How the Oskar coaching method found favour at a booming services company.
Rapid growth and increased turnover is a rarity in UK business right now, but John Laing Integrated Services is a notable exception.
The company, which provides non-core staff – such as reception, security, maintenance and specialist support services – for local authorities, police forces, NHS trusts and schools, has seen a 400% increase in turnover since 2004. This boom brought with it the recognition that directors and senior managers must be able to delegate responsibility. They also have to ensure others can manage effectively.
“We felt that equipping them with coaching skills would be the best way to achieve this,” says Tim Grier, managing director of John Laing Integrated Services.
He also feels that coaching fits with the ethos and culture of the company. “We are a rapidly expanding company, but there are family principles within the organisation,” he says. “And we thought coaching would be an interesting way of developing management teams together.”
The company chose coaching consultancy The Solutions Focus (TSF) to kick-start its coaching culture. TSF, as its name implies, offers a solutions-focused approach, a trend that has come to the fore in coaching in the past three to five years and which is tipped to become even stronger.
“This approach unearths strengths and applies them, rather than looking for weaknesses and deficiencies,” says TSF director Janine Waldman.
Grier agrees and says: “The spin-off was that it was good for team work but also good for the issues that we need to get to the bottom of.”
He also feels the positive approach reflects the ethos of his company and its remit to deliver. “Facilities management and support services are not about doing things wrong,” Grier says. “We have to make sure we do lots of things that exceed expectations and do the business. We’re a target-driven organisation, and in our customer contracts we are rewarded for success and penalised for failure.”
He adds: “In the past, our people have tended to focus on addressing errors rather than talking up success. Now, when we have a management meeting we start by talking about successes and achievements, rather than what we haven’t done well or why didn’t we do this or that. This positive approach has been much more motivating and encouraging, and the coaching helps us achieve that.”
Waldman believes conventional approaches to coaching often dwell on identifying the problem. “But the solutions-focused approach allows a coach to sidestep the causes of trouble and head straight for the solution,” she says.
One of the levers in the solutions-focused approach, says Waldman, is the Oskar model, which is introduced to participants in the early stages of the programme. The acronym stands for Outcome Scale Know-how Affirm an action and Review.
Solutions-focused coaching and the Oskar model were introduced to the eight-strong senior team at John Laing Integrated Services in a two-day workshop.
Over a nine-month period, the directors and senior managers each had a 90-minute, one-to-one coaching sessions and five telephone coaching sessions with a professional coach from the consultancy. The participants each went on to coach two people who were not their direct reports.
“This meant they applied their skills day-to-day in management roles,” says Waldman.
Additional skills building and review workshops and learning groups were delivered to discuss progress, further develop their coaching expertise and enable them to share experiences.
John Laing Integrated Services was also keen to take a consistent approach to coaching. It has since run a five-month programme for 12 middle managers and uses the solutions-focused approach for meetings. Grier believes it has become part of the fabric of the company.
“It gives us a common language to communicate,” he says. “We’ve seen greater co-operation because the people who have been coached by our directors and senior managers now have better capabilities and a better understanding of what we’re trying to achieve.”
Grier adds that targeting a wider group of management in the business, which in turn is using coaching to cascade their skills, is woven into the fabric of the business.
“This is not a quick-fix or fancy initiative,” he says. “There’s a strong view around the business that the solutions-focused approach can help us take the business forward.”
A coachee’s tale
Adrian Connor is operations director at John Laing Integrated Services and says that taking a solutions-focused approach has persuaded him of the power of coaching.
“I wasn’t an advocate beforehand because previous courses were issues-focused and felt like counselling,” he says.
“But the simplicity of Oskar helped and the solutions-focused approach is about giving people the tools to do their job.
“The coaching course and Oskar have helped me to prioritise, delegate and set goals for other people. They have given me simplicity in how to do things, and if I get into trouble, Oskar will come to mind. It has become part of my routine.”