Sally Bonneywell on Coaching as a Strategic Business Lever
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In this conversation with Sally Bonneywell, we dig into:
- The connection between coaching and business success.
- The importance of safe spaces and challenging conversations.
- Daniel Ofman’s Core Quadrant model — what it is, and how it can help you.
Also mentioned in the podcast:
Michael: My name is Michael Bungay Stanier. You are listening to The Coaching Habit Podcast, where I get to talk to movers and shakers and thinkers and writers and managers and leaders and coaches, all sorts of people, to get a sense of how is coaching showing up in their lives, what tools are they using, how do their lives and others’ lives improve by being more coach-like. It’s an eclectic, diverse group of people, interesting conversations, and no more better guest than my guest today, Sally Bonneywell, or Dr. Sally Bonneywell, as I now have to call her.
I’ve known Sally for 10, 15 years, I think over 15 years. She has been a force for coaching within GSK, with GlaxoSmithKline. When I first met her, she was in HR and OD, but really in the time I’ve known her she came in, she built and led the Coaching Center of Excellence at GSK, so they’re now a team of internal executive coaches plus over 700 other job plus coaches, line managers who are responsible for coaching others. In fact, 2016, they were awarded the ICF Global Prism Award for Excellence in Coaching, which is basically the gold medal in terms of the coaching world. Super impressive.
She has a doctoral thesis, why I’m calling her Dr. Sally Bonneywell now, on how simultaneous individual and group coaching has a significant and highly positive impact on accelerating the development of female leaders in a complex global organization. Interesting stuff, indeed. We get to talk to Sally just as she’s left her career at GSK and is setting out on her own. An interesting time for her. Hey, Sally, welcome.
Sally Bonneywell: Oh, thank you. Thank you for the glowing introduction.
Michael: Oh, it’s a pleasure. I’m super excited to be talking to you ’cause I know this is gonna be a great conversation for everybody listening in.
Sally Bonneywell: Oh, thank you.
Michael: The first question I ask, and it’s a perfect one for you, is what’s the impact you’re looking to have in your work these days? As you know, at Box of Crayons, we’ve talked about doing great work, work that has more impact, work that has more meaning. You’ve just left a career at GSK, so what are you up to? What’s your great work these days?
Sally Bonneywell: Thank you. It’s a little early to say exactly what my great work is after two weeks of leaving GSK. But the work that I have been doing and the work that I want to do with other organizations is really seeing how coaching can be used as a strategic lever to achieve business goals. I’m just doing coaching for the sake of doing coaching ’cause it’s a nice, good thing to do. I’m into coaching for the difference it can make to the business and the difference it makes for people in the business. That’s what’s so powerful. That’s what’s so meaningful, is to see the values of coaching, coaching as a way of being, really making a difference in organizations, not just the activity of coaching. That’s the great work.
Michael: I mean, coaching can sometimes in organizations be put into the, “Oh, it’s a nice thing for HR and they probably keep some engagement stuff happening, which is lovely. Meanwhile, we’ll do the real business over here.” How did you help make that connection between coaching being a driver of business success within GSK?
Sally Bonneywell: Finding what needs to happen in the business. What is it that the business is concerned about and whether that’s amount of sales, whether it’s time to market, whether it’s the success of a new product launch, whether it’s the how to avoid so much attrition in R & D, whatever it is, it’s finding out what that is and seeing how coaching can support that. Whether it’s working with teams or working with groups or individuals. For example, in GSK, like many organizations, there’s a real belief and a desire that having more women at all levels of leadership will be a really good thing because all the research says organizations are much more effective, teams make better decisions, they’re more profitable if they’re more diverse, the leadership teams are.
We put together a rather lovely program called Accelerating Difference, which uses a combination of individual and group coaching so that to support women as they progress. But it was dialogues and it was sponsorship, as well, so it wasn’t just coaching. But it really addressed an issue that people have been wrestling with this issue of how do we get more women on leadership teams, and this is a way of doing it which used coaching and had such a profound impact where you can really measure and say, “Yes, I get much faster promotion, a statistically significant faster promotion, and much higher retention.”
