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The Outcome: Manipulating Forecasts


JC helps Bill to foster a working culture where employees are encouraged and rewarded for being honest and truthful.

“Hi Bill”, I said, standing up and shaking Bill’s hand.

“So, how’s it going?” Bill enquired as he settled himself into the chair at the side of the desk alongside me. I had set the chairs at the corner of the large boardroom table. I wanted an informal atmosphere in which the coaching could occur, not where a desk would separate us. It is acceptable to have a desk between you if the desk is round; as this does not psychologically have the barrier affect that most desks do, but this was not an option in the boardroom.

“Very well, and it’s nice to get started properly with the coaching sessions,” I answered.

“Yes, I can imagine it is. I am looking forward to this session as well, shall we get started?”

“Let’s do just that,” I said. “I’ll be taking notes during the session Bill, and of course anything we discuss during the sessions is confidential.”

“I meant to ask you about that,” Bill said, “I understand and recognise the confidentiality aspect, but I wondered how that functioned in terms of your feedback to me on the overall project.” Bill asked. “I think we covered this earlier on in our discussions, but can you just remind me how it works JC?”

“No problem,” I smiled, and Bill took a sip of coffee, which caused my hand to reach for mine unconsciously. “The feedback I give to you will always include anything and everything that is relevant to the company in line with the outcomes we have established for the coaching programme and increased success. What it won’t include is any personal information that is discussed in the sessions that are secondary to the programme goals themselves.”

“Fine,” said Bill. “Ok, I’m ready when you are JC, let’s get cracking.”

“Bill, tell me about the goals that you are focused on at the moment for the UK,” I asked.

“Well, obviously I have several targets to hit that are set by the Head Office, but my main goal is to raise the enthusiasm and buy-in across the whole UK business. The reason I say that is that we have too much variety of input across different people with similar skills and resources at the moment and that is not helping us reach or exceed the external targets. I am also unhappy about the quality of the reporting that we get in the forecasts put forward by the external sales team.”

“You mention the ‘external’ team specifically; do you feel the ‘internal’ team put forward more accurate information?” I asked him.

“Yes they do. In simple terms, the internal team simply report how it is, good or bad, and I would like them to raise their game, but their reports give a far more honest reflection of the situation. The external team report what they would like it to be. Well what we would all like it to be, rather than how it is. I have spent a lot of time with each one of the external team, building a personal relationship. They know I am not the sort of guy to go off the deep end or be too authoritarian, but they still are not as honest as they could or should be when it comes to forecasting.”

“What are your thoughts on why they continue to speculate rather than forecast?” I asked him.

“I have given that a lot of thought, and I can only assume that they are writing their forecasts to match their monthly sales target. But I want them to be honest about what will happen in the sales; because I can positively address something we’re aware of, but I can’t do anything about something I am either unaware of or suspicious of.”

“Ok, I can understand your need to get them to be open. So, how long have you been unhappy with the accuracy of the forecasting from the external team?” I asked.

“To be honest JC, this has been a continuing thing for as long as I can remember. One or two of the team are reliable with their forecasts, but the majority fall into the pattern I am talking about. After a meeting where we have a good moan about it, things improve for a couple of months, but then it slides back, and I want to raise the game and keep it there.”

Bill sat and thought for a minute.

“To be perfectly honest,” he said. “I have got better things to do than keep going over the same process again and again. I want the team to recognise that part of what they are being paid for is quality forecasting, and to take that on-board and stick to it.

“Ok,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee and creating a natural pause. The reason I did this was I needed to ask Bill my next question, but his last statement had some genuine and personal frustration in it. I wanted Bill to have a moment, so he didn’t bring that frustration into the next thought process and response.

“I want to come back to that in a second if I can Bill, but can I ask you to describe to me the process you have for creating the forecasts and measuring their accuracy before we step forward?”

I did need to know this important information, but it also served the purpose of deflecting Bills mind from what he wants and doesn’t have, to what he has in place and can explain easily.

Key points:

  • Manage the coachee emotionally, to maximise the outcome from the session.

  • Learn your (unnoticed by the coachee) delaying tactics and deflecting questions to ease the emotional aspects.

  • Many people look for people to match systems, rather than looking at the systems themselves. Always explore the systems that are driving people, as they may have clues for the current situation and progression in them.

* Catch up with all instalments of The Outcome, including a profile of John Copeman here.


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