You nurture, you grow

Oct 10 2007 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

A study conducted by Kimberly-Clark has concluded that business improvements are four times more likely, when senior executives mentor and encourage their senior managers' coaching and development efforts.

Quite why this came as a surprise to the learning and development director, Rick Woodward, whose group undertook the study, is beyond me. Surely it's obvious that when people are supported and encouraged, they tend to perform better - don't they ?

Just take the parent child relationship and the positive and negative transactions which take place in our formative years. This is really nothing new and was of course, well documented by Eric Berne in his early theory of Transactional Analysis, which was originally developed in the 1950's.

Even today, Modern Transactional Analysis theory splits the Parent ego state into four quadrants. Nurturing and Structuring as positive quadrants; Spoiling and Critical as negatives.

Applied to most modern day management and mentoring techniques, it is easy to see how managers of all shapes and sizes fit into each of the TA quadrants, and how they might therefore elicit the sort of responses they do from those they are responsible for.

The role of the manager has traditionally been seen as that of an individual charged with the responsibility to apply structure and process to those they manage. Structure, because for the most part, they themselves are required to deliver against a set of goals which require organisational planning and resource management.

Consequently, the positive nurturing parent as an ego state, would not normally be associated with a directive style of goal setting and task management. Nurturing requires an individual to have the consummate self-belief and self-confidence to back themselves, so in a way, it should be of little surprise to Rick Woodward and his colleagues that only half their sample felt that their leaders backed them and mirrored their coaching and mentoring efforts.

In the meantime, the challenge remains managing the balance between the two, although in the case of Kimberly-Clark, both Woodward and his CEO Tim Falk appear to have been so impressed with the findings that they are extending their coaching and mentoring across the board of senior managers.

To my mind, their challenge is more cultural and behavioural than structural. Although their commitment and support of the processes they are introducing should be applauded, it remains to be seen whether this one-shoe-fits-all, one-trick pony approach will repay the dividends they deserve for the risks they are taking.