A Coaching Culture Transformation ~ Case Study
A Coaching Culture Transformation ~ Case Study
What would a true organizational coaching culture actually look like?
As coaches and human resource professionals we often love to imagine a theoretical organization where “everyone is a coach and has a coach”. But how would this actually work? Welcome to Coastal Community Credit Union. While no organization could ever live up to this absolute ideal, the coaching culture transformation of Coastal is an authentic demonstration of what can be accomplished with a dedicated team in a small organization with the right fundamentals.
But how does a champion of organizational change begin? Why do many corporations that conduct managerial coach training see little significant change? At Coastal, an accredited Manager as Coach training, based on the ICF coaching competencies was the foundation. Building a true transformational shift into this training experience was key.
Are real coaching conversations actually taking place? We all know it takes time to shift old habits. Having more that 10% of Coastal’s 650 staff participate, created a saturated learning environment that reinforced the coaching message. A comprehensive follow-up program supported the early adopting managers to dialogue their success until the benefits of the managerial coaching process became self-evident.
Is coaching really an organizational priority? Any cultural shift will quickly lose momentum if it is fighting against the overall current. Coastal’s early success with managerial coaching would have faded if it had not been well integrated with the overall strategy, performance management systems and leadership initiatives. Managerial success stories supported the coaching message to become the organizational theme of the year. This cycle of unstoppable momentum inspired 6 more coaching programs in 2009 resulting in a true tipping point.
Coastal has a long history of a caring and employee focused organizational culture. This employee-focused strength was an important foundation for the coaching program. However it was also sometimes seen as a barrier to creating a high-performance culture. When employees deeply care about one another, sometimes there is a hesitancy to say something to a colleague that might hurt their feelings. Enabling authentic “coaching conversations” was a critical driver to creating a high-performance culture where employees are coached to be the best they can be.
Coaching Champion – Let’s Build a Coaching Culture Together
Beginning in 2007, when Deborah Lang first joined Coastal, she identified a key opportunity to use coaching as a foundation for leadership development, employee engagement and broad organizational change. To better understand the environment, Deborah’s manager asked her to job shadow a number of managers and employees. This process allowed her to confirm that coaching, as a foundation for leadership would have great impact.
Deborah noticed that the employee performance management system identified coaching as a core competency for managers and she engaged a number of managers in conversations about their coaching practices. In assessing the existing managerial coaching skill level in the organization she noted that the word “coaching” was used by managers as a “catch-all phrase” to describe all kinds of meetings between supervisors and employees. Managers were told to conduct weekly “coaching” sessions with employees but had no specific training in what coaching was. As a result, what was called coaching was often not true coaching as described by the International Coaching Federation (ICF).
Deborah noticed that external executive coaches were successfully being utilized at the executive and senior management level, but not at the front-line management level. Drawing from her executive coaching experience, Deborah could see the benefits of introducing a coaching culture to the organization – especially at the front line – the interface with members and clients. As she was new to the organization and to develop credibility and buy-in from Managers in support of a coaching culture she started to provide regular leadership coaching sessions to internal staff, demonstrating the positive effects coaching could bring to individuals and the work environment.
Change was becoming a constant state at Coastal Community Credit Union. The HR team could see that coaching could provide a critical path for keeping the lines of communication open between employees and managers. They identified that there was a gap in coach training programs for managers and recognized that a fresh approach was required to deal with the effects of change on employees. They began to research change-oriented coaching workshops for managers and employees.
Working with Paul Gossen, an ICF Certified Coach and Organizational Transformation Consultant, Deborah developed a comprehensive plan for a coaching culture shift at Coastal. Working with Erickson Coaching International, Paul customized the 2-day Manager as Coach module of the ICF accredited Art and Science of Coaching program. This program was used as the key transformational training process in the overall organizational development program.
