Reflections on coaching

Autoglass HR director Carol Madeley looks back with satisfaction on the
benefits of management coaching Lucie Carrington

Carol Madeley, HR director at car maintenance firm Autoglass, is a big fan
of coaching. Such a fan that she and her training and development manager Simon
Fitzgerald used executive coaching to support the firm’s 20 regional managers
through a massive restructure.

It was a break from coaching tradition. Business coaching has been developed
for the most senior executives. When firms introduce it lower down the
management line, it is usually an internal thing with line managers, or other
more senior managers, acting as coaches. As such, it is not very different from
old-style mentoring.

But Autoglass decided that its regional managers – some of whom were very
inexperienced – could benefit from the advice, guidance and experience of
external coaches just as much as Madeley and her fellow directors had done.

Madeley’s personal experience with coaching began five years ago when she
moved into the top personnel job at Autoglass after several years in the retail
industry. "It was a new position in the firm as well as a new job to me. I
was given the support of a coach to help me make the transition," she

It worked for Madeley, so when Autoglass decided on its management
restructure two years ago, it seemed an obvious approach to take. The aim of
the restructure, as is often the case, was to improve customer service.

"We took a key decision that the way forward was our mobile business.
If the customer insists on coming to us, that’s fine, but we wanted to offer a
service whereby our 1,100 fitters can go out to the customer," Madeley
says. "To do this we needed to simplify our structures, shorten
decision-making lines and improve our communication channels."

As a result, Autoglass removed one layer of management between regions and
branches, put more managers into branches and expanded the role of regional
managers. This meant the firm effectively had a new team of regional leaders,
and it was these 20 people who were seen as ideal candidates for coaching.

"Some of them were relatively inexperienced managers – albeit with
great potential – in jobs with more responsibility and with a bigger team to
manage," Madeley says. These expanded regional roles were difficult –
managing a lot of people at arm’s length. The average size of a regional team
was 150 people and fitters could be off in their vans for a couple of days and
rarely touch base with their managers.

Autoglass already had management development programmes. "But this
existing training was not going to support these people in their new
jobs," she says. Autoglass was also anxious to cater for the individual
needs of managers – a tailored programme could have resulted in a simple
sheep-dip approach. "So we decided to extend the concept of professional
coaching," she adds.

The aim of the coaching sessions was to help individual managers set some
stretching, but realistic, targets. Madeley is at pains to point out this was
not about taking responsibility for performance away from senior line managers
at Autoglass – they still had a big role to play in bedding down the new
structure. Rather, it was about providing extra support in the early months.

"The guidance of a coach was really important given that a significant
number of managers in the new teams are home-grown and have little external
experience," Madeley says.

Madeley and Fitzgerald decided to use a variety of suppliers rather than
take on one organisation. It gave them a wider choice when it came to finding
the right coaches for the right managers. The result was a range of coaches
from large and smaller coaching firms. The job of putting the right people
together fell to Fitzgerald who, Madeley says, acted something like a marriage broker.

It was a big job – coaches had to be found for 20 managers based all over
the country. And the system had to be in place soon after the restructure.
"We wanted coaches to work side by side with individuals as they got to
grips with their new roles," Madeley says.

But it was not to be an open-ended commitment. Autoglass wanted to provide
three or four face-to-face sessions over three months. These lasted about half
a day, with telephone contact in between if participants needed it. "Our
aim was to help people deliver on quite demanding targets. An open-ended
commitment would not have been suitable," Madeley says.

If Autoglass was not offering to fund unlimited coaching for its regional
managers, nor was it insisting that unwilling regional managers attend coaching
sessions. Madeley and Fitzgerald were clear that to work, the scheme had to be

"We were careful to position this as something that was there for them
if they wanted it, and no-one was going to force them to take part,’ Madeley says,
but she admits there was some scepticism. There were several reasons for this.
To start with, there was the shock surrounding decisions taken about the
restructure: many of these people had been expecting redundancy rather than
what amounted to promotion.

In addition there was the feeling that coaching was for people who weren’t
performing well rather than about getting more out of people with potential.
Madeley points out that the new regional managers were a very mixed bag. As
well as the relatively young and inexperienced, there were old hands with 10 to
15 years of management experience in Autoglass. It was perhaps inevitable that
some felt they didn’t need business coaching.

Few regional managers really knew what it was about. Autoglass also runs a
type of mentoring scheme where senior managers buddy up with managers further
down the line. Madeley has a buddy too, who happened to be from the regional
team. "He was shocked when he discovered that I too had a business
coach," she says.

When push came to shove, only one out of the 20 regional managers offered
business coaching turned it down. By the end of the three months the rest of
the regional management team were converts. So much so that a significant
number decided if the company was not going to continue funding it, they would
pay for the coaching sessions themselves.

Judging by managers’ appraisal results, it had also had a direct effect on
their performance. "Most of them have probably fulfilled their potential
quicker than we expected," Madeley says.

These are not the only measures of success that Madeley likes to draw on.
The whole programme cost about £30,000 and 18 months later she is convinced it
has had a significant impact on the firm’s business results.

"Things started to improve in 2000, but this year we are now on target
for our best year yet. Our financial results are looking positive and we scored
our greatest staff satisfaction last summer with particularly good feedback on
managers," Madeley says.

Furthermore, early results from customer satisfaction research suggest a
record for Autoglass here too.

"I am personally convinced that the coaching support we gave has been a
key ingredient of that success," Madeley says. "It’s not just
business results that have gone up, our results have increased in all

Madeley is set to capitalise on the success of the coaching programme – she
is sure it could be used in some way to raise the game for some Autoglass branches.
She and Fitzgerald have several initiatives in the pipeline.

To start with, they want to introduce external coaching for other senior
managers. "We can’t afford to do it for all 40 of the senior team, but we
can do it for those who are involved in special projects, who are perhaps
operating outside their comfort zone," Madeley says.

She also wants to build up the coaching skills of other managers. Existing
management development includes training managers in some of the skills and
techniques they need to coach their teams and there are some intensive coaching
workshops for senior managers.

Now Madeley is planning a more in-depth programme for between six and 10
managers who are genuinely interested in coaching. It would have serious
implications for the jobs that these managers do now, but it would provide
Autoglass with a pool of trained business coaches.

For all her enthusiasm for business coaching, Madeley has one proviso for
all coaching relationships within the firm from the board down, and that is
they must be time limited.

"Individual relationships shouldn’t last for more than six months. If
at the end of that there is a case for continuing it, then let’s make that
case. But there has to be an end point," she says.

But her final words on coaching are positive: "Moving Autoglass from A
to B was so important, and if coaching can work for executives then it can work
further down the line too."

A shining example

1997 to now HR director, Autoglass

1988-96 Personnel and training controller, and HR manager
Storehouse and Sears

1985-88 Personnel manager and compensation and benefits
specialist Rank Xerox

1980-85 Various roles, Ford

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