Portman Building Society is the UK’s third largest building society, employing more than 2,000 staff. It has branches all over the country and has its headquarters in Bournemouth. It has a 42-strong HR team.
In December 2003, it merged with Staffordshire Building Society, and in 2004 it reabsorbed its sales team from Norwich Union, which had been selling its regulated products. This, coupled with organic sales growth of 10% year on year, meant that within the previous five years, the society had doubled in size.
The organisation had changed so radically in terms of size and make-up that Ann Elliot, director of HR, faced the challenge of stepping up performance levels to sustain the society’s growth. Specifically, she aimed to move 60% to 70% of staff “up the performance curve” by providing them with the motivation to progress their career, and reverse perceptions that improvements in performance were not rewarded.
Portman Building Society brought in the Full Potential Group (FPG) coaching company in a bid to create a high-performance culture after Elliot and her team had vetted around 20 companies in a 10-month period.
“FPG was one of the few to approach coaching as more than a remedial exercise for the worst performers,” explains Elliot.
The first step towards creating a new coaching culture came in April 2005 when 60 of the most senior people managers were trained to become ‘coaching champions’. Then, between May and July 2005, the society rolled out a further coaching course called ‘Coaching for Performance’ to 20% of its managers.
These 200 individuals spent two days looking at what they could do with coaching to make a real impact on the performance of their staff. FPG taught them the ‘CIGAR’ method of coaching – Current reality, Ideal future, Gaps to fill, Action to take, Review and reinforcement. Staff also spent much of the two days role-playing real scenarios with each other.
“Initial feedback blew my socks off,” reports Elliot. “People were stopping me in corridors to say how much they’d gained from the course and asking if we’d be offering it to everyone in the organisation. I’ve worked in HR for a long time and I’ve never seen this sort of reaction to a training programme.”
The initial introduction of coaching into the organisation has helped to reduce staff turnover by 2%.
Elliot plans to work further with the sales team to capitalise on improved sales results. “Our sales director assures me that the course helped salespeople develop better relationships with their customers. In fact, he’s so sure of this that he has suggested we track it by individual.”
The employee perspective
Bea Gallimore is regional sales manager for Portman Building Society in West Dorset. She manages 11 branches and has been with the organisation for three years. She went on the ‘Coaching for Performance’ course in June 2005 and found it extremely useful.
“Coaching has really helped me work with my team. I’ve been able to dig down to inner beliefs and core behaviours to find out how they tick and to help them perform better.”
Her region has had one of the lowest rates of staff turnover in the company and was in the regional top three for most of 2005. However, Gallimore emphasises the effect coaching has had on individuals: “Some branch managers have improved their performance because of this,” she says. “It’s been fantastic to see their skills and confidence improve and to see their potential released.”
If I could do it again…
Ann Elliott says: “If I could go back in time and do it all again I would spend more time planning. We underestimated the time, energy and communication required to build and sustain a programme like this. If I’d planned it more in advance we would have been much better prepared to sustain the impetus past the initial coaching programmes, and this would have made it easier for us to embed it in the business. We just didn’t expect it to be as successful as it has been.”
Guide to making a success in coaching in 5 easy steps
1 Never underestimate the amount 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 their business objectives.
5 If you use internal coaches, make sure they receive continuous development support.
This month in Training & Coaching Today
Find out all about the pros and cons of internal and external coaching in the next issue of Training & Coaching Today.
Personnel Today’s sister publication, Training & Coaching Today, is a monthly magazine dedicated to keeping you on top of training issues. To subscribe, go to www.personneltoday.com/StaticPages/TrainingMagazine.htm, or call 01444 445566. Out on 21 February
About your project
If you have an HR project you want to tell us about, go to