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How Did I Get Here? Graham Alexander, Supercoach

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Graham Alexander
Graham Alexander, often described as a ‘supercoach’, having been largely attributed with bringing coaching to the UK talks about his career and why he would choose to dine with Buddha, George Bush and Osama Bin Laden.


1. How strategic is your current role and what does it involve?
My current role is very strategic. I relate all my work, whether it is one to one or team building, to the strategy and business agenda. My point of view is, if the businesses are paying the fees then the business ought to be getting the benefit as well as the individuals. Anything that goes on in business, internal or external, HR and providers ought to be connected to the business agenda.

2. How is the HR function perceived within your organisation?
HR covers such a large spectrum. In many organsisations line managers often still regard HR as the old personnel departments. At one end of the scale you have the recruitment and salary issues, and at the other end you have to see the HR function as real business partners, leveraging the key assets. Sometimes they are seen as ‘change agents’, so they are very important business partners. On balance, I think that line managers still see HR as ‘light weight.’

3. How does your business use HR practices to get ahead?
Relating this to the clients that I work with I have seen that HR covers a huge spectrum. HR traditionally focuses on recruitment, employee benefits, training and development, but fundamentally it now has to be a part of the business strategy in order to get ahead. It’s important for organisations to bring the best out of their human capital.

Using my client, Cadbury Schweppes as an example, they had a twin pronged strategy, acquisition and cutting costs, it only had so far to go. They decided to add a third strategic focus. This was to focus on bringing the best out of their people. The Alexander programme, ‘Growing Our People’, involved enabling managers throughout the world to do much better in getting the best out of people. Helping your staff to grow and develop is fundamental. Great performance can be achieved through coaching and this has to be led from the top of the organsisation.

4. Why is your company such a great place to work?
The Centre for High Performance carried out a global study. They recognised three characteristics in companies, which were seen as great places to work.

  • Employees being valued

  • Critical thinking was a key prevalent

  • Risk taking was encouraged

I believe great places to work, are where people are valued. Employees need to understand the meaning of their work in order to feel valued. Working conditions and environment are also fundamental. Where freedom with accountability is pervasive and a culture of openness, honesty and enjoyment are encouraged, employees are happier. Employees have to experience growth and development, in order to encourage and improve performance.

5. How does HR win hearts and minds in your business?
HR wins the heart and minds of business by relating what they do to the business. HR needs to talk in business talk, relate what they do to tangible benefits. HR has to support but also challenge. HR has the reputation for being somewhat ‘lightweight’ as a result, HR needs to be in all the crucial business discussions. Having a HR person on the board is ideal, it’s an effective way of getting HR into the top key decision making conversations.

6. Will HR survive outsourcing and changes to service delivery?
They will survive but only if they position themselves as business partners and as part of the business agenda. If they continue to be seen as providers of recruitment, employee benefits and training then they will not survive. These services can be outsourced, resulting in a very small HR presence in most businesses.

7. What’s the new skill set of HR?
HR people need to be very skilled business partners, they need to act as facilitators and coaches. In the modern business world they have to be robust and at the same time support and challenge the line.

8. What’s the worst thing about working in HR and the best?
HR people aren’t always seen in a positive light, they are perceived to be routine standard service providers therefore not part of the business agenda and thus unable to be creative.

9. What are the key issues preventing HR professionals from getting a seat on the board?
In order for HR professionals to get a seat on the board, they have to help board members and chief executives understand how HR helps deliver bottom line business performance and ideally be in partnership with the Chief Executive in that sense. HR people like finance directors should have a different relationship with the chief executive than the other members of the top team. They should be people that can be confidantes of the CEO.

10. If you have a mantra/motto what is it?
‘Keep going’ – has a great deal of relevance. You need to keep going, irrespective of the ups and downs in business and life.

11. What are you currently reading?
‘The men who stare at goats’ written by Jon Ronson, a book that looks at the United States psychological warfare, the book tries to understand the interrogation techniques used by US through the war on terror.

‘Dining with terrorists’ written by Philip Rees. Philip try’s to look at what motivates terrorists.

‘100 Favourite Poets’ I always like to read poetry when I travel.

12. What would be your desert island disc?
I have a huge interest in music, with more than a 1000 CD’s, my taste is eclectic. If I had to choose one it would be, ‘Dancing in the street’ by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, it’s very evocative of my youth. It’s such an energetic, optimistic and positive track.

13.If you could have lunch with three famous people, dead or alive who would they be and why?
Buddha, because I’m interested in eastern religion in its purist form. Buddha had great wisdom and a great formula for living a fulfilled life. Buddhism is an effective way of handling the world, your inner thoughts and emotions.

George Bush – I’m unsettled by his approach to the world and am interested in finding out what makes him tick. Is he the same as how the world and media perceive him i.e. narrow minded, very dangerous and bigoted man, or is there another side to him, what’s really underneath?

Osama Bin Laden – Again, is he truly the person that is portrayed in the media, what’s lies underneath?

14. If you’d like to be remembered for one thing what is it?
That my life made the lives of others happier, more successful and more fulfilled.

Graham Alexander’s new book “SuperCoaching” co-authored with Ben Renshaw, can be ordered at: www.amazon.co.uk

Other articles by this author

Previous career profiles can be seen on the How Did I Get Here? page.


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Annie Hayes

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