Target group: The program was aimed at a broad swath of the organization that covered administration, HR, Marketing, Operations, Branch Managers, Assistant Managers and executives at the VP and SVP level. In total the training covered more that 10% of the organization.
Language Drives Transformation: During the program design, Paul Gossen worked with recognition that old managerial habits are held in place with negative internal language. For example, managers might say to themselves; “As a boss, I have to do everything myself.” Authentic group dialogue was used to loosen the hold of these ineffective language patterns. It was critical for training intensity to reach a threshold to overcome the participants’ natural habitual resistance to change. A minimum period of time was required to conduct a series of tough conversations and develop the required level of group authenticity.
A philosophical exploration process allowed participants, to develop their own vision for what a high-performance Manager as Coach might look like. New language patterns provided a simple and easy-to-remember path to this higher level of performance and relationship. Finally a repeated cycle of training distinctions, real coaching conversations, debriefing and group dialogue was used to cement this learning into high-performance management habits.
More Training Touches & Integration: More pre and post training integration was recognized as the key to driving higher coaching skill-adoption rates. Spreading the program out over a longer period further enhanced adoption rates. This was accomplished with group dialogue and supplemented with conference calls, HR support and participant lead follow-up practice. Online and email-based learning and visual reminders also supplemented this process.
The early success of the Manager as Coach program began a coaching “word of mouth” buzz in the organization. This was enhanced with unique language and messaging such as “don’t tell, ASK.” As participants implement their system and had authentic conversations, they naturally created curiosity for this new coaching leadership model. In order to support this process the program design front-loaded early programs with more training, implementation follow-up and validation of results. This created more early stage momentum, success stories and “buzz” in the network.
Manager as Coach
First beginning with a small pilot in Nov 2008, the 2-day Manager as Coach was conducted for a total of 60 participants through the spring of 2009. The training was conducted in small groups of 12-18 people in order to maximize group authenticity and dialogue. The program began 2 weeks in advance with a simple coaching awareness assignment and an opportunity for participants to read the corporate coaching book Business Transformed. The training was based on the principles of adult learning and incorporated simple distinctions, coaching exercises, small group debriefing and large group dialogue. The coaching process was presented as a series of simple procedural steps. Managers naturally moved into broad coaching conversations and left the program with a solid foundation of experience in leading coaching conversations. The program design facilitated deep learning as participant’s engaged in-hands-on training and group dialogue.
Can a manager be a coach? This program has firmly demonstrated the power of managerial coaching. Managers were trained to “wear a coaching hat” when conducting coaching conversations. This allowed them to disclose and separate their management agenda from the conversations. Foremost, managers were trained to ask the employees’ what they wanted and support them to create a big game in which they would win.
Coaching Implementation Hierarchy: It was recognized that requesting busy managers to integrate this broad shift in habits into their busy schedules might be overwhelming. This was further compounded, as many of the Branch Managers and Assistant Managers had extra duties to fill in for staffing shortfalls. To address this challenge Paul developed a coaching implementation hierarchy that allowed managers to fit coaching into their regular day-to-day activities. Managers began by simply listening more and asking more open-ended questions. This would naturally lead to short “coaching on the fly” conversations. This would lead to “can we discuss this further?” contracting conversations and then formal coaching sessions. This in turn would lead to the scheduling of a series of conversations and the development of a powerful relationship and collaborative partnership.
Manager as Coach Follow up Program: It was recognized that comprehensive follow up program follow up was the key to creating very high rates of coaching adoption and behaviour change. The follow-up program included team coaching, triad coaching practice and coaching debrief conversations. Each workshop group had four 90-minute group conference call sessions spaced 2 weeks apart. HR conversations, online and email-based learning and visual reminders were also used to supplement this process.
Building a Coaching Culture
To gain commitment for this shift in culture, a “results-based” coaching process was designed to support employees to achieve better “business results” through coaching. This formal coaching framework was designed to create accountability and maintain focus. Most importantly, the managerial coaching process had to balance business results with employee satisfaction, learning and leadership growth. This allowed managers to see employees achieve business goals and validate the return on investment of time and energy in the coaching process.
