Case study: Hertfordshire Highways

Coaching a New Leader to Hit the Ground Running

New Head of Herts Highways needed to lead the alliance

The situation:

Hertfordshire Highways (Hertfordshire County Council, Amey Lafarge and Mouchel) was formed in 2002 as a fully integrated three-way alliance managing the county highways. It was responsible for end-to-end service to Hertfordshire residents and road users. However cracks in the partnership were evident. A new Head of Hertfordshire Highways was appointed to refocus the operation. He arrived in the middle of major changes and in the face of big issues.

Coaching the new leader to make a flying start

My work:

The new Head of Herts Highways asked me to coach him during the early days in his new role. In a highly politically charged environment, he needed to show confident, strong and consistent leadership, and to cut through the issues that had infected the organisation before he arrived. He had a lot to assimilate to make sense of the organisation. My work was to create a safe space for him to:

  • tease apart the issues
  • speculate freely
  • experiment
  • review experiences privately, and
  • rework and reapply his ideas.

Self sufficient in no time

The outcome:

From the beginning this was designed to be a highly focused activity. The point of the exercise was for the Head of Highways to get up to speed and happily operating independently in as short a time as possible. We reached this point after just eight weeks, and our intensive coaching work together finished. We periodically meet to review how things continue to change and develop.

Realism, pragmatism, challenge, safety

The Goldsmith factor:

The value I added was in creating a balance between safety and challenge:

  • safety to explore any idea (however off the wall) positively, knowing that my client could place his full trust in our relationship;
  • challenge in not simply accepting and reflecting my client’s ideas back to him, but to stretch him, test for alternative possibilities and ground the ideas in the real world.