has proved itself at executive level. Now line managers are expected to
participate and offer guidance as well. Lucie Carrington looks at how major
organisations are putting coaching into practice
David White, chief executive of insurance firm Tunbridge Wells Equitable, is
convinced that business coaching is the way to move his company forward. He has
been guided by an external coach for the past 13 years and has introduced
executive training for his own senior team. Now he is looking at a way of
taking that further down the line to the next tier of management.
"The strange thing about business is that the more senior we get, the
more we are deemed to have all the answers," White says. "Coaching
forces you to stop occasionally and reflect on where you’re going."
But business coaching is an expensive exercise and senior executives pay
anything up to £2,000 for one session. So White is looking for an internal
solution. "What we are trying to do now is experiment with the 16 people
at the next level down and provide them with a coach or mentor from the
executive team who is not their boss," White says.
He is not alone in wanting to introduce coaching skills and techniques into
the line. Unilever has brought in coaching firm Performance Unlimited to help
its managers in Lever Faberge to become coaches. Tesco is also looking to
introduce a management coaching scheme and the Abbey National introduced a
scheme for front-line sales staff a year ago [see box].
However, there does seem to be a contradiction between the principles of the
business coaching that is sweeping UK boardrooms and the sort of coaching we
can reasonably expect line managers to give.
The basic principle of executive coaching is that directors have someone
outside the organisation with whom to discuss business issues. And the people
who are providing that service are professional coaches who do nothing else. In
theory they are skilled in a variety of sophisticated coaching tools, such as
neuro-linguistic programming and mind mapping, to help their clients realise
their business goals.
The aim is not to equip managers to provide the same depth of coaching, says
Claire Boardman, director at Performance Unlimited. But it is possible to equip
them with some valuable coaching tools. "For example, at Unilever we are
coaching managers to be able to give great feedback and make good observations
that lead people to want to change their behaviours," she says.
Questioning skills are also important, Boardman says. The aim of coaching is
to motivate people to change their behaviour and if managers are to do this
they have to be able to understand individual’s personal goals and link them
into the behavioural changes they want to see.
Alison Carter, a principle researcher at the Institute of Employment
Studies, has just published her own research into business coaching. She is
more sceptical about the whole idea of managers as coaches. As far as she is
concerned, it is not coaching at all, but a management style.
"The whole movement towards managers as coaches is entirely different
from ‘business coaching’. They are two completely different things but with the
same words attached," Carter says.
There are some other more serious contradictions, too. If you go and get
yourself a business coach, the aim is to focus on what is important to you in
the business. Turning managers into coaches is about helping them get more of
what they want out of their team. As Carter says, "Management is about
bringing the best out of people in terms of the organisation."
This does not mean it isn’t a valid management approach. "We’ve seen a
trend towards people being driven by business needs and moving away from
individual needs. Coaching can bridge that gap."
Internal coaching solutions don’t have to concentrate on making it a line
management responsibility. Carter points out that large firms can train up a
batch of internal coaches. If people in the organisation want a coach they can
pick one from the list. "If it’s a large organisation, the chances are
they have never worked with that person and are never likely to work with
them," she says.
This is an approach supermarket chain Tesco might take – it’s a large enough
operation. Director of learning Kim Birnie is in the throws of developing an
internal coaching programme. This will distinguish between executive coaching
and the skills all managers need to lever the best from their teams.
Birnie is not sure how many people will come under the executive coaching
umbrella – it could be the top 200 or the top 2,000. But coaches for this group
will almost certainly be a mix of internal and external people.
"My own experience of executive coaching is that it is best helped by
someone who can bring a bit of expertise to the situation, but who is also
objective," she says.
At the same time, her vision is for all Tesco’s senior managers to be very
good coaches themselves.
At the Abbey National, Neville Pritchard is taking an even broader approach.
He wants to see a culture where everyone is able to coach their colleagues as
and when necessary.
"We now say that as an individual you have three responsibilities: your
own performance, your own development and coaching others," he says.
However, for Pritchard, coaching is not just as a means of bridging the gap
between individual and organisational needs. He sees it as a way of controlling
As well as being a development system in its own right, coaching could
effectively become a gateway to other training and development.
"Effective coaching should determine where money needs to be spent on
training," Pritchard says.
It’s good to talk
If your organisation doesn’t have the resources to develop an internal
coaching system, don’t despair, there are plenty of telephone coaching services
coming on to the market that will help you decide if coaching is right for your
They require some very different skills both on the part of the coach and
the client, comments Ginnie Baillie, executive director of Ebedo. But they
don’t all cost £2,000 per person, per session.
Inspirations is setting up a telephone coaching system that will cost
clients £65 an hour
Insights Coaching launches a virtual coaching programme this month. Participants
can work through the programme via the Internet with back up from a tele-coach
Ebedo offers virtual team coaching for global teams. It’s done using
telephone conferencing and costs up to £400 per month, per participant
Sales scheme lays a solid foundation
Abbey National introduced a coaching scheme for new recruits to its sales
advisory team last year. These are the men and women who offer customers
financial advice, and their performance needs to meet external regulatory
Advisers are assigned a sales or "hire" coach who, for the first
three months in the job, is also their line manager. "The sales coach will
handle their development up until they are qualified, when the sales manager
takes them over and becomes their coach," says Neville Pritchard, head of
retail sales training and development.
"Training time can take anything from eight weeks to three months. The
idea behind sales coaching is for advisers to develop a sound foundation as
quickly as they can. If that development requires other help, for example, from
someone else in the organisation, the sales coach will co-ordinate that
There are currently about 40 full-time sales coaches and each is usually
responsible for three or four new advisers at a time. They all have sales and
management backgrounds, so they know the job. Some also have training
To help them acquire the right coaching skills, Pritchard and his team have
set up what they call coaching academies. They last two-and-half days and are
run by Frank Dick, former director of coaching for the British Athletics
"This gives them a basic understanding of different coaching styles –
whether it’s directing, supporting or just counselling," Pritchard says.
The scheme is still in its infancy. One of the areas that Pritchard is
looking at now is how qualified sales advisers move over to become part of the
sales manager’s team. "During the initial three months, we hope that sales
managers start to get involved as secondary coaches. We’re not yet sure what
role the hire coach should continue to play – they may need to retain some sort
of support coach role," Pritchard says.
At the same time, Pritchard has introduced the coaching concept into his own
department with a view, if it works, to extending it slowly to the rest of the
"We believe it will bring us more motivated individuals and more
satisfied staff, which will have a knock-on effect on customer
satisfaction," he says.
This article first appeared in the September 2001 edition of Training
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