You can really demonstrate the value of it by putting in place that evaluation and so on, by really paying attention to it.
Michael: That’s super cool. Hey, when you say “group coaching,” what do you mean by that? I think most people listening in, if they’ve got any idea of coaching at all, tends to think of the one to one coaching, this “Let’s have our 30-minute or 45-minute chat.” At Box of Crayons, we’re a big proponent of the everyday 10-minutes or less, every conversation can be more coach-like. But your coaching is a new way of thinking about it for me. How does that look like? What does that mean?
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, it’s very specific in that it’s different from teach coaching because there’s no specific goal or task for the group to do. To use that example I just referred to in terms of women, group coaching with these female leaders was where we had six to eight female leaders together and it would be they’d spend four or five hours together with two group coaches who would introduce a topic, for example, self-confidence, self-belief, or self-esteem. They would have a conversation around that, but it would be very much based on the stories about self-confidence that the individual people would bring.
But then the group coach would do some sort of coaching with that with one of the group members, but the other members of the group would then also chip in and do some coaching of each other and then collectively you’d review. What are the themes that have come up? What resources have we got? How are we resourcing ourselves? How can we do that? The benefit is where you get that similar population together. They’re all working in different parts of a business or in different organizations or whatever, but they’ve all got the fact in common, they’re working in organizations where they are often the minority in teams. But they all want to develop.
It’s about learning from each other, but what I’ve found from my study of this was that it really develops the social capital. It helps build that network, it helps build that connection. People don’t feel so alone, which allows them to go to places they wouldn’t have gone to on their own in their individual coaching. They’ll go to other places, as well. There’s a huge utility in it and huge effectiveness. It’s different from team coaching in that where there’s a leader often and there’s a goal or a task and interdependent goals, that’s not what group coaching is about.
Michael: Nice. As I get older, I’m constantly amazed at how universal pretty much all of my experiences are. It’s only me who’s thinking this, feeling suffering like this. Not so much. Turns out that I’m feeling pretty much like everybody else in my position is feeling, as well.
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, that’s exactly it, exactly it. One of the key things that people say is, “It’s so good to realize I’m not alone. Yeah, I thought it was just me who thought like that.” Especially if you’re a minority of any form in a team or in an organization or in an environment, then it’s quite often people turn it in, as you’ve just said, turn it in on themselves. What’s wrong with me? It basically stops them coming forward with ideas and thoughts or contributing in a way they could.
Actually have a safe space where they can have these conversations, they can be challenged, they can receive immediate feedback, and test out ideas, but builds that connection and enables them to grow and develop and be much braver or be able to be more solid when they go back into their normal working environment.
Michael: Nice. You know, I’m thinking of the times when I’m playing the role of a facilitator and you get somebody who sticks up their hand and pushes back or challenges you, and how these days I feel quite grateful for that, a little anxious at the same time, but mostly grateful because if they’re thinking this, it means at least another 30% of people in the room are probably thinking it, as well. But they’ve just been courageous enough to actually say the thing. It’s amazing how just putting that experience on the table, you start to find those connections and that, as you say, social capital.
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah. Exactly. Having a skilled coach who can really listen and who role models coaching and what it is to ask questions and to listen, of course, then, the people in the group learn from that, learn from each other, learn the power of it. People are still thinking for themselves. Then they use that when they go back into their, I say normal lives, but their personal life or work life.
Michael: Right. Sally, one of the things I love about this podcast is we’re not just talking about coaching techniques, we’re talking about the journey the person has been on to become the thinker, the coach, the influencer that they are today. One of the sayings that has always made me laugh and smile and make me go, “Of course,” is this one, which is, “Inspiration is when your past suddenly makes sense.” There’s been those moments in your past that have been crossroad moment where you’ve taken a left instead of a right and somehow you’ve ended up here.
I’m wondering, for you, what’s a crossroad moment that you had, an “A-ha!” moment which has taken you on this journey and got you to where you are today?
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, I can remember it exactly. I was in GSK and I was doing an, as you said, leadership and organization development, and I was very privileged to work with the chief executive and some very, very senior people. We did all sorts of things like chief executive forum, where we’d go away with the top team and we’d do lots of work with high potentials, and it was all very high profile, really some lovely, lovely stuff in lots of ways. I had a year, and I looked back across that year and I’d done some really big reorganization, some restructuring, all that sort of stuff.
