How we use a coaching culture to facilitate career progression
give (someone) professional advice on how to attain their goals
*Sometimes, concepts evolve which is what’s happened to this dictionary definition… now, coaching can also be understood as -
- a form of learning, where a person (a coach) supports someone else (sometimes called a coachee) to make progress in some way. Progress might include; to reach a goal, solve problems, or create learning and change. Coaching is normally a conversation, or series of conversations, one person has with another (Starr, 2003).
When Engage created its People development and Culture (PdC) team in 2019, we had a vision that stretched beyond simply helping our colleagues to achieve their professional goals - we hoped to support their personal growth too.
While some learning and development functions are mainly focussed on training, we wanted to design a more holistic approach using one-to-one coaching as a tool for career progression. Some organisations bring in coaches specifically as siloed agents for this type of change facilitation and others adopt a coaching culture where support is provided by a member of the team.
Both the Director of PdC, Dave, and I are responsible for organising and delivering this bespoke coaching as part of a wider remit which includes company training and workshops, wellbeing and CSR strategy, and HR.
You might wonder why we’d choose this approach with there being a plethora of well-established development methods in widespread use, both in the digital industry and beyond. While we’re familiar with the standard Performance Development Plan (PDP), having used a version of it until now, it occurred to us that there may be better ways to nurture our team.
Our long-standing connection with The Oasis School of Human Relations opened our eyes to how adopting a coaching culture could help us to bring out the best in our team, for both individual and company benefit.
Our recent move to the HRIS, hibob (and its Goals/review Cycles functionality), and implementation of OKRs (a goals framework) along with coaching support comprise the components of how we manage our people development.
When we relaunched our employee handbooks (The Engage Culture Book and The Engage Force for Good Book) at the beginning of this year, we introduced completely new elements describing how these new practices would work together. Our vision is to provide everyone at Engage with a reliable system for setting goals and configuring the resources they need to achieve them through training, guidance, and support delivered by individual coaching.
Aligning the structure of this development plan to an annual cycle, we defined an order and cadence of support sessions to run concurrently with performance reviews, well-being surveys and regular opportunities to provide upward feedback.
My primary purpose in this process is to deliver individual coaching to members of the production teams. Dave will coach the SMT and as a qualified coach, will provide supervision for me.
The one-to-one meetings will focus on guiding progress towards personal OKRs using a coaching style, by aiming to raise awareness of options and remove any blockers. This coaching skill is quite different to most other methods of professional development, and requires training to learn the principles and techniques. I’ve always been driven by supporting others in the workplace (Myers-Briggs personality type ENFJ-T - Protagonist), although my background is in studio management and web development so I’ll be undertaking a programme allowing me to acquire the necessary knowledge and experience for this aspect of my role. I’ve just begun the Coaching with Head, Heart & Soul course offered by Oasis (after a long Coronavirus-associated delay) which teaches a holistic, ‘whole person’ learning style. Over the course of a year, this will give me the opportunity to learn and practice as I bring this evolution - for myself and for Engage - alive.
Conversations that matter
At the beginning of 2020 and just starting out in my new role, I was raring to get started, with the programme about to commence… cue a pandemic and severe restrictions on human contact! Fortunately, I had just begun a phase of extreme personal change and the hiatus gifted me the space for deep personal reflection about my values and purpose.
From March until the end of the year, I spent most of my time supporting the team through lockdowns and remote working via personal well-being check-ins and social interactions such as our Three’s Not a Crowd group chats (fortnightly triads). I also finished the independent preparation for the programme which involved pre-reading several books and completing practical exercises.
2021 heralded a new dawn of both proof that remote-working could be as (if not more) effective and light at the end of the tunnel in respect of vaccines. Confident in technology’s capabilities to allow for some (essential) human connection, the programme’s leaders arranged to deliver it via video conference starting in February. News, in January, of this imminent start felt overdue and at the same time, too soon!
Our first introduction to the other participants on the programme happened on a connection day where we were given the time to get to know each other, discuss preferences about future sessions and ask questions. While this might seem superfluous, learning to coach is a huge and challenging learning experience, and so building those relationships to share our concurrent journeys is an important foundation.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this style of support for me is that a coaching conversation may seem no different to any other on the surface; like any good dialogue - there’s rapport and it’s well-paced with careful listening. The distinction is what’s happening behind the scenes; Oasis teach a Seven Stage Model of relationships comprising defined stages which enable clear and authentic communication during each, and this underpins the coaching method they impart (similar to other coaching programmes). What might look like a natural, easy flow of discussion can be a thoroughly considered and thoughtful way of exploring issues and what progress could be made, using incisive questions to uncover options.
‘Contacting’ is the first element in the cyclical Seven Stage Model, where an initial conversation happens and rapport is established, followed by ‘Contracting’, when the nature of the relationship is determined and terms are agreed. The two crucial stages are crucial for a successful coaching relationship, and can also be applied to other areas of life - business and personal connections - as with the subsequent stages (Clarifying, Challenging, Changing, Choosing and Closing) which I’ll explain in future blog posts.
Two further days with the programme participants happened in March, where we practised our Contacting and Contracting skills in test scenarios. Facilitating a coaching conversation can feel clunky at first but repeating the process helps to ease this and the first module has concluded with all participants ready to begin coaching with five (volunteer) clients. The baseline of knowledge has given us the tools to hold a scoping meeting, get to know the coachee and identify areas that they’d like to move forwards. We’re all prepared for the practical exam, as it were!
Successfully completing the programme involves accumulating a set total of hours of practical experience over the next 3 modules (/9 months) which will result in a qualification (Certificate level or the more experienced Diploma, depending on how many hours the trainee chooses). I’ve opted to attempt the Diploma, which is awarded by the Association for Coaching and requires:
- A minimum of 80 class based (or online) training hours
- A minimum of 40 hours of coaching practice - in addition to practice on the programme (this equates to four or five clients completing a cycle of twelve hours with at least two)
- A minimum of 70 hours of self-study
Starting coaching projects with a cohort of other trainees is a milestone which will lead to guiding each coach through their challenges, and eventually a review stage where they can reflect and we’ll receive feedback.
As I’m sure you can imagine, anything new can seem a bit daunting at first! It’s fair to say that at this early stage, I’ve got a touch of imposter syndrome (perhaps exacerbated by being a woman in tech, a working mother… and after a year of working-from-home); I’m wondering whether I can pull it off.
At the same time, I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to deepen my skills in the area of work which I enjoy the most - helping people. Not only will I have the chance to broaden my professional tool kit, I’ll also be supporting others towards their goals which is totally my jam.
And at the end of a very strange year, I’m immensely grateful to work for an employer who’s willing to invest in my personal growth and the development of their team as individuals.
Having made contact with the five clients I’ll be working with and arranged meetings for April, I’m quite excited to take the next step. As with all talking trades, there’s a degree of documentation which needs setting up to allow for record-keeping and analysis (self-reflection and for sharing broad themes with my supervisor). Despite being habitually meticulously organised, I’ve been procrastinating about this part so that’s what I’ll be focussing on between now and then.
In the interim, I’ll continuously integrate my learnings into the work I do for Engage with a view to embedding a coaching culture into our people development using the skills I develop through my five client ‘projects’.
I’ll be back after the second module with the next installment of The Benefits of Firm Soft Skills!
Starr, J. (2002). The Coaching Manual: The Definitive Guide to The Process, Principles and Skills of Personal Coaching