alchemy alliance: press room: the guardian hr focus april 2008


How a little coaching can take you far

The Guardian HR Review, April 2008

Liz Hall reveals 10 steps to successful behavioural change

'Before we introduced coaching, we would have been shooting pigeons. Now we're changing lightbulbs instead," says Steve McDonald, head of HR at Lloyds TSB.

Council workers in New York City tackled Washington Square's overpopulation of pigeons by changing lightbulbs — the pigeons were feeding on spiders who in turn were feeding on larvae hatched in water pools warmed by light bulbs on the roof. McDonald uses the tale to illustrate how coaching has proved to be a simple and effective way to change behaviour at Lloyds TSB.

"We've created more honest and more focused conversations, and a huge amount of trust, which is not to be underestimated," he says.

Coaching is no longer something mysterious that happens behind closed doors — 71% of organisations use it, according to initial findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's 2008 learning and development survey. For coaching to be successful, however, it needs to be introduced and evaluated with care.

1. Be clear why you're doing it

"Link coaching to business needs and performance rather than 'initiative-itis'," says Gareth Jones, HR director at M&G, where coaching is about "helping the good get better, unblocking performance and career development".

2. Experience coaching

Before introducing coaching to your business, have some yourself — and don't expect managers to adopt it unless they've experienced it too.

3. Get top-level buy-in

Rick Woodward, learning and development director at Kimberly-Clark says robust internal research has shown business improvements are four times more likely when leaders mentor employees and support their coaching efforts.

4. Be careful who you work with

"Lots of people purport to be coaches but have no credentials. Dig into their background," says McDonald. The School of Coaching, which provides coach training for Lloyds, is one of a few providers recently awarded a Quality Award from the independent European Mentoring and Coaching Council.

5. Create the right environment

It takes time and trust for coaching to flourish. Woodward encountered resistance to coaching initially at Kimberly-Clark. He says: "People need to be taught that it is OK to be coached. But it needs to be an empowering experience, otherwise organisations are on a hiding to nothing."

6. Practise

Jones and McDonald warn that it's unrealistic to expect people to coach after a few days' training unless they can practise first in a safe environment.

7. Follow up

Two coaches sat in on an executive meeting as part of Lloyds TSB's follow-up to coach training: "It helped us to permeate the coaching, develop an approach and become more effective," says McDonald.

8. Check progress against pre-set goals

If you are clear about what you want to achieve, it's easier to check for progress, says Jones. He recommends gathering feedback from employees who have been coached, their peers and managers.

9. Look for different behaviour

Fostering a top-down coaching culture has contributed to "very strong business results" at Lloyds TSB. The bank is more interested in behavioural shifts, however, believing these will lead to business improvements anyway.

10. Don't rest on your laurels

Woodward says: "Think of coaching as a journey, not a destination. You have to keep plugging away at it."

Liz Hall is the editor of Coaching at Work, published by the CIPD. Gareth Jones, Rick Woodward and Steve McDonald's colleague, Manus Fullerton, will discuss coaching at the CIPD's HRD conference on April 15-17

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