But I was also a governor of a school at the time and doing that, I’d had one day where I’d had basically I’d spent a day individually coaching the senior leadership team of this school.
Sally Bonneywell: When I looked back over that year and I thought, “What was the work that made my heart sing? What was the great work? What was the thing that really stood out?” It was the day spent with the school individually working with the senior leadership team of the school. I thought, “Gosh, all this exposure, all this wonderful ego stroking stuff.”
Michael: Right, high-status, high-profile, nice progress being made that you can track.
Sally Bonneywell: Exactly. I thought, “No, no, the thing that really stood out for me was that work I’ve done.” That prompted me, then, to actually say, “How can I do that in GSK? How can I do it?” Then I went and talked to the head of HR and said, “Look, I really think that coaching is the future.” This was 2010. I said, “Coaching is the future. Individualized development,” blah blah blah. I said, “I want to do it. I want to be an internal coach at GSK.” She thought about it and basically, long story short, came back and said yes. But no budget. “You’ll have to do it as a completely self-funding.”
I then took the risk of basically saying, “Okay.” I still got the salary, but I had to demonstrate and sell my services to the business so that it would cover my salary and my employment costs. It was a big risk, but for me, it didn’t feel like a big risk because I knew it was the right thing I needed to do. I needed to do that and I trusted. It worked out.
Michael: Yeah, I love that. I love that last comment around if you view this externally it can feel quite a risky thing to do.
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah.
Michael: There’s something about when you click into that great work, you’re like, “This is just worth going for. I have real faith that I can make this work. I don’t know exactly how yet, but I really think I can pull this off.” Let me get nosy, Sally. I know there’ll be people listening who are going, “God, that’s my situation.” How did you sell yourself? How did you prove yourself? Were there any tactics or particularly, in retrospect, smart things you did that made that work?
Sally Bonneywell: Yes, some which happened by accident and some which I thought through beforehand. I think it was adopting an approach which said this is multiple levels. It was almost creating the market for coaching within the organization. Developing a program which said, “What is coaching all about?” A one-day program to answer the questions of, “What is coaching? What isn’t coaching? How do you take a coaching approach in everyday work?” Very similar to the work that you’ve done and based a lot on the great work that you’ve done and your views.
Michael: Thank you.
Sally Bonneywell: You were a huge influence in that. Also, then, setting up the mechanism, how people could actually then learn and develop their own coaching skills and become these job plus coaches in a boundaried way, but how do we do that? I wasn’t asked to do that. I just grabbed it. I took the remit of, ’cause Claire Thomas, head of HR, said, “You can do this coaching but I want it to be building internal capability of coaching, not just using lots of external coaches.” I interpreted that how I wanted to and developed the-
Michael: I love that.
Sally Bonneywell: -developed these internal job plus coaches and then developed myself by coaching some very, very influential people, very senior, the referent leaders, not necessarily the highest level or highest grade, but the people who people listen to and look to as good leaders or leaders with opinions and influence. I made sure either I coached them or someone else coached them who was a brilliant coach. Then, coaching started to get talked about as a difference it made and people could experience it and people could see it.
Then I made sure that we had brilliant external executive coaches. We did do a sweep through the organization and we cleared out some, we brought in some others, but against some very clear criteria as to what it is that makes an excellent coach. We just made it really easy to buy coaching. We create a very clear process and we delivered on the value of it and put together the evaluation. The evaluation strategy came later. We should have come at the same time, but it didn’t. It came later.
Sally Bonneywell: Then you suddenly think, “Oh, I ought to be measuring this.” So we did. But lots of different things, but really trusting and bringing into it that old maxim of, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”
Michael: I was just about to say exactly that, that whole easier to apologize than to explain. It’s the same thing, which is like, “Okay, some savvy marketing, some savvy using of influencers, and just an entrepreneurial hustle to go, ‘Let’s get something started.'” Once we have something started, we have a prototype, and if it worked, that’s great. If it didn’t work, that’s great; that tells us what we need to do next.
