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"Getting high with a little help"
Interview with Dr Kris, Chief Executive, Attitude Skills Knowledge International
By Cindy Gary, Editor, Information Technology Review
A personal coach may be the solution if your career has hit the slow lane or you want to transfer your skills to another area. Overseas executives may be comfortable with the concept of getting by with a little help, but the idea is bound to raise eyebrows in South Africa. Dr. Kris spoke to Cindy Gary about her pioneering work.

A personal career coach may seem like an unwarranted luxury in today's budget-conscious times, but can provide a sure-fire route to increase self-awareness and career satisfaction. There's a need for the service, says Attitude, Skills and Knowledge International chief executive Dr. Kris, because people need to accept responsibility and accountability for their own careers.

Dr Kris set up shop in SA nearly eight years ago, moving from the competitive US scene where the lesson that your company cannot be relied on to take care of you has struck home. In the US, if a person has held down a job for five years he or she is regarded as stuck, staying in a safety zone and in a rut.

In contrast, South Africans are generally reluctant to switch jobs even when they are presented with the opportunity. And the higher the career rung, the more difficult it seems to be to take the plunge. In line with her organisation's name - Attitude, Skills, Knowledge - Dr Kris explores these issues with clients.

It's a process of research and discovery, rather than an attempt to change clients. For instance, a company managing director who had become too deeply entrenched in his habits was instructed to take a different route home daily. Increased awareness sparked by this simple exercise led him to start far-reaching changes in his company.

Sessions are conducted one-on-one, freeing clients from the self-consciousness of participating in sessions with colleagues. Dr Kris works hard at creating a safe environment. Although she will conduct private sessions at client's premises, most opt to visit her at her office. The tranquil setting generally proves conducive to getting to grips with major issues. Following intense questioning as she determines a client's profile, she helps the client to have focus and career direction. She does not tolerate vague answers or broad generalisations; questions are geared to getting to the crux of issues. The outcome? A  Career and Life plan, so the client can manage their career like a successful business.

The value of this approach is that it provides focus. It also highlights where you want to go and how you can get there. "I don't give out advice; I ask questions to get people to think and act," says Dr. Kris.

Processes, also available on computer disk, are highly practical.

Setting a specific goal and working backward means that clients are working toward something concrete rather than toward some vague point in the future. The discovery of choices is followed by written assignments as well as exploratory processes and experiences.

One client, who strongly recommends the Attitude, Skills and Knowledge International approach, reports that Dr Kris eases people out of their comfort zones. "Working on a one-to-one basis you get a lot out of it - often in a group people don't feel free to talk. You'll find the people who are unwilling to attend management courses are the same people who would be unhappy to attend these courses. They don't want to be exposed, they're happy as they are. Dr Kris shows sound 'mense kennis' and is no slouch when it comes to current trends and events. She's a professional."

Dr Kris helps clients to update information that is stored in the unconscious and to identify "gut feel" decisions. Most people are unwilling to refresh this information, and find themselves on self-imposed treadmills and merry-go-rounds. The Attitude, Skills and Knowledge International approach is to get people to face what - if anything - they want to do about these patterns. Dr Kris' approach is novel, reports a client: "Normal management courses talk about strengths and weaknesses. She tosses that out of the window and talks about personal preferences. You don't feel that you're being judged, that you're weak or bad - it's a question of your choices."

Dr Kris expands: "As you identify your decisions from your choices and preferences you decide what you want to do about them - or not. If you choose not to act, then the responsibility is yours. The blame game stops."

She, revels in turning training lore on its head. In debunking the "strengths and weaknesses" model, she says it's an outmoded concept that belongs to the Sixties.

Another taboo is keeping your knowledge to yourself and playing your cards close to your chest, which stems from the belief that knowledge is power. We actually need to share our knowledge and teach ourselves out of our jobs, she maintains. We need to teach others to be as good as us, or better - effectively replacing ourselves before we leave a job. "Managers need to develop people and give information away."

She also believes that initiative should be free to flourish. A large portion of South Africa's workforce simply puts in the hours and picks up the pay cheque, says Dr. Kris, but some of the blame also lies squarely with management. "These managers stamp out initiative and don't listen to employees and team members. Alternatively, they say 'we'll see', or 'why change, we've been profitable and our way works'. A managing director or human resource manager will speak about 'problem employees', but very often the problem is with management."

On completion of one-to-one work, a team unity session can be conducted. The system provided by Attitude, Skills and Knowledge International identifies areas of development and training with agreement and a personal commitment from each member. Then the team addresses the issues of filling the gaps in their skills with a change in attitude.

For the team unity to occur, the process requires a willing and open attitude from each team member. If the team does not have a personal commitment and makes use of the tools provided, nothing will change. The two most important aspects of team unity are to have the support of senior management, and to have a reward system in place that supports team work and its results. Without both, the company or division faces a long uphill battle.

Facilitation is another of Dr. Kris' services. Therese Louw, who is marketing manager of the Randburg Waterfront, near Johannesburg, was amazed the first time she saw Dr. Kris in action.

Relations between Waterfront managers and tenants became extremely strained when the opening did not proceed as smoothly as expected. Instead of the conventional October opening in time for the Christmas rush, the centre opened in March, as winter set in. Response was so poor that tenants eventually refused to speak to management, whom they viewed as "the enemy."

When Dr. Kris was recruited, she focused selected groups on what they had managed to achieve. Highlighting what they hoped to achieve and made both parties aware that they could not function without each other. In refusing to take sides, Dr. Kris managed to re-establish communication between the two parties.

"She's given us an incredible service, both on a business and personal level. You walk out of a group session feeling good about yourself again and realising you're not alone in the situation," says Louw. Facilitation is continuing.

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