When new management took over at home improvement company Everest, coaching came into its own. By Stephanie Sparrow.
Ever since a £63m management buyout in 2003, home improvement specialist Everest has used coaching to develop key people in the business. “Coaching fits into our values of focusing on the best people and the best service and products,” says national development consultant Lynn Davidson.
Everest’s programme is unusual on two counts: first, it has had top table buy-in from the outset. Everest’s interest in developing a coaching culture coincided with the management buyout when the new managing director, Simon Jarman, employed an external coach to assist him in developing his role.
“Through this experience, Simon recognised that coaching is an effective way to support succession planning, business growth and diversity,” says Davidson.
And second,the programme is building and expanding a coaching culture – overseen by Jarman and Davidson – as opposed to the line taken by many large employers that take a broad brush approach by training line managers to become coaches.
“I am the internal coach for all,” says Davidson.
In October 2003, the decision was taken to start a pilot programme, which ran to September 2004. Coachees were chosen for their potential to improve performance in functional areas that were not operating to expected levels. “It was important to select specific learners so we could focus on measuring specific needs and outcomes,” Davidson says.
At the same time, Davidson was studying a CIPD coaching and mentoring certificate course. This proved invaluable as the structure of the course shaped the design of the Everest coaching programme: for example, she was able to track and assess two of the coaches from the pilot as part of the evidence for the CIPD qualification.
The pilot was judged a success and many in the business wanted to extend the learner group. As a result, the second phase, which ran until December 2005, had a larger pool from which to recruit coachees. Its criteria included: enlisting first–time line managers to settle them into their new roles and also those managers who were seen as having the potential as future senior managers and members of the executive team.
The programme design is based on the feedback from this second phase with the effect that although the coaching is bespoke and in line with personal learning plans, it is conducted within a reasonable time frame – in the early stages at Everest one coachee racked up 22 sessions.
“I now coach about 10 to 15 people at a time, with each session lasting between 90 minutes to two hours and reflective time between the sessions. Junior and middle managers will probably get six sessions, supervisors three (they also go through a separate training programme) and those moving to senior roles get indefinite sign-off,” says Davidson.
Although managers propose their staff, sign-off for all levels comes from the managing director. “This is because all of our coaching is conducted for the business and concentrates on key matters and key people,” says Davidson.
A main factor for Davidson is that each coaching contract is transparent. “Each individual programme is topped and tailed with a three-way meeting with the learner, myself and the sponsor. This helps with setting mutual targets at the outset and in evaluating the learning at the end, which in turn helps with the transparency,” she says.
Plenty of information about the mechanics of the coaching programme is circulated around Everest to further promote transparency. It is included in the company development directory and a guide is available free, which outlines the appropriate types of learners who should be put forward.
To date, 41 of Everest’s 1,000 employees have been through the coaching since the pilot began, but Davidson believes that reporting lines are such that they, and coaching, are having an impact on 35% of the workforce. Coachees are setting up new departments to support expansion into new markets or are promoted or moved to other functions.
In line with Everest’s ambitions for a culture change and business growth, the tone and style of the coaching programme is positive. Coaching is never treated as a remedial tool. “Coaching is about developing talent. Even if we have a coachee who is struggling, we are clear that they have to know that we put them in the coaching programme because we believe they have the talent,” says Davidson.
Top tips for internal coaches
- Ensure you are a member of a reputable coaching body.
- Be clear on the ethical frameworks you are bound by.
- Always have supervision.
- Ensure all parties use formal reflection formats.
- Develop wider skills to support your coaching, such as neuro-linguistic programming.
- Treat every learner as an individual, while still adhering to organisational needs.
- Be clear to all parties exactly what you mean by confidentiality.
- Always set up a coaching contract between the parties involved.
- Consider compiling a company guide to coaching.