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  • Writer's pictureStuart Wesley

Business Improvement in an Agricultural Software Development Company

by Stuart Wesley

Stuart Wesley completed the Graduate Diploma of Ontological Coaching in 2011 after first encountering significant aspects of the work in a previous coaching diploma through Coach School in Western Australia. Since that time he has been applying the work in various contexts with great success.

This case study focuses on the application of the ontological methodologies in a software development company called Agworld. This company has developed a cloud based farm management system that connects consultants, agronomists, suppliers and growers in the agriculture sector.

Agworld was founded in 2010 and by 2013 when Stuart commenced his engagement it had grown to 50 staff located in Perth, Sydney, New Zealand, USA and South Africa. The rapid growth had led to a culture that was diluted and inconsistent with the founder’s vision. It was characterised by sloppy communication, unclear reporting lines and a lack of accountability. In particular, the highly talented executive team was performing well below its potential.

The initial work was to provide executive coaching for the CEO. As an experienced operator who had been involved in many learning and development programs, the CEO was somewhat sceptical as to the value of coaching. It was a case of “been there done that, got the t-shirt.” However, on the strength of the recommendation of a trusted colleague he proceeded. The concept of assessments and the construction of personal reality became crucial and liberating distinctions for him. In the third coaching session he invited Stuart to propose a learning and development intervention designed to deal with the destructive conflict that was occurring and, more importantly, shape a culture that would support his vision.

Given the start-up status of this business it was decided that there was an opportunity to build the culture from the ground up through the application of the ontological distinctions.

A 10-month program was commenced which involved bi-monthly half day workshops with the executive team plus monthly coaching sessions. In addition to this, bi-monthly 2-hour seminars with the entire Perth based staff were conducted. The workshops and seminars were designed to deliver key content and the coaching was designed to enable the embedding of the content into the professional (and personal) lives of the executive team.

The content was based solidly in the Newfield Conversational Technology material. The DISC model of human behaviour was used companywide to provide a framework for awareness of self and others. The idea that “we do not see the world as it is but as we are” quickly began to gain traction. The various programs developed were based on the application of the ontological methodology for leadership and business improvement.

The gradual introduction of ontological distinctions made an immediate positive impact. The CEO Doug Fitch commented:

“Rather than teaching us techniques Stuart unlocked our potential by enabling our people to use language and conversations to create the business we wanted. As a team we were no longer victims of what was happening but powerful co-creators of our company and contributors to the mission. Due to new understandings around human interaction, the Board and also staff were able to honestly address their conflicts and renew their working relationship. Stuart facilitated this process enabling honesty, safety and transparency.”

The enthusiastic response of the executive team led to them taking the initiative and applying their learning by teaching it to others. For example, after introducing the Making and Managing Commitments Model the executive team decided to teach this to the rest of the staff in a lunch and learn program. As a result a declaration was made that a standard conversational practice would be the use of this model to navigate what had been the tricky space of commitments.

A further development occurred in the application of the Grounding Assessments process. The Technical Services Manager realised that grounding assessments did not only relate to the day-to-day inter-personal communication of the business but also to the making of business decisions and the development of product features. Consequently, tools were developed that provided a framework for sound decision-making that included (i) communicating the process and rationale for each decision and (ii) ensuring precise solution specification. The beneficial flow on effects from the application of these tools were:

  • organisational learning - determining whether a specific course of action is the right action at the right time; and

  • increased the speed of gaining trust of all stakeholders for the sake of: greater efficiency, greater productivity and increased wellbeing.

Another key application occurred in the call centre where the sales team centre developed sensitivity to the mood of the room. Given the seasonal nature of agriculture the team developed strategies to maintain a resourceful mood during the seeding period when growers are typically not as available to take their calls and buy their product.

Sales have increased as the team has learned to make effective requests and as the developers, sales and support and commercial people have had more effective conversations. In the sales team the emphasis has shifted from making a sale to making an offer. This has led to an alignment of purpose between the sales person and the potential client. The sales person is not trying to ‘get something from the potential client’ but offering something of great value. These shifts have been significant for the sense of enjoyment the sales team is getting from their work.

In summary, the ontological approach has provided this business with a shared language through which to solve the business issues they face on a daily basis. The CEO summed up the value of gained from the ontologically based intervention by stating:

“Unlocking the talent within the people and business has increased our ability to grow our innovation and deliver business objectives in a sustainable and enjoyable way.”

To contact Stuart Wesley email

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