fbpx

Case Study: Robert, COO

A case study on how a COO went from not able to obtain executive buy-in to gaining constant support for his requests and initiatives, through specialized executive communication and persuasion coaching.

Executive Summary

This case study presents the process and results obtained through a 6-month communication and persuasion coaching program with Robert, COO of a Fortune 500 healthcare company.

It details the initial approach, situation evaluation, solution proposal, execution and results obtained.

"Vasco's coaching was of great value navigating the executive eco system. I was given great tools, and practical ones at that, to better convince some skeptical members of the executive commitee"

Robert was a newly-minted COO. He was brought in to replace a previous COO, taking care of all operational matters within the company, as well as some financial ones.

However, Robert was facing several challenges in his first 90 days. The most serious ones included:

  • Since the previous COO had been replaced in a not-entirely-consensual way, he had “poisoned” his team before leaving, leaving behind several loyalists that did not respect him – or that in some cases, challenge him outright;
  • He did not have the blessing of the entire executive team. The replacement of the previous COO had not been agreed upon among the whole executive team. Therefore, while there were no open enemies in the executive team, Robert didn’t have any great friends either;
  • Robert didn’t have all the necessary qualifications. The executive search process had included, on multiple occasions, Robert being told that “he didn’t fulfil all the criteria”, which created a lot of impostor syndrome for him;

Background

Case Evaluation

From the standpoint of persuasion and communication, this seemed like a great fit. Although there was a minor component of impostor syndrome that could be addressed with some sessions focused on personal development and identity reinforcement, the executive relations component seemed easily addressable with persuasion techniques.

Therefore, my first considerations were that Robert’s situation could be greatly improved by simply focusing on some easy and practical influence tools that could be used both to gain influence in the short-term, but also to cultivate powerful alliances in the long-term.

"Since our first sessions that I instinctually knew Vasco has straight to the point. Very pragmatic, hands-on, and focused on my best interests. Knowledgeable and respectable from day one"

In terms of actual persuasion and communication techniques, multiple ones were contemplated, including the application of:

  1. Presence techniques, including improving vision and charisma, cultivating intensity in terms of body language, emotional vulnerability, among other aspects;
  2. Objection-Handling techniques for executive situations, including:
    1. Techniques for provoking said objections (including techniques such as negative anchoring or exclusion confirmation); 
    2. Techniques for responding to said objections, including logical answers in the “UP” format, as well as using techniques such as Diagnosing to flip the power dynamic on others;
  3. Reciprocity techniques, including giving with certain modifiers (making it unexpected or with a sacrifice), as well as applying a personal touch, making others feel appreciated and understood;
  4.  Closing techniques, including techniques to position initiatives or requests in a better light by both leveraging effort manipulation and context manipulation techniques;

Solution Consideration & Selection

Execution

The first few sessions with Robert were focused on auditing the current situation. Knowing who his biggest “fans” and his biggest detractors were. We immediately identified a problem with the Chief Revenue Officer, who had a fairly aggressive personality type and was siloing important information Robert needed as COO.

This conflict was tackled by identifying the CRO’s influence archetype and tailoring Robert’s language to best connect with him. Combined with empathy, this helped disarm the CRO and make him more open, helping focus on how he could win and what he would gain.

Soon, Robert started moving beyond assessing the current situation in operational terms and actually suggesting changes. And for this, obtaining buy-in from the board for his initiatives was crucial. We worked on how to optimize facts using the “UP” model, as well as training Robert in objection handling for when these came.

Aside: A more personal issue manifested here, in the form of fear and cynicism on Robert’s part. Due to some aggressiveness and hostility by some other executives, Robert had become conditioned to think that he would not be listened to, creating a kind of “trauma”.

Besides persuasion itself, we took a break to deal with the “inner game” component, visualizing success scenarios but also drilling for negative situations so that Robert could more easily deal with the possible negative feedback from other execs.

After some months, the situation had improved. Many executives already trusted Robert and supported his initiatives, but things still weren’t being executed on time or consistently.

Therefore, we moved the focus of our sessions to closing. Using techniques such as implementation intention and trial closing to help drive compliance in other executives, and immediately tease out the objections they may have to properly deal with them.

We not only extensively rehearsed answers for the most common objections and blockers, but also compiled them in a shortlist that Robert could easily have at hand, to have a ready answer for multiple scenarios. Also, we focused on how to guarantee compliance for different scenarios.

At the end of the initial 6-month coaching program, Robert was able to perform multiple optimizations as a COO, but more than that, he was able to consistently obtain support for his initiatives and requests from the rest of the executive team.

Robert noted specific improvements in aspects such as:

  • Persisting in the face of skepticism and objections;
  • Being able to clearly articulate the value proposition to other executives;
  • Tailoring his communication to different personality types, to more easily convince them;
  • Positioning himself with more authority and power in meetings;
  • Being able to consistently defuse emotional situations, persuading irritated or offended people; 

Conclusion & Results

"I cannot thank Vasco enough for his insights on the executive communication process. I was at a good place before the coaching, but I am now at a completely different level."