For more than 30 years, David Burney has been a business owner, corporate executive, and Johnny Cash enthusiast, but most of all, he’s been a designer. Recently, he started thinking about the next stage of his career. And decided last fall to begin taking courses at George Mason University in leadership coaching and has brought what he learned during that training to New Kind.
I sat down with the man affectionately known as “Burney” to ask him about what’s he learned and what he hopes to offer through New Kind Coaching.
On the surface, this move looks like a departure from your work as a designer. What led you to get into coaching?
Technological advances, globalization, the internet—you name it—the world is a very different place today than it was just a few years ago. I think most of us would agree that we’re in the midst of an enormous transition. And few if any of us are immune from the disruption this period of change is causing. That’s true for us as individuals, and it’s also true for our organizations and communities.
Design is a very human activity that we engage in when we’re looking to change something with intent. In other words, when we know we want to change or improve our present state and create a new future, we use design. We gather information, we define the challenge we’re facing, we generate ideas, make choices, plan, and implement. We learn and continue to improve or innovate. That’s design. It’s all about change and transformation. Who knows the process of change better than designers?
Why do you think this is so relevant today, especially in the business world?
There’s a big picture issue at play: matching operations to strategy. Business leaders have always known that when the competitive environment changes then strategy has to change. And when strategy changes then organizational structure has to change, in fact, everything about how the organization operates—it all has to change to align with strategy.
We’ve moved from a world where industrial-age strategies have dominated for more than two centuries. Over that time, especially the past fifty years or so, we’ve gotten very skilled at building highly competitive “machine” organizations. For those of us in the business world, we adapted to this change very well. And we’ve reaped the benefits.
We can call this new era the innovation age or the information age—it doesn’t matter—what’s important is that the very times in which we live have changed. And in a BIG way. So, how do we compete in this world? How do we operate when what we know is upended and best practices become antiquated overnight? How do we move forward? How do we lead?
What seems clear is that we need to be more adaptive. Change is here to stay and the rate of change keeps increasing. How do we build more adaptive, more resilient organizations? These are immense challenges—the types of obstacles and blockages all of us face from time to time. This is where coaching comes in.
As a coach my goal is to help the people and organizations I work with through periods where they’re not sure how to move forward. What they’ve tried may not be working. Best practices aren’t working. Maybe they’re transitioning into new models or trying to lead others through change. Maybe they simply aren’t feeling satisfied with their choices or they don’t feel they’re being as effective as they can be.
Why do you think that it’s an important move for New Kind?
At New Kind, we believe in building brands from the inside out. We help companies understand their purpose and tell their story. We help them build more collaborative cultures and more engaged communities. Coaching is a very similar process.
Coaching is done on a one-on-one, personal basis rather than in a collaborative group setting. But, in both we’re nurturing a dialogue that leads to new ideas and new perspectives. It assists in the process of decision-making and creating actionable plans.
If it’s strategically important for organizations to be more innovative, then they are more dependent than ever on building and maintaining healthy, creative cultures. To be effective, leadership needs to understand how to recruit, hire, train, manage, nurture, and retain a productive, creative workforce. Coaching can help leaders migrate these complex changes.
Just as important, when highly creative workers are called upon to produce in today’s world they have to be ready to perform. This is often a challenge for the organization and for the individual as well. Great ideas can come from anywhere. And the idea is only as good as the ability of the creative team or person to make that idea a reality. Coaching is a proven way to support creative initiatives and individuals.
At New Kind we know this world. This is our world. We have a lot to offer organizations, individual contributors, teams and leaders who’re finding themselves challenged by this disruptive period.
What type of progress have you seen from a “machine” world to more human-oriented organizations?
Red Hat’s current CEO, Jim Whitehurst, recently published a book he authored on the subject titled The Open Organization. When CEOs are seeing, accepting, and creating open, design-driven cultures, that’s a great sign. These ideas are becoming operationally strategic and this change is happening more and more.
The very name “New Kind” is a response to this change. We believe there’s the need for a new kind of design-driven, creative services firm that’s more human-centered, open, and collaborative. Most of the partners here at New Kind played leading roles in building the brand of Red Hat. We were a part of linking the brand to the culture of that business. And it was there we witnessed first hand the competitive advantage of open source—this thinking is behind the founding of New Kind.
For whom would this type of coaching be most beneficial?
Our coaching is targeted at three groups: executives, creative professionals, and teams.
Coaching would be a great fit for CEOs or high-level executives who need their organizations to become more creative and innovative. They may want to engage us to work with key players on their teams whose performance needs to improve, or with individuals who are highly valuable to the organization but are particularly challenged on some level.
It may also be for the executive personally. Coaching can help uncover insights and develop action plans regardless of position in the firm or level of experience. Honestly, some of those who’ve been the most successful in the past may be the most challenged in the disruptive era we find ourselves today.
Secondly, I also see a great opportunity for coaching to help creative professionals. There are countless talented, creative individuals who are experiencing career roadblocks. Maybe they’re thinking, “people don’t understand what I do,” or they’re not feeling valued. They feel like they’re misfits.
It’s pretty common for creative people in these scenarios to simply find another opportunity and pursue that new shiny thing. And often that feels like the right answer when they’re starting out. But eventually they begin to see a pattern. They may eventually realize they’re just running somewhere else to find the same problems.
There’s another option to running away. And that is to begin to learn how you want to deal with your circumstances and how to be more strategic, become more patient, and become a change agent in a different way. Coaching is perfect for that.
Finally, people might look to New Kind Coaching if they have a team that’s working on something highly critical to the organization’s success, but the team’s not meeting the challenge. They’re not functioning well. They’re unhealthy. They’re being political, perhaps. And maybe the organization or leadership have tried two or three different methods. But they can’t seem to find the answer. Coaching can help people discover the common ground and the skills they need to ensure a team reaches its full collaborative potential.
What does success look like for you?
In five years, I’m confident New Kind will have a strong, broader coaching practice. I think this will give us an entry point into working deeper within businesses on organizational development and transformative initiatives.
When organizations start looking to reinvent themselves—either teams or large projects or the entire organization—they will increasingly look to firms like New Kind to help them in these efforts. In the past they’ve gone to business consulting firms, who are really consultants who come in and tell them, “Here’s your strategy.” It’s common for these types of projects to fail. New leadership fails. Strategic plans fail. Years come and go and the problem morphs and migrates but never resolves. Millions of dollars spent and nothing comes out of it. This is no solution. My sense is that design is going to increasingly become a strategic choice for organizations that seek meaningful change.
Interested in learning more about New Kind coaching? Visit the coaching page for more information or schedule a conversation.