Small Business Improvement in Regional Australia
By Mark Raymond and Clark Scarff
This edition’s organisational case study is a Q&A with Clark Scarff, who is in the final stages of the Vocational Graduate Diploma of Ontological Coaching (DOC) with Newfield Institute. Clark has a very successful coaching, consulting and training business in Geraldton (population of 39,000), in regional Western Australia. Since starting DOC, Clark has applied the learning when working with his clients – with great results.
What stood out in my conversation with Clark was his passion for his work and being true to the body of knowledge of ontological coaching while keeping it relevant for his clients, ensuring it is a good fit for them. How Clark first got to know Alan Sieler is also another example of how connections we make in one area of life often have a habit of showing up in other areas, in Clark and Alan’s case, years later.
MR - Can you tell me about your practice and what led you to do the Vocational Graduate Diploma of Ontological Coaching (DOC)?
CS - Sure, for the last 10 years I have had a business coaching and consulting practice. Initially I started working as a therapist, after I had experienced serious depression several years before and was interested in how we develop as human beings and the challenges we can have. My previous career was a financial planner for 28 years.
After some professional training, I started working with a number of local businesses, mainly helping business owners. I didn’t realise it at the time but I was actually business consulting not coaching them. My first formal experience of coaching was with Coach School in Perth, which runs a highly regarded coach training program and uses many of the ontological coaching principles. It was in this course that I first came across ontological coaching and heard of Alan Sieler and Newfield Institute.
MR - But you had come across Alan Sieler before, as it turned out?
CS - Laughs. Yes, in 1969 in fact. I was making my first class cricket debut for Western Australia against Victoria at the WACA (cricket ground). I was batting and was out caught that day. On first meeting Alan I was told by a colleague that he had played for Victoria around the same time. After checking my scrapbook, I learnt that the fieldsman who caught me was Alan, who had a long and very successful career with Victoria. Interesting synchronicity.
MR - I hope Alan let you forget that. What has stood out for you in doing DOC?
CS - I am not aware of any other program that underpins everything you can do with an organisation – as a coach, consultant or management trainer / speaker. DOC is about what everyone has been doing their entire life – it’s about being human. We’re not teaching anything new here, in a sense, it’s about bringing to people’s awareness what they are already doing. How they perceive the world through the use of language, their communication, the moods and emotions they experience. My experience is that most people don’t have a lot of self-awareness about these things.
MR - You mentioned that you have worked with clients in these areas. What has the response been like?
CS - The response has been really positive. Nearly all of my clients are small businesses. The skills that I have learnt have allowed me to listen better and ask better questions to really understand the issues, both as a coach, consultant and in training leadership teams. Usually the key issues are about people. The systems and processes are normally in place, but something isn’t working with the people, especially as their businesses grow quickly and get bigger.
MR - Can you elaborate on this - the people issues related to businesses that get bigger?
CS - Sure. When a business starts out and has up to 5 or 6 people, everyone knows each other and if someone has an issue, others tend to know and help out. The Managing Director is normally close to everyone and knows what’s going on. Issues are usually quickly spotted and resolved. As businesses grow, to say 10-20 people and beyond, people tend to lose a bit of connection with each other. The senior managers check the numbers regularly, but don’t always check in with the people. Often the managers are good technicians with developing managerial skills. Also it’s rare that a Managing Director, or anyone for that matter, has the whole package. Most have certain skills related to the service or product that the company has been built around, but communication is the key to it all and it’s even more important as the business grows.
MR - Can you describe a typical engagement?
CS - Most of my work now involves longer term engagements of say 12 months with very specific objectives related to communication, culture and relationships. However the engagement is always based on ROI (Return on Investment). After I meet with the Managing Director, I will interview various people in the business to get a broad perspective of the challenges and opportunities facing the business and the desired outcomes. Then significant work is done to identify the range of strategies that will have the best impact.
In most cases, my work involves a combination of half-day workshops with all staff and one-on-one coaching with the senior management team. The workshops I run are 80% on ontological topics - what we learn in DOC - plus other consulting issues relative to where the business is at. The workshops are always with the context and connection to the businesses issues and concerns. One of the key tenets of Ontology is to “observe differently.” The DOC program, amongst many other things, provides you with the distinctions to achieve that. By learning how moods, emotions and language (conversations) play such a critical role in communication, managers, team leaders and staff are able to communicate at significantly higher levels. For example, I am still continually amazed how making better requests can improve both productivity and managerial relationships so quickly. Yet requests are only one of six key language patterns.
MR – Where does coaching fit in to the work you do?
CS - I don’t think that one-on-one coaching is enough when you are working with a management team. In moving a leadership team or a group of managers to a new level all the issues of how we relate to others need to be addressed. Ontological work in seminars allows the group to experience how they can be more effective, as human beings, both in the work environment and in family life. That’s been my experience.
One client said to me after working with his company’s management team, "When you get to know the basics of language, how moods and emotions work, it’s not really that hard is it? We have all been doing it for years."
MR - What’s been the impact on your business?
CS - Since starting DOC in July 2010, we have commenced leadership and team development programs with a number of new and existing small business clients as a direct result of doing DOC.
My business has never been busier or the work more personally satisfying. Doing DOC has added to my skills and previous learning to help clients in a practical way, in particular assist them to deal with the issues that are usually the biggest – issues to do with people’s attitude, mindset, or “the inner work” as I like to call this. Many other coaches and consultants just focus on the “outer work” like goal setting, time management and process improvement. These are all important, but that is often not the real issue. I can’t believe anyone in coaching and consulting wouldn’t seriously consider this course. I am happy to sit back with a smile on my face knowing that I’ve made the investment, have learned a lot and my clients and my business are benefiting.