They did it their way: Kimberly-Clark, United Utilities, Autoglass and ABN Amro talk about their coaching experiences and share the lessons learned.

Coaching, like any form of learning and development, must be tailored to meet organisational and individual needs. This means those responsible for it must ask key questions, such as who it’s for, what are the desired and necessary outcomes, how much will it cost and so on.
Below, Training & Coaching Today looks at four organisations and their reasons for implementing coaching.

Kimberly-Clark – Using external coaches for performance

At Kimberly-Clark Europe (KCE), learning and development director Rick Woodward has ensured that coaching is “stitched into” a talent management programme introduced in late 2004.

Throughout 2005, he ran Coaching for Performance, a programme for 450 team leaders, such as marketing managers, business analysts and supply chain managers across Europe.

The climate was right to run such a programme, says Woodward, pointing to an emphasis on management styles.

For example, the number of leadership competencies was cut from 30 to six.

“With our new competences, we put people management at the heart of the job,” says Woodward.

KCE’s performance management scheme includes multi-rater feedback. “When managers hold the quarterly performance appraisals, they know that they have to, in effect, conduct a coaching conversation,” he says.

The resulting one-day coaching programme encourages a flexible style among managers, promoting the “ask, don’t tell” approach when appropriate, but also an affirmative style when that was needed.

It was delivered by an external coaching company, Performance Associates, which has worked with major sportsmen, such as the British bobsleigh team. This caught delegates’ imagination and attention, says Woodward.

“The whole thing has worked for us because it is exactly the right time and the right place,” he adds. “Our chief executive, Tom Falk, has said he is committed to building talent, and coaching clearly fits in with that strategy. He says that if we manage performance effectively then we’ll get business results.”

Feedback from the coachees indicates a positive benefit from the programme.

An independent evaluation report showed that 69% reported performance improvements in team members they had coached, while 82% gave examples of how coaching had improved their leadership.

Despite the energy and results generated by the programme, Woodward admits there is one thing he would do differently – involve the company’s top tier of managers. He wanted to put the top 85 managers on a coaching skills workshop but it was cancelled because of time pressures .

“Our original plan was to run an in-depth programme for the top tier so they could model coaching powerfully through their own behaviours and thus reinforce its importance.”

United Utilities – Developing internal coaches as part of a culture change programme

At United Utilities (UU), coaching has been an integral part of moving the business to a high performance culture, according to Jackie Kelly, organisational development manager.

The change process, known internally as Ucan, started in 2002, with objectives including focusing on results and em-bracing ideas. It was then decided to develop an internal resource known as the ‘UCan coaches’, and the coaching initiative started in 2003.

Potential coaches, drawn from mid-to-senior management in all UU business units, were identified through development centres with organisational and team development specialist Sheppard Moscow. Eventually, 60 people were chosen. They then undertook five days of training over a six-month period.

The coaches were put into groups of three, known as ‘support trios’, so that they could practise their coaching skills. “These were like little action groups,” says Kelly.

Experiential learning was a key strategy in developing the coaches, with the trios looking at a plan, do it, and review approach, and using ‘pet clients’ – picked from the business for the budding coaches to practise their skills on.

The coaches then went out into the business and were assigned live clients: effective managers whose development needs had already been identified. This process was in turn supported by the clients’ line managers.

The next stage in developing the pro-cess is to build the capability of the coaches and to continually educate the business about the benefits of coaching.

“We want to equip managers in coaching skills for themselves and we want to measure the success of coaching and link it to the company’s overall business performance,” says Kelly.

This is a long process. “It takes a lot of team effort – it is osmosis, not a big bang,” she says.

Autoglass – External coaching kick starts a coaching style

Automotive glazing repair and replacement company Autoglass was regarded as a maverick organisation when it appointed external coaches for its regional managers nearly five years ago.

“At that time it was unusual for people at that level to have their own coaches,” says development and training manager, Simon Fitzgerald. However, the company was answering a business need.

“We had a major change programme. A number of people were put into new roles, and we used coaching to help them with the transition to senior positions.”

The programme was considered a success so Autoglass then decided to develop coaching styles in-house.

“We wanted it to become a new way of working and we wanted to develop the skills within the executive and senior management teams,” says Fitzgerald.

Two years ago, he completed a coaching skills programme for 40 of Autoglass’s senior managers.

“Since then we have trained branch managers and other head office staff at the same level,” he says. “We have embedded the skills in the business.”

A coaching style has since become a prevalent style of business within Autoglass, and links to the leadership programmes at parent company Belron International.

Coaching remains high on the agenda at Autoglass: it is continually deployed in different ways, such as in coaching talent and employing external coaches for senior managers. Fitzgerald feels there is a “sense of ownership towards it all the way through the business”.

The aim though is for managers to recognise the different leadership styles at their disposal.

“Coaching is a style but there are other styles that people need to know, such as the six identified by Hay McBers: authoritative, coercive, democratic, and so on. Each style is appropriate and effective in certain situations.

“The coercive is appropriate in an emergency, for example. In that type of situation, coaching would be less appropriate,” says Fitzgerald.

ABN Amro – Executive coaching

At global bank ABN Amro, director of organisational development, David Thompson, doesn’t have a widespread coaching agenda, but allocates an executive coach to middle and senior managers when appropriate.

“The request for a coach comes from the people themselves, when they want to look at their management style or a development issue,” he says. “Usually, we use executive coaches. This is an expensive practice when compared to a four-day leadership course. It is twice as effective but twice as expensive.”

But Thompson thinks that it could be money well spent. “You will get value for money if there is an appropriate match with an appropriate coach,” he says.

He has a network of people from which to pick a suitable coach.

“We select a couple of coaches to work with the potential coachee. We then get the coachee to meet the coaches and the coachee decides who she/he wants to work with them,” he says.

There is no set period for the coaching – it can range from three months to a year. Methods deployed, such as phone coaching or personal meetings, depend on the style and practice of the coach.

“The time period that the coaching assignment extends for is directly related to the objectives. It is dangerous to have a never-ending relationship, both in financial terms and in terms of the potential complacency of both parties. You have to manage it tightly,” he says.

Thompson says he values the bespoke approach but that he has “a gradual sense of building up a coaching culture”. He believes it’s imperative, for the coaching process to be successful, that would-be coachees really do want to use a coach.

“It’s better if it’s a pull approach from the business rather than a push from HR. The people who are going to get the most value from it are those who come looking for it,” he says.

by Stephanie Sparrow

Make a success of coaching 



  1. Never underestimate the level of time effort and commitment required.

  2. Be clear about how coaching fits with your other development activities.

  3. Check that coaching fits your culture.

  4. Ensure line managers are engaged with your plans and understand how coaching relates to the business objectives.

  5. If you are using internal coaches, make sure they receive continuous development support.

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