At Coastal, Managerial Coaching is now firmly defined as a process where the coach assists employees to deepen their self-awareness and understanding of themselves to improve their performance.
The coach assists employees to come up with their own solutions, strategies and action plans. The coach does not tell the employee what to do, they guide and encourage the employee to learn and make decisions on their own. Coaching supports the development of Coastal’s values focused culture. Managers were trained to listen for, recognize and backtrack value words. As they honored employee’s value words, the managerial coaching process would naturally begin to synergize individual values and goals with the organizational purpose statements, vision and values.
Coaching Culture Drives Leadership at all levels: The intention of the program was to use powerful individual coaching relationships to create an expanded level of leadership throughout the organization. This began with active listening and a next level of authenticity. This naturally created more trust and relationship building. This further supported collaborative partnerships that focused on solutions, results and business metrics. All of this further supported learning, change and growth.
Over 2009, the Human Resources Team met with organizational stakeholders and utilized research gathered from organizational needs assessments, cultural surveys and employee opinion surveys to ensure Coastal coaching leadership development strategy was aligned to the corporate vision, purpose and goals. The strategy and implementation plan had to support leadership development at all levels of the organization. The plan supported learning through coaching and mentoring by providing opportunities for individuals to step into experiential roles, practice their leadership and coaching skills and move the organization forward by building strong relationships.
At Coastal, coaching is now intrinsic to leadership development. The coaching process is now used to attract, develop and retain leaders who will motivate and engage employees. Coaching creates shared vision. Effective managerial coaching naturally aligns employee goals with the organizational performance goals, performance management systems and the corporate purpose and vision. Coaching is the key tool that drives “Just-In-Time-Leadership.” This prevents critical shortfalls in leadership talent by providing leadership development opportunities to employees on an ongoing basis. Coaching drives leadership at all levels. This ensures that leadership is emerging throughout the organization and that everyone is developing the skills, knowledge and attitudes of engagement.
Organizational Tipping Point
The program goal was to reach an organizational tipping point and ensure that the coaching culture became sustainable. This required that structural elements be implemented at the individual, team and organizational level.
At the individual level: A “results-based” coaching process for external and internal coaches was implemented. This structured coaching framework was designed to support employees, create accountability, maintain focus, and most importantly, get business results. To support employees to become more self-aware and solution-focused, Insights Discovery and EQ tools were also introduced in the organization. These tools were introduced in a leadership coaching and team building context and supported the development of strong leadership skills by creating higher levels of interpersonal understanding. To support high performing employees, a permanent Internal Coaching Program was implemented. Deborah personally mentored internal coaches to provide leadership coaching to high performing employees, preparing them for future leadership roles in the organization.
At the team level: An emphasis was placed on the support and transfer of “team coaching skills” and for the 32 employees that participated in the team coaching workshops a number of follow up support elements were implemented. The managers that took this team-coaching workshop started a team coaching community site on the intranet to talk about their successes and challenges. Deborah and the employee engagement lead from HR also supported the development and practice of team coaching and facilitation by mentoring the team leads on various organizational committees to be “team coaches”.
At the organizational level: Coastal Community uses a balanced scorecard to measure its organizational success on an annual basis. A key metric for the corporation is Employee Engagement as measured by the Hewitt Best Employer-Employee Opinion Survey. In 2009 Coastal’s engagement score was 61% and in 2010 the score was 63% – showing a 2% increase in engagement from 2009 to 2010. In 2009 the Hewitt Survey identified that the key drivers that would biggest impact on increasing the level of engagement and enhancing a coaching culture were: managing performance, creating career opportunities, and expanding leadership. A final demonstration of the organizational shift is a dedicated line item in the 2010 annual budget for coaching. This is establishes Coastal’s long-term financial commitment to employees development.
