Passing on the reins

The business

PJR Print Systems is a print management firm based in Droitwich. It was established 10 years ago by two brothers, Phil and Rob Newton, who still own and manage the business. It has nine staff and an annual turnover of £2m.

The challenge

In 2002, PJR Print Systems began the process of gaining Investors in People status. This involved a consultant visiting the company every two months for a year to assist members of the team with progress on their individual goals.

Phil Newton recalls his final meeting with that consultant: “We’d got the accreditation, and everyone had done really well meeting their goals. Everyone, apart from me. I was still doing the same thing I’d been doing seven years previously.

“The company was too reliant on me. If something had happened to me the place wouldn’t have functioned and there was no prospect of us ever being able to develop or sell the business. It was also a very stressful place to work, as no-one apart from me had any responsibility, and I was constantly fire-fighting. Something had to change.”

The solution

Newton hired a coaching firm, Action, to help solve this problem. The 12-month programme began in August 2004 with the coach, Andy Gwynne, conducting two alignment days, one with the owners, the other with the entire company. In these, everyone discovered and agreed the purpose and objectives of the coaching programme.

From then on, Gwynne had a weekly one-hour telephone conversation with Newton. “I came up with about 90% of the solutions,” says Newton. “But I wouldn’t have thought of them without Andy’s guidance. He gave us the impetus to change all the things we knew we needed to change. Importantly, he gave me, as the owner of the business, goals to achieve.”

The outcome

As a result of the coaching, Newton did a lot of training with his team, developing systems and procedures, and delegating responsibility to them. He also produced a manual, describing standard practice in every area of the business, from answering the phones to locking up at night.

Most dramatically, Newton established a second tier of management. He is confident that as these managers begin to take more responsibility for the day-to-day running of the business, he will have more options for the future development of the company.

“Already I’m able to work a four-day week,” he says. “In 12 months, we plan to have reduced this to two or three days. Also, because the business is now more than just an extension of me, it’s worth something. We might be able to sell it, or we might be able to hand it on to someone else in our family.”

Learning points for HR

Newton offers this advice to anyone considering the introduction of a coach to a small business:

  • Remember that even though you might get there without a coach, you’ll get there a lot more rapidly with one.
  • Don’t listen to the people who say it won’t work in your industry. Most business principles are transferable across industries.
  • Make time to work on your business. Too many owner-managers spend time chasing their own tails answering queries. Get your business working for you, rather than the other way around.

Employee perspective

Jo Taylor joined PJR Print in June 2003 as a customer services representative and she attended the company alignment day.

“I was looking forward to it,” she says. “I’d worked at larger companies before, and so I know how lucky we are to work in a small company where your contribution is so important. I expected this coaching to help us all start pulling in the same direction.”

The programme met her expectations, and she believes it has improved the company. “It has made us more professional,” she says. “Most importantly though, it has instilled in us the need for open and honest communication with each other. Personally, it’s given me confidence, and helped me realise my skills.”

In June 2004, Taylor was appointed general manager and is now responsible for the day-to-day running of the company. As she concludes: “The owners can take time out of the office and not worry that everything will fall apart in their absence.”

Learning from mistakes

Newton admits that things did go wrong with the programme. He feels that although Action has a systematic programme, coach Andy Gwynne did not keep to it as rigidly as he could have done. “I was disappointed that we had to ask for quarterly reviews. Also, we didn’t focus early enough on what we could do to increase turnover,” he says.

In the same way, he believes his company made some early mistakes in how it approached the programme. “We wanted to change everything immediately,” he recalls. “We rushed into things, trying to do too much, and people got confused.”

Newton stresses that these are minor complaints. During the 12 months of the programme, turnover increased by about 10% and profit by about 25%.

Guide to implementing a coaching programme in 10 steps

  1. HR must co-ordinate the coaching process to ensure the organisation learns from its results. Be involved right at the start of the process.
  2. Before you approach coaching providers, formulate your goals. Ensure the coaching programme is aligned to your strategic goals.
  3. Consider how you will evaluate the return on investment of a bespoke coaching programme.
  4. Talk to the main stakeholders – your staff. You need them on board, otherwise it could seem just like any other senior management fad.
  5. Apply stringent criteria for selecting coaches. Find out, for example, how much coaching experience the coach has, issues covered, etc
  6. Currently, anybody can call themselves a coach, psychologist, counsellor or therapist in the UK. Check the coach is a member of a relevant professional body and that they receive supervision of their work.
  7. To create the coaching climate, managers will need to learn basic coaching skills. Support this by ensuring senior managers and HR attend an advanced programme.
  8. Draw up a contract for engaging coaches and ensure employees and coach are aware of the limits of confidentiality, acceptable behaviours, objectives and so on.
  9. Monitor the process. Are the employee and manager finding the coaching process effective?
  10. If in any doubt about introducing a coaching programme and what to ask the providers and/or individual coaches, the CIPD Coaching and Buying Coaching Guide is a good reference.

    Professor Stephen Palmer, director of the Centre for Coaching

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