On the line

Creating a culture of coaching was at the heart of the effort by London Underground (LU) to get its 1,300 managers to improve performance in the organisation.

“It seemed to us that a lot of these people had the knowledge about how to improve performance but were not necessarily acting on that knowledge,” says Tracey Keasley, who as LU’s head of management development oversaw the coaching programme. She has since moved to South West Trains, where she is head of resourcing and development.

“It was not a case of there being a skill gap, but a ‘will’ gap,” she says.

Keasley opted for coaching to enable individuals to work on addressing performance issues through discussions with colleagues. The coaching also ensured that time out of the workplace was minimised and that ownership of development was transferred from HR to the business.

The scale of the LU programme involved 1,000 managers in operations and 300 in corporate headquarters. The programme, was piloted in 2002 and completed in 2004.

For LU, the structure of the programme reflected the spirit of breaking down traditional hierarchies, according to Keasley. The idea was to involve all managers from the beginning to achieve “critical mass”.

“If you are trying to introduce a culture that is less hierarchical, to start at the top and work down does not seem the way to go. The people below feel excluded and they do not understand the terms being used.”

Managers were put into groups of six and assigned a coach. LU used Reed Employment’s HR arm to hire a team of external coaches on short-term contracts to cover the duration of the project. “The idea was to group the target audience together with their immediate colleagues to offer them support from peers,” says Keasley.

The programme began with coaches meeting their groups to brief them on the aims and to achieve buy-in. It was organised around modules on setting and monitoring targets, conducting effective appraisals and developing people. To tailor the learning to each manager’s needs, 360-degree feedback was used.

Keasley says: “Most people needed something, but not everything. Using a coaching approach meant we did not need to shoehorn people into particular learning objectives.

“The modules were more like training, but the input was done in a coaching style. It was about using the group to identify problems and using coaching to get the group to come to a decision on how to deal with the issues.”

In addition to the small group work, managers could have one-to-one meetings with their coach. At an average cost of just under 500 per head, the programme was cost effective, and the tailored approach of the learning proved popular with managers.

Managers reported that personal development plans were being produced and development discussions were taking place that previously had not, and all groups felt that morale had improved.

To measure the programme’s success, LU conducted an evaluation for a selected number of coaching groups, including a re-run of the 360 questionnaire, a qualitative discussion and a quantitative report on the throughput and coaching sessions.

Further evaluation took place six months after all development was completed to examine the impact on company measures such as LU’s trains’ and stations’ performance scorecard and the mystery shopper survey.

Top tips

Recommendations from the tube

  • Ensure the quality, enthusiasm and tenacity of the coaches you plan to use
  • Agree a pragmatic outcome at the start so people can see progress; 360-degree feedback based on behavioural indicators works well
  • Build up a rapport and common purpose with the coaching audience
  • Be prepared to challenge(once trust is established) tohelp people reconsider the possibilities
  • Give objective opinions when asked and help to strip away any unjustified fear that holds people back.

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