A Coaching Culture Transformation: Coastal Community’s Story

By Deborah Lang, CHRP and Paul Gossen

The business world tells us that the recipe for building a high performance learning culture is to develop leadership at every level in the organization.  It is also widely accepted that “coaching” is an effective accelerant in the development of such leaders.

As coaches and human resource professionals we often imagine a theoretical organization where “everyone is a coach and has a coach”. How would this actually work?   The coaching culture transformation at Coastal Community Credit Union provides an authentic demonstration of what can be accomplished with a dedicated team in a small organization with the right fundamentals.

Coastal’s Story

In 2007, Coastal Community promoted a significant number of employees to management roles. Many of these managers were new to the role of leading people, making a fast-tracked, effective leadership development program a critical need.

Coastal has a long history of a caring and employee-focused culture. This caring attitude can sometimes be seen as a barrier to creating a feedback-rich, high-performance learning culture. When employees deeply care about one another, sometimes there is a hesitancy to say something to a colleague that might challenge them or hurt their feelings.

In 2007, Coastal hired Deborah Lang as AVP of organizational development to create a leadership development strategy.  Lang recognized the connection between coaching and the development of leadership skills, but after further investigation, she realized that managers had no specific training in “leadership coaching”.  The word coaching was used by managers as a “catch-all phrase” to describe all kinds of interactions between managers and employees.

However, Lang’s challenge was to transform the manager as mentor or expert, to the leadership style of coaching.  According to the International Coaching Federation (ICF), leadership coaching is not like sports coaching, sales coaching or even mentoring. To clarify the differentiation:

  • The Manager as Mentor uses wisdom and real-life experience as guideposts and provides “advice” to employee to consider when making decisions.
  • The Manager as Expert is like a “sports” or “sales” coach where the manager “tells” the employee to follow a specific game plan and/or sales model.
  • The Manager as Coach uses listening skills and open-ended questions to assist employees to come up with their own solutions/strategies – employees are encouraged to “think on their own” to develop leadership skills.

Leadership coaches do not provide advice.  Instead, they use questions to support people to make their own decisions (ICF Website: http://www.coachfederation.org).

To develop credibility and buy-in from managers, Lang started to provide regular leadership coaching sessions to internal managers, demonstrating the positive effects coaching could bring to individuals, teams and the work environment.

Looking at the big picture, the HR Organizational Development (OD) team could see that a coaching culture that supported all kinds of coaching – leadership coaching, sales coaching and mentoring – would provide alignment to the primary theme of Coastal’s vision which focused on “developing leadership.”

Creating a Coaching Culture

First steps first: the HR OD Team worked with their internal business partners and identified that there was a gap in leadership coach training for front-line managers. HR recognized that a fresh approach was required to deal with the effects of early management promotions and their subsequent effect on employees. The journey to create a true coaching culture was about to begin.

Any cultural shift will quickly lose momentum if it works against the overall current. Coastal’s early success with coaching would have faded if it had not been recognized as an organizational priority and integrated into the corporate and HR leadership development strategies, as well as their employee performance management system.

From the CEO to the frontline employee, Coastal strongly believed the creation of a coaching culture would provide the foundation for building strong relationships and leaders by keeping the lines of communication open between managers, employees, members and clients. For Coastal, the primary intent of a coaching culture was to heighten self-awareness and understanding of others, to develop effective communication skills, independent thinking and leadership capabilities.

Working with Paul Gossen, an ICF Certified Coach and Organizational Transformation Consultant, Lang and her team developed a comprehensive plan to provide coach training for 60 managers. Working with Erickson Coaching International, Gossen customized the 2-day “Manager as Coach” Module of the ICF accredited “Art and Science of Coaching” program. The training was aimed at a broad representation of the managers in the organization, from administration to retail and covered more than 10% of the organization.

