“Sometimes, a company doesn’t know what a company doesn’t know.” Claire Cahill, Author and Founder of Accendo Coaching and Training, speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.

As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.

This week, we had a great conversation with Claire Cahill at Accendo, who began her career in the financial services industry before moving on to found her own coaching and training company in 2012, and going on to publish her 2016 book, Empowering Employee Engagement.

Can you tell us about how you developed Accendo and where your career in training and development started?

When I left school, I’d always had a goal to be a bank manager. I achieved my goal by the time I was 24, and I was running my own branch and working with all the people that had trained me when I’d started working for the building society, which was a bit of a surreal experience. I’ve always been somebody that’s set goals and always wanted to aim for the next best thing, so I set up Accendo Coaching and Training after the birth of my second son. 

Financially, I had no option but to return to work, so I went back to work after six months. Emotionally, I really struggled, so I decided to take some time out, and went off sick for 12 weeks. During those 12 weeks, I just really needed to reconnect with myself, what I enjoyed about my job, and where I wanted to go in the future, and that’s where I came across coaching.

I attended a two-day coaching workshop with The Coaching Academy, and suddenly, even though I had been in a confidence crisis, within 24 hours, I’d got my confidence back. I realised that it was actually coaching that was my real passion—it was having that desire to unlock the potential in other people, but I realised that in order to do that, I had to unlock my own.

I also signed up to do a Corporate and Executive Diploma, because the corporate world is what I’ve always known. It was upon completion of my Personal Performance Diploma that I then set up Accendo Coaching and Training and decided to run that business alongside my employed role and use the opportunities that I’d had in a leadership role to bring my external experience into the corporate world. That’s what I’ve done up until this year, when I decided to put all my energy and focus into my coaching and training business and leave my job of 29 years.

Employee engagement became my particular focus back when I was a Team Manager in a contact centre. I had a real connection with my new boss—who really understood coaching—and we talked about where I wanted my career to go and what opportunities could be created in that work environment. She asked for a volunteer to take some disengaged employees and put them in a team, so I instantly said, ‘This is right up my street, I’ll take them.’ 

I love a challenge, and here the challenge was to take them on a 12-week journey of self discovery using all my coaching skills and allow them to either decide the role wasn’t for them and move on, or reignite them back into the business, increase employee engagement, and allow them to stay. All nine of them embraced the challenge and were reignited back into the business. Their performance increased as a result of their employee engagement increasing, and all of them have subsequently gone on to live the life that they want to live. That 12-week intensive coaching got them to understand who they were and what made them tick.

I have written a book about what that 12-week journey was for those individuals, and at the end of the book, I share their success stories. That’s something I can now roll out in other organisations. I did work with these individuals every day for those 12 weeks, but you don’t need to—it’s about starting that process off and following it up. My ideal client would be middle managers who I could help to develop those coaching skills and tools so that they can then use them with their team and other stakeholders, but I could even work with senior leaders so they could develop those skills themselves and share them with their stakeholders to increase employee engagement.

What have you found to be the prevalent themes in employee engagement? What challenges have you seen your clients face?

For me, it’s about staff retention. I’ve seen high turnover in some organisations because the staff are disengaged, they’re not happy, they’ve not had those regular one-to-one conversations they need, they may not have had structured development plans in place, they may not feel valued, or their personal values could be out of sync with company values. As a result, companies face high attrition and low retention. High absence would also typically indicate your employees aren’t engaged and there’s something going on. It’s important to understand what the root cause is.

That then leads into the health and wellbeing of employees. We spend a phenomenal amount of time at work, so the challenge for employers is, how can you make that time employees are at work an enjoyable experience? How can you encourage your employees to be their best selves? I think a big part of that is your employees fully understanding their own health and wellbeing and taking responsibility for it, and having a safe environment where you can have those two-way conversations about what is healthy and what is unhealthy, whether that be physically or emotionally.

Organisations facing these challenges need to be aware of their employee engagement problems before they can tackle them, but some tell-tale signs would be high attrition, high absence, and no increase in individual performance. When organisations recognise engagement is low or attrition is creeping up, it’s time to reach out and get help, whether that be from HR within the organisation or an external source. Sometimes, it’s better to go outside the organisation for a fresh perspective. 

