to me in class to find out his expectations and set up the ‘contract’. We had done so many mock coaching exercises in class that it was ‘easy’ to talk to Mr. S, ask powerful questions to understand his goals and expectations.

The key coachee/client was the Sister Nurse, Ms. CC. I had done a Contracting session with her to ‘connect’, understand her end goal – ‘To have an exceptional team of nurses’ and set up the ‘contract’.

Then we moved on to the Discovery stage where I asked Ms. CC to tell me her story so that we can identify the areas of focus that we can work on to get her to her end goal. I had asked Ms. CC some powerful questions, practised deep listening and had a tight conversation with her (all coaching principles that I had learned during my CAC and CPC programs) to ‘clarify and challenge’ her to ensure that I received accurate ‘small stories’ from her for each area of focus.

At the Discovery stage, we managed to identify three (3) areas of focus and their desired outcomes for us to work on. Firstly, Right Leadership Style with the outcome all the existing 15 patients shall be happy and no complaints on the nursing care. Secondly, Right Work System with the outcome the medical centre shall be able to cater to an additional 14 patients on the new floor. Finally, Shared Vision/Values with the outcome no complaints from the existing 15 patients and any new patients that stay at the medical centre.

After we have identified the 3 areas of focus, we moved to the Deep Learning stage. When asked which area of focus was the highest priority, Ms. CC had said Right Leadership Style. She informed me when she has the Right Leadership Style, the second and third area of focus will be easier to execute and achieve.

At Deep Learning stage, I ‘co-created’ with Ms. CC to identify what can be done to achieve the Right Leadership Style. Ms. CC informed she will do a leadership profiling test to find out what kind of leader she is and how the nurses will be affected by her leadership style.

We had discussed what needed to be done on the current weak work system and the fact that the current team of nurses were not aware about the company vision/values/behaviour. Ms. CC said she needed to train up her team of nurses and ensure the nurses were all knowledgeable and competent in their medical nursing work. An action plan was set up to be executed over the next 2 months.

Thereafter, we had a few more sessions over the next month to discuss on the other 2 areas of focus; Right Work System and Shared Vision/Values.

Once we had finalized the areas of focus, their desired outcomes and what needs to be done for each area of focus, we moved to ‘Action Confirmation’ stage where we listed out the actions in a Goal Plan so that Ms. CC and I were on the same page about what needs to be done and she was ‘committed’ to the Goal Plan.

At the Tracking stage, Ms. CC had agreed for me to use ‘shadow coaching’ on her when she conducted her monthly meeting with her staff as well as when she interviewed candidates for staff nurse positions in the centre.

I continued to have follow-through sessions with Ms. CC at regular intervals over the next 2 months to track, monitor and provide feedback to her on her progress and how her future actions can be further improved. ‘Change’ to her behaviour, her actions, etc., ensuring the change ‘continues’ and ‘checking’ in on her actions were the coaching milestones that I was practising.

In the final stage of the Coaching Protocol, called Auditing, Ms. CC and I went through her Coaching Progress Report and we discussed about her successes, challenges, strategies, learning, experiences, etc. for each area of focus. At this point, the session was a reflective one to measure the ROI of our coaching relationship. We were at the last coaching milestone, ‘Close’.

It was a very fulfilling coaching relationship that I had with Mr. S, Ms. CC and all the staff at the medical centre. Working with my first professional client (the medical centre) had taught me that there is so much that can be learned and done if we use all the coaching tools, techniques and resources actively and understand our client/coachee’s outer self (head), inner self (heart) and body language (hand). The Coaching Protocol with the 3 Stage Coaching Model and 10 Coaching Milestones had helped instil confidence in my client towards me as it provided clear direction as to how the coaching will be carried out. This whole experience has convinced me that I had chosen the right path to switch to people development.

The journey that I have travelled from Permanent Employee to Certified Coach has been a very interesting one. I do not know where it will lead me. But what I do know is I am now ready to continue my journey within the realm of helping people realize their potential because I have FOUND the coach in me.

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