The early success of the Manager as Coach Program inspired six more coaching initiatives/programs in 2009. By the time the third wave of managers went through the Manager as Coach training program, Coastal was fully integrating a coaching culture via:

  • Internal Coaching Program: Shortly after the third Manager as Coach training program was delivered, an internal leadership coaching program was launched
  • Succession Mentoring Program: Coastal’s Succession Mentoring Program was designed for Commercial Services where a senior level manager mentored a junior manager for a period of 60 days.
  • Career Planning Workshop: Beginning in May 2009, a Career Planning Workshop was rolled out to 50 management employees. Coastal’s career planning workshop emphasized an employee driven process with a strong coaching context.
  • Sales Champion Program: In May of 2009, relationship-building skills were identified as a gap by Coastal’s executives. A Sales Champion program was implemented as a pilot to three retail branches and 70 staff.
  • Team Coaching Workshop: In November 2009, Paul Gossen launched Erickson’s team coaching training program to 32 employees from various levels of the organization.
  • Performance Management Workshop: In November 2009, a Performance Management Workshop was delivered to 76 managers with a component dedicated to improving the performance of employees through coaching.

It takes time to change old habits and create a cultural shift. Employees’ success stories supported coaching as an organizational theme and the successful delivery of the six coaching initiatives created a cycle of unstoppable momentum.

A Coaching Culture Transformation: The Results

The results of the coaching culture embraced by Coastal shines through in the following findings.  Solid results were tracked by the HR team using the following methods:

  • Overall, 92.2% of 58 Manager as Coach participants indicated the program was very valuable or exceeded expectations;
  • A 90-day Manager as Coach post survey was conducted which found a 71.7% adoption rate of core coaching skills;
  • The Sales Champion program saw 84.0% of respondents indicating they received consistent coaching from their manager;
  • Coastal’s Commercial Services Succession program has been identified as a best practice example for credit unions across Canada;
  • Coastal’s Employee Performance review process now emphasizes a shared performance conversation between managers and employees. The percentage of annual reviews completed in 2008 was 70% and in 2009 it jumped to 95%; and
  • Coastal’s Hewitt Employee Survey has shown improvement in engagement scores over the past three years. In 2008 Coastal’s engagement score was 61%, in 2009 the score was 63%, and in 2010, the engagement score soared to 71%.

Coaching as a Core Competency

By January of 2010, coaching was seen as a core competency.  To quote a now common refrain: coaching is now imbedded into “everything we do at Coastal”.  Managers are expected to recognize employees throughout the year and are encouraged to use a “leadership coaching style” to gather information from the employee and find what they need to succeed.

“Formalized coaching has created stronger relationships with my staff.  It has allowed me to better understand their workplace experience and better ensure I am abreast of their career path goals! There have been so many positive results from my formalized coaching sessions.” – Robert Buckley, Branch Manager

In July of 2010, Coastal Connections, a formal relationship-building and sales training program was rolled out to the entire retail division and by 2011 it will extend to the entire organization.  Coaching is its cornerstone once more.

At Coastal, coaching is now considered an organizational foundation, intertwined with overall corporate strategy, performance management systems and leadership initiatives. The funding for coaching is now a line item built into the HR budget available to all levels of the organization.

Coastal’s coaching culture is completely aligned to the corporate strategy….

About the Authors:
Deborah Lang EQi, ConRes, CHRP, MBA is the Associate Vice President, Organizational Development for Coastal Community Credit Union. She was the in-house coaching champion and mentor for the coaching culture transformation.

Paul Gossen, Founder, Business Transformed, ICF Professionally Certified Coach, PCC.  Paul was the external coach trainer for the leadership coach training initiatives – to date sixty (60) Managers at Coastal have completed Manager as Coach training.

Coastal Community Credit Union’s OD Team: Over a three year-period, Coastal Community Credit Union’s Organizational Development Team worked together to create the coaching culture success story: Deborah Lang, Deborah Edwards, Michelle McFarlane, Telse Fontaine, Sandra Kokorudz, Darryl King, Sheri Gauthier, Kelly Tilsner, Karla Rhode, Tanya Erickson, Glenn Kelso, Andrea Heyes, Alina Zutz, and Tracy Zandee.

(PeopleTalk: Winter 2010)

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