If I were to come in as a coach or a trainer, for example, I might ask the questions that nobody else would ask because I don’t know the answer to them, whereas when you work within an organisation, you might make an assumption as to what the answer is, and making assumptions can be fatal. 

Even if a business is successful, there can be complacencies and an attitude of, ‘This is the way we’ve always done it, so why change?’, but you need to do that to grow, so an outside perspective could help them uncover problems and potential solutions in a unique way. Sometimes, a company doesn’t know what a company doesn’t know.

An external person with no preconceived thoughts or ideas about any member of the teams they work with could also help these teams resolve internal conflict far quicker than the internal organisation, and ask new questions about the business or individual performance to aid staff development through natural curiosity that’s free from any internal agenda. If you had an external person come in, they’d ask you what goals you wanted to achieve, help you achieve those goals by challenging you in a supportive way, and walk away, whereas sometimes internally that challenge can feel like it’s criticism.

If there were three things that you’d share with a client who was struggling with engagement or retention, what would you give them that’s quick and easy to implement?

A mood board is definitely one of them—throughout the day, your employee would say whether they’ve got a green smiley face, an orange straight face, or a red sad face, and then it’s about asking what needs to happen to move them along that scale.

I also like using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which is a case of asking your team where they are on the triangle currently. If they’re just coming to work because it’s safe, it’s secure, and it pays the bills, but they don’t have a sense of belonging in that team, that would indicate they need some help to get them further up the triangle.

Fisher’s Change Curve is great—when people are going through change, get your employees to plot where they are on that curve, because we’ll all move along it in different ways—some of us love change and will seek it out, and others avoid it like the plague because it’s too uncomfortable. 

I plotted and discussed the curves in one-to-ones with my Team Leaders, they’ve gone on to do it with their teams, and it’s enabled them to have really effective coaching conversations in one-to-ones that empowered the employee to decide how they were going to move through that change, because a lot of the time in business, we just give employees change. We don’t always share where that change comes from, and fundamentally, as an employee, you just want to know ‘What’s in it for me?’. Once they do, they’ll move very quickly through that change curve. 

If somebody does get stuck on the curve, it’s about having the conversations necessary for them to move through it, and if they don’t get stuck, it’s about allowing them to just go with the flow in a way that empowers them to support those who are stuck through it.

With any of these tools, it’s about creating a culture where it’s safe to express how we’re genuinely feeling, and that whatever that genuine feeling is, it will not be judged,  but an opportunity to see the reality of working in an organisation. It’s about recognising where each member of the team fits and enabling them to achieve their own individual goals, and if somebody’s not performing, using the strengths of the other members to help them.

Can you talk a little bit about your journey in terms of your book, Empowering Employee Engagement?

Once I’d had the success that I’d had with that team of disengaged employees—which I called my Ignite team—I thought, ‘Do you know what? I’ve got material for a book here. Maybe that’s my next goal.’

I went to a networking event and met up with a lovely lady called Deborah Taylor who happened to be a book coach. She lived down in Brighton and I’m in Chesterfield, but the law of attraction is a funny thing—you’re meant to meet these people on your way. I used to Skype her or phone her, and that’s how we’d do coaching. She helped me flesh out the material and self-publish—I’m published on Amazon.

What makes my book unique is my exploration of how I’ve used coaching theory to either grow myself as an individual, or grow other people. My book is all about change, and change starts with the man in the mirror. You need to look at yourself, accept yourself—warts and all—and understand yourself before you can start to understand other people.

The book took about 12-18 months to write, and I published it in December 2016, when I also won Executive Coach of the Year with The Coaching Academy. 2016 really came together and spring boarded me into working with organisations and getting individual coaching clients. People can buy the book and implement what’s in it, but it may be that you need me to come in to deliver it. Some of my Team Leaders bought the book, read it, and asked me to use it on them so they understood it before they used it on their employees. Even though they’d read the book, they still needed to experience it themselves before they could use it fully with the team. I think that unless you’ve experienced good coaching, you’ll never appreciate it.

Claire has been working as a Corporate and Executive Performance Coach since 2012, and provides coaching programmes for organisations challenged by employee engagement, and individuals seeking personal development.

If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.


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“Sometimes, a company doesn’t know what a company doesn’t know.” Claire Cahill, Author and Founder of Accendo Coaching and Training, speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.