Driving business change through coaching
Driving business change through coaching

Here Jane Cox MSc. BA PG Dip. PG Cert., Executive Coach, Facilitator and Mentor talks about how the role of coaching in enabled one Local Authority to drive business change.

“I knew we needed to start doing things differently if we were to achieve the change of attitude it would require us to become more business orientated.  In the end it has all been a much easier journey than I expected” says Susan Gardner-Craig, Head of People and Organisational Development at South Cambridgeshire District Council (DC).

The arrival of a new Chief Executive, in the summer of 2010, with a strong people development focus and commitment to empowering staff, provided Susan with the opportunity she needed to present her ideas on how to use coaching as a vehicle for this change of attitude.

Jean Hunter, the new Chief Executive and a trained coach herself, fully supported Susan in her efforts to bring coaching into the Authority.

“Her coaching and support of me modelled exactly what we wanted to achieve i.e. empowered management who could be trusted to run with their ideas, as long as they had done their homework and assessed the risks.”

Susan knew about coaching through the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and had researched what other organisations had done but it wasn’t until she went on the East of England LGA Coaching in the Workplace programme that she says she really started to understand and appreciate how important this tool was going to be in bringing about change.

The East of England LGA has been a great support to South Cambridgeshire DC, with their agenda of supporting Local Authorities in the East of England to become more effective in this very challenging environment.

Michelle Kirk, Director at the East of England LGA says she is a great fan of coaching and says:  "Our remit as an LGA is to support local authorities.... In this climate of austerity and budget cuts, there is less money around for training. Management is being challenged to do things differently- to focus on being productive and agile - with senior managers often in roles that span a wider range of specialisms in which they are not technical experts.

"Coaching is an obvious approach that produces results. We introduced the idea of coaching to support culture change at our Regional Conference in 2012 and engaged with Jane Cox to develop a programme to train internal coaches who would become champions for coaching within their authorities.  These Coaching Champions would form the core of our Regional Coaching Pool – set up to offer coaching by trained and professional coaches at moderate cost throughout the whole of the East of England."

The first Coaching in the Workplace programme was aimed at HR and L&D Professionals and was designed and delivered by Jane Cox (an experienced executive coach, mentor and facilitator) in collaboration with the East of England LGA. The programme was endorsed by the Institute of Leadership and Management and began in November 2013. Participants attended six facilitated learning workshop sessions over the six months training, experienced group and individual supervision and were assessed on a practical coaching session at the end of the course, having submitted a 1500 word case study on their coaching work.

The course provided delegates plenty of opportunities for participants to practise their coaching skills in a safe and confidential environment, and was highly praised during the final feedback session.

 “I learned much more than I expected.  I already had coaching skills but this course gave me additional tools to use when the appropriate situation demanded it.  I really enjoyed the networking with colleagues from other authorities too.  Understanding that many of my challenges were similar to challenges they had experienced or were currently experiencing.”

Susan and her colleagues on the programme went on to promote coaching in their own organisations and continue with their own coaching. One of Susan’s first coachees was Phil Bird who very soon became a strong supporter and advocate of coaching.

“Well it worked so well for me that I want others to benefit as I have.  I was at a crossroads and Susan helped me to work out how to make changes that would have a big impact on my career. If I could do this, then anyone can with the right support, so I wanted to help others do it”

Having had a taste of coaching on the Leadership Programme, Phil went on to train as an internal coach himself – again with Jane Cox on the East of England LGA ILM Endorsed programme. ”It’s the best thing I ever did” he said.

"The benefits have been two-fold for me, I was able to make the right career choices and becoming a qualified coach has given me another skill set that I can use to help individuals and enhance my management style".

"Feedback from staff has shown that, so far, all who have been coached by colleagues on my cohort benefited from it and would recommend coaching as an effective development tool."

Phil and his colleagues from the programme meet regularly for supervision sessions with Jane to share experiences and continue their development as coaches.

What else is going on at the East of England LGA and South Cambridgeshire DC?

Interest in Coaching has grown steadily across the East of England and in response to this and the East of England LGA has been busy building up a range of training options in which South Cambridgeshire DC has been quick to participate.

The original Coaching in the Workplace programme has been adapted to cater for managers from all disciplines and the East of England LGA now also offer a full ILM Level 7 qualification in Coaching & Mentoring, delivered by the Training Spa.  Most recently, a short bespoke programme has been added to the portfolio. This programme consists of individual coaching as well as a one day workshop and is aimed particularly at Senior Managers who want to know more about coaching, gain some basic skills and work on how taking a coaching approach can complement their leadership role.

The East of England LGA also supports coaching more broadly though the Annual Coaching Conference and a range of additional CPD and Supervision events.

How do they know it is working at South Cambridgeshire DC?

It’s difficult to set hard ROI targets but Susan says, “You can see and feel a difference across the organisation.  We now have a strong internal coaching team and more new coaches are being developed through the East of England LGA programme.  We consider it to be a key business management skill.”

Coaching has definitely helped managers to avoid costly disciplinaries or formal performance management processes by providing them with a safe, confidential space in which to talk through how to deal with a difficult team member or issue.

Managers are having conversations about coaching in PDRs and coaching is definitely not seen as a soft option. On the contrary, it is seen as a way of helping people to perform better in their jobs, which of course has clear business benefits for their organisations.

Coaching has had an impact on people’s personal awareness and their respect for others – with the result that managers are more empowered and enabling of their teams.

Michelle Kirk adds that they see management ‘becoming more agile’. Authorities report less blame within their cultures, and statistics show lower sickness absence and turnover of staff. Can this all be put down to coaching? Maybe not entirely but it's definitely a strong contributory factor.

Michelle also believes that the high ratio of trained coaches in her own management team at the East of England LGA provides her with first hand experience of the benefits that coaching can bring to any organization, whatever its size. “Everyone shows respect for each other and the skills they bring”, she says, “The team spirit is fantastic, despite our huge workload”

The last word

The timing was right and the environment was ripe for an intervention that would help people embrace the change in culture that would be needed to deliver the business changes ahead.

It started at the top in South Cambridgeshire DC, with the Chief Executive providing a role model and the Head of People & OD taking the lead as a strong champion of coaching. This lead to the development of enthusiastic people within the business who want to coach because of the benefits they have experienced from being coached themselves. Managers are picking up on the benefits of using a coaching approach to deliver change and there is growing evidence that South Cambridgeshire DC now runs in a more business-like way. Staff have the skills and confidence to get involved in business improvement schemes as part of cross service teams.

In short – partnership is a fact of life and coaching has proved to be the difference that is making a difference to the culture. There is still much to do – but they are well on their way.