Were you one of the many people who held their breath at the end of 2021, excitedly and cautiously looking forward to embracing our coined “new normal” in 2022? The reality, however, was that COVID-19 once again had its own agenda in mind, reminding us that we are living with ongoing volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity (VUCA), in our personal and organisational environments, with far-ranging impacts.
From an organisational perspective, there has been much written about the impact of these forced changes upon us. Positively, we are now more aware of supporting our employees’ mental health and wellbeing and more conscious of the opportunity for individual choice, within and away from, the workplace. Extrapolating a common theme within these discussions points to the importance of the 3 C’s, namely connection, collaboration and communication.
This is where an organisational culture that embraces a Leadership Coaching mindset can provide powerful benefits.
Not surprisingly, demand for leadership coaching is rapidly increasing. Leaders are using coaching skills to improve an organisation’s culture, and to support wellbeing in their teams more so than ever before, as many people report they are struggling to cope, feeling disconnected and confused.
However, even before the impact of COVID-19, individuals and organisations were embracing a coaching approach. According to the 2018 Human Capital Institute and International Coaching Federation study, 83% of organisations surveyed planned to expand the scope of managers and leaders using coaching techniques over the next five years, by 2023.
This was further supported in the November-December 2019 Harvard Business Review article titled “The Leader as Coach”, where the authors Ibarra and Scoular (2019), stated:
“Rapid, constant, and disruptive change is now the norm, and what succeeded in the past is no longer a guide to what will succeed in the future. Twenty-first-century managers simply don’t (and can’t!) have all the right answers. To cope with this new reality, companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment. The role of the manager, in short, is becoming that of a coach. Increasingly, coaching is becoming integral to the fabric of a learning culture—a skill that good managers at all levels need to develop and deploy.”
In our experience, managers and leaders are seeking to incorporate coaching as a fundamental part of their leadership style. The Association for Coaching, a leading independent, and not-for-profit professional body dedicated to promoting best practice and raising the awareness and standards of coaching, worldwide, stated that coaching skills are an essential leadership tool that enables leaders and managers to develop and empower their teams through a coaching approach.
A coaching approach in leadership encapsulates the 3 C’s and includes elements such as empowerment, mindfulness, reflective practice, systems thinking, and compassion – all of which are in demand when leaders are looking for opportunities to support well-being and resilience in individuals and organisations.
The research undertaken by Peakon (April 2021) concluded that the quality of relationships at work matter. They stated
when people feel positive about their working environment, it has a positive impact on how they work and how engaged they are.
Thus, by immersing yourself in a leadership coaching mindset, you’ll not only move from surviving to thriving, but will deliver increased leadership impact and achieve tangible results rapidly for yourself personally, your team and your organisation. This is reflected in our experience coaching leaders from a vast range of industries – these leaders and their organisations take an exploratory approach to leading in complexity, such that they find the VUCA environment engaging, stimulating and highly innovative. One such example that I witnessed first-hand was at Rogers Communications.
Since 2013, large Canadian-based organisation, Rogers Communications, a diversified communications and media company providing wireless communications, cable television, high-speed Internet and telephone services, have been actively engaged in embedding a coaching culture. Their research found that the shift to coaching culture contributed to outstanding, and sustained results after just two years. As coaching was deployed at each call centre, the site would outperform its historical performance and the performance of the site where coaching had not yet been introduced.
Reported outcomes included:
- Double digit increases in call centre revenue year-over-year
- 72 percent retention among call centre employees
- Seven percent increase in employee engagement (across 4000 call centre employees)
- Double-digit increases in customer satisfaction
- Decreased escalation of customer complaints
Rogers also reported that the tone and style of call centre representatives’ conversations with customers changed as well as they reported greater empowerment and accountability. Encouragingly, the coaching impact reached further than