The early success of the Manager as Coach program inspired 6 more coaching or coaching influenced programs in 2009.
Internal Coach Program: After the 90-day Manager as Coach training program was implemented participants could apply for the Internal Coach Program. Ten participants were accepted into the program and worked closely with Deborah who acted as a mentor coach. This program supported internal coaches to provide leadership coaching and build coaching relationships with high performing employees. This prepared both parties for future leadership roles in the organization. Internal coaches worked with a high performing employee who requested coaching. Sessions took place over a 3-month period, usually for one hour every two weeks. A formal coaching plan was used and employees were asked to create specific goals, create accountability and maintain focus. The process balanced personal growth with business results. Coaches used active listening and open-ended questions to assist employees to reach their own solutions. Coaches did not provide advice; they supported employees to make their own decisions. The support program included three monthly meetings, triad practice groups, learning support, actual client coaching and a coaching book-review and discussion.
Team Coaching Training: In November 2009, Paul Gossen conducted Erickson’s team-coaching program for a total of 32 participants from various levels of the organization. This introduced the organization to team coaching, enhanced creativity skills and strategic thinking models. Participants learned how to develop an energetic team-thinking environment in which innovation solutions become a consistent pattern. The program developed skills for creating team alignment, trust, group decision-making protocols, team facilitation, whiteboard coaching and the development of a team charter, mission and vision. The structure and principles of team coaching were used to foster innovation and provided specific tools to enhance the creativity and strategic thinking of individuals and teams.
Succession Mentoring Program: Through a risk assessment, the executive team identified the need for a succession strategy for Coastal’s Commercial Division. As a result of this gap analysis Coastal’s Succession Mentoring Program was designed for a senior level manager to work with and mentor a junior manager for a period of 60 days. During this time the mentor provides leadership and guidance in hopes of providing the junior manager with enough knowledge and insight into the role that they may be able to determine whether a career path in that field may be of interest. To date, Coastal Community has successfully run this program in the Commercial Services area with great success and is in the process of running it for a second time.
The results of the program are best described in the participant comments in this document and the supporting materials. During the program, results were also tracked using the following methods:
- Training feedback forms were gathered. Overall 92.2% of the 58 participant feedback forms indicated that the program was very valuable or exceeded expectations.
- During the group coaching follow up calls the early success of participants was also measured. Of the 39 participants in the group coaching follow up program 69.2% indicated initial success at implementing coaching practices and 25.6% indicated dramatic skill adoption.
- A post 90-day coaching survey was also conducted with 23 participants that measured coaching integration and organizational impact. Overall the survey found a 71.7% adoption rate of core coaching skills.
- The Sales Champion program also collected feedback. 84.0% of respondents indicated that they received consistent coaching from their manager.
Organizational engagement feedback also included in Hewitt’s Best Employer-Employee Opinion Survey. In 2009 Coastal’s engagement score was 61% and in 2010 the score was 63%, showing a 2% increase in engagement across the entire organization.
At Coastal, managerial coaching is now firmly defined as a process where the coach assists employees to deepen their self-awareness and understanding of others to improve their performance. The coach assists employees to come up with their own solutions, strategies and action plans. The coach does not tell the employee what to do, they guide and encourage the employee to learn and make decisions on their own.
Employee development and relationship building is now considered a core managerial accountability. Managers are supported to insure coaching meetings occur and meet coaching competencies. Coaching principles are integrated with and balanced against other managerial accountabilities such as the annual performance review process.
At Coastal, coaching is now considered an organizational foundation that is intertwined with overall strategy, performance management systems and leadership initiatives. The funding of coaching is now a line item built into the budget that is available to all levels of the organization. The new 2010 corporate strategy was developed to align and support a coaching culture. The primary theme of Coastal’s vision, purpose and three-year corporate goal is now “building relationships… one conversation at a time.”
by Paul Gossen