Can introducing a coaching culture save lives and prevent disasters?

The objective of Leadership Lessons is to help to explain how executive coaching can help leaders to make informed decisions, through the use of current news stories. In particular, this article explores if introducing a coaching culture could help to prevent disasters similar Grenfell Tower fire from re-occurring.

The greatest gift of all, is life. Organisations don’t tend to include ‘protect life’ within their organisational values because protecting and cherishing life is part of human culture and therefore an unwritten rule. This article challenges whether we can begin to break the predictable pattern of man-made disasters, mainly caused through a cost-cutting mindset and the desperate need to please shareholders.

With any disaster, the BIG questions are: 
  • Who is responsible?
  • Why did it happen?
The world’s worst disasters have in the main, been caused by man through limiting assumptions.
  1. The Chernobyl accident in 1986 was the result of a flawed reactor design.  Predicted death toll 200,000
  2. The Bhopal disaster in 1984 manufactured Carbaryl. When sales declined, the owners of the plant began to cut costs including cutting employees. This resulted in less frequent mantainance and lower grade steel parts which led to the disaster. Death toll 15,000.
  3. Kuwaiti Oil Fires in 1991 Hussein sent men to blow up Kuwaiti oil wells rather than let anyone else benefit from them.
  4. Love Canal near Niagra Falls 2001 – sat on top of 21,000 tons of toxic industrial waste that had been buried underground in the 1940s and ’50s by a local company.

See the other disasters at http://content.time.com/time/specials

This article suggests that disasters happen and lives are lost through making decisions based upon limiting assumptions and how each assumption can be challenged through executive coaching.

Limiting assumption 1

In the case of the Grenfell fire, having read through the specification for Reynobond PE panels, Arconic clearly states that the fire performance of Reynobond PE panels is ASTM E84 – Passed Class A which is a low flame spread (National Fire Protection Association). Limiting assumptions were held by the marketing team believing that promotional wording will always be perceived the same be everyone. I for one would think that “low flame spread” would have deemed the product safe for use, however, someone more qualified in this type of product might perceive this differently.

How can executive coaching help with Limiting Assumption 1?  

Good executive coaches work with the whole board to help them understand, question limiting assumptions using double loop learning to explore all the options and prevent future disasters. Our executive coach is also a Fellow of the Institute of Marketing and combines this expertise with coaching to help boards with marketing strategy though coaching; she works with leaders from public and private sector to spot and exploit ethical opportunities for growth which have also highlighted a number of risks that many boards have previously missed. Executive coaching helps to leaders to evaluate their values and ensures that marketing decisions and strategies align with them.

Limiting assumption 2

Some believe that there is still a place for Cost Leadership / cutting costs mindset alone. The Grenfell fire and other disasters proved that cutting essential costs lives.  The Telegraph reported that: “Minutes of a KCTMO meeting seen by Grenfell Action Group showed that a report by construction consultants Rand Associates had found that £105 million needed to be spent on the TMO’s entire housing stock by 2017, but that the organisation was only planning to spend £38 million, a shortfall of £67m.”  Research indicates that the Rand report was significantly altered to hide the truth from residents. Hiding information to this degree is an example of cost leadership and is a limiting assumption.

Ironically once again, the limiting assumption of a cost leadership mindset has cost the responsible organisation far more in financial resources mainly in losing so many lives.

How could adopting a coaching culture at board level help with Limiting Assumption 2?

Executive coaching techniques used for overcoming Assumption 1 will be applied, however, in this case, the problem goes far deeper. Leaders are under so much pressure to achieve cuts that they sometimes cut corners in order to protect their jobs and families. The ‘cost cutting message’ is then cascaded throughout the organisation to front line staff.  An example of this is that Council contracts tend to be awarded to the cheapest bid, however, in order to win the work, businesses cut costs in order to deliver the job at a profit. Nobody wins. How much more can we cut? I have written a LinkedIn article about Cost Leadership strategies.

Limiting assumption 3

Over-trusting brand promise and trends: There was a general trend across the UK for using cladding to improve aesthetics and reduce energy consumption. There is a mindset of: “if others are doing it, we trust it is fine and must follow.”

No matter what the brochures say, organisations will trust the product more if others are using it: “It must be safe if …”. This unfortunate trend reminds me of another man-made disaster: the thalidomide disaster, in the 1960s, where the craze for the ‘wonder drug’ was actually a poorly tested morning sickness cure which resulted in thousands of deformed babies being born.

How could adopting a coaching culture at board level help with Limiting Assumption 3?

Critical thinking is essential to boards in all organisations to become smart decision makers. To become skilled in critical thinking, boards and leaders must be able to think systematically, analyse each part, assess it for quality and then improve it.  When making decisions, boards and leaders should question how accurate the information is that led a decision. Executive Coaching allows leaders, CEOs, boards, managers the time to think clearly and critically using powerful questioning, listening and reflection.

Limiting assumption 4

Unrealistic legislation targets: Organisations are under constant pressure to reduce carbon emissions to a budget, and in some cases, they resort to desperate measures and install dangerous cladding. The Grenfell fire has caused devastating damage to our planet through carbon dioxide from the fire, materials and personal possessions which will need to go to landfill (not recyclable) and the environmental cost of building a new tower block.

How can executive coaching prevent another man-made disaster?

There is an unfortunate pattern that leads to disaster – until leaders and their boards value life over cost-cutting to please shareholders, there will be more man-made disasters.

  1. Shareholders / leaders are under pressure to cut costs / create more profit
  2. Their service / product is damaged by less attention / competence (because essential skills / quality has been cut)
  3. Broken service / product causes a disaster – loss of lives / environmental damage
  4. Questions asked.
  5. Blame culture.
  6. Court case
  7. Tighter risk assessment
  8. Shareholders / leaders / demand / under pressure to cut costs / create more profit
  9. This pattern continues …

Conclusion

Introducing a coaching culture at board level can break the current “cost-cutting mindset” which has resulted in the above pattern of behaviour which leaders to disasters similar to Grenfell.

Coaching must start at the top and leaders must lead by example … 

Sources:

  • https://www.arconic.com/aap/north_america/en/product_info_page.asp?info_page_id=534&prod_id=1534
  • https://www.arconic.com/aap/north_america/catalog/pdf/specifications/ReynobondPESpecs.pdf
  • http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/17/warnings-deathtrap-high-rise-building-cladding-ignored-decades
  • https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/26/grenfell-tower-cladding-linked-to-fire-pulled-from-sale-worldwide