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, exactly that. Experimenting, and going where the energy is because not wasting a lot of time trying to persuade people or sell people on things, but where you’ve got people who show an interest, go with them and just do it. Then it travels word of mouth, travels hugely fast. Then it’s only later that we then built up and doing some things, getting involved in the industry things and external things. You can continue to build that reputation for the organization.
Michael: To keep focused on you and the journey you’ve taken, one of the questions I’m always curious about, because as I look at my own journey and I notice that in my endeavor to become a more effective leader and human and coach, I keep having to do my own work and I keep having to effectively keep learning some lessons time and time again. I’m curious to know what lessons other people have had to learn. As you’ve walked on this path, what’s the hard lesson you had to learn or maybe you keep having to learn?
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, what a good thing to look at. Absolutely the continual development, continual learning. You’ll probably think this is a bit weird, given everything I’ve just said, but it’s about recognizing self-doubt. It’s about letting self-doubt go and seeing it, seeing it when it comes in. There’s a continual voice which says, “Are you good enough? How do you do this?”
Michael: What the hell are you doing, Bonneywell?
Sally Bonneywell: Exactly! Exactly. “Who do you think you are?” Then there’s a whole self-comparison thing about, “Oh, but there’s other people out there who can do it a lot better” or “Is this really important, highly intelligent person really gonna listen to me as a coach” and blah blah blah blah. All of that, and “Is this gonna work” and so on, just trusting my instincts and recognizing the self-doubt, because obviously it served a purpose, it’s kept me safe and blah blah blah. We know all that stuff. But being able to recognize that actually once I start doubting myself and questioning myself I’ll go into a loop and it’s just a waste of time. Just recognizing the doubts, giving them a quick examination, and then letting them go. Not staying in that loop of self-doubt.
Michael: I love the way you’re in some way externalizing or objectifying that voice in your head to say, “Oh, this isn’t necessarily the truth. It’s just a tape that’s playing.” You can get to look at it, see what might be useful in that story, but take that and then not take the rest of the package that comes with it.
Sally Bonneywell: Yes. Exactly, exactly. Recognize, “This is my stuff. I can make it into something really awfulize it and it becomes really big,” but actually it’s cutting that spiral, just stopping it, and saying, “No, you could do that, but actually it’s a waste of time. Just stop it.”
Michael: I love that. I love the word “awfulize.” I haven’t heard that before. I’ve heard of “catastrophize,” which is similar, but “awfulize” is just like you go the bad thing right away and wallow in it. That’s perfect. Sally, as a veteran coach, coach with a doctorate on coaching, I’m sure that you have just seen a ton of tools, methods, processes, things coaches do to have good success. But if you’re like me, you tend to have a few tools or questions or models that you come back to as tried and tested and ones that seem to work with most of the people most of the time. I’m wondering, what’s in your toolbox? What’s an approach, method, process, tool, whatever that you rely on and come back to time and time again?
Sally Bonneywell: There’s a couple that I use. One is that I’ve used for a long time now, but it’s so simple. It’s helping the client, inviting the client, to recognize two lists. What’s their default self? What’s their best self?
Michael: Love it.
Sally Bonneywell: It’s so simple, but there’s something about it that helps them crystallize what’s their natural, default way of operating. What will they tend to do? What’s their habitual way of being? Then, getting them to look at, “Okay, if you’re operating from your best self, what would your best self do, and really what does your best self do in situations?” There’s something by getting them to write it down is just that they can refer to outside of the coaching session so it’s really helping them, giving them the power to be able to do this. That’s what people say is something very simple but really helpful.
The other thing, it’s a model that I’ve come across just in the last year. I’ve found it to be surprisingly really useful. You’ve probably come across it. It’s the Ofman model.
Michael: I don’t think I know this.
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it. But it’s by a guy called Ofman, surprisingly.
Michael: Fair enough, yeah.
Sally Bonneywell: He’s a Dutch guy. It builds on the whole thing about an overdone strength becomes a limitation.
Sally Bonneywell: It takes us to a different level. It’s a quadrinity model, so four aspects to it. You identify your qualities and then you look at what happens when they’re overdone, which he calls, then, they become a pitfall. Then it’s about looking at what’s the negative opposite of the pitfall. It becomes your development challenge. What do you need to develop more of? But the really neat thing of this model which allows you to enter it in many different places is that if you look at the development challenge or thing you need to build up, if that is overdone, then it creates an allergy.
The way you can spot allergies is when you have an allergic reaction to somebody else. If you look at that person, quite often there’s something in there that really actually you need to get a bit more of yourself. This Ofman model, and there’s a very lovely YouTube clip. If you go into YouTube it’s the five-minute animated explanation of this model. But there’s something about it that really suddenly makes a lot of things very clear for people in terms of if they’re having problems, particularly if they’re having problems with their boss or having problems with someone else that’s really irritating them. It just helps them to recognize what they can do about it, not changing the other person, but what they can do and what they can learn from it. It’s a really neat little model.
Michael: I think I follow that, but I’d love you to bring it to life for me. Let’s say that one of my strengths is creativity. I see how being creative is one of the things I’m good at, but when it becomes an overused strength, it just becomes annoying because I’m too scattered, I’m not focused enough, I can’t make a decision, I irritate all the people who are action-oriented, I start 1,000 things and I don’t finish any of them. I’m not saying any of this is true about me right now, but just hypothetically let’s say that that is true about me.
Sally Bonneywell: Yeah, hypothetically.
Michael: That takes me to the extreme. What’s the next step?
Sally Bonneywell: Okay. Let’s just think about it, then, in terms of if you think about somebody who you have an allergic reaction to, someone who just irritates you or you think, “I really couldn’t work with that person.” What would they be like? What are some qualities that they would exhibit?
Michael: They would be bureaucratic. They would be process-focused without seeing the big picture. They would be just overly worried about the minutiae. That’s some of the things that come to mind.
Sally Bonneywell: Yep. Very process-driven or bureaucratic. Quite rigid.
Michael: Yeah, yeah.
Sally Bonneywell: If you then take the step, what is the quality that’s being overdone there? What is something that, in the same way, what’s being overdone there?
Michael: Well, I think adherence to, “We’ve gotta follow the rules” rather than we’re seeing the bigger picture about what we’re actually trying to achieve here. As part of that, more subtly perhaps, there’s a deference to power and embracing of subservience.
Sally Bonneywell: Yes. You could think about it in terms of the use of either structure or looking at it from a perspective of “They are blindly following something without using their own initiative.”
Sally Bonneywell: It’s easier when you write it down…but what you can see is actually there, from that use of either structure or having some semblance of process, actually sometimes with your creativity to help you develop, it might be useful to use some sense of structure or some sense of process.
Michael: Right, the irritating person’s pointing to a middle way where there’s something that they’ve got is valuable, but you’re seeing the most extreme version of that. Instead of rejecting it all, maybe embrace a small part of it.
Sally Bonneywell: Yes, as something that you might want to develop for yourself, ’cause you might benefit from that balance, but also, in terms of seeing that actually they’re not all bad and they do bring something and the fact that it’s overdone. It just helps to understand other people, but also helps in terms of how you might be able to help yourself improve, as well.
Michael: I love that. Sally, this has been such an interesting conversation and that’s such an interesting tool we finished up on. For people who wanna find out more about you and the work you do, I know you’re literally two weeks out from GSK, do you have an after-GSK home or website or something like that?
Sally Bonneywell: I have an email address at the moment and I’m just working on my website.
Michael: Do you know what your website URL will be?
Sally Bonneywell: Yes, it’ll be Bonneywell Development.
Michael: Perfect. BonneywellDevelopment.com or.co.uk?
Sally Bonneywell: .com.
Michael: Perfect. BonneywellDevelopment.com. Now we’ve created some pressure for Sally to get her website up and sorted because thousands of people will be flocking to this URL anytime now. That is perfect. You’ll have a way of contact you on the website when the time is right.
Sally Bonneywell: Exactly.
Michael: Sally, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you. So nice to talk to you again.
Sally Bonneywell: Oh, thank you, Michael. It’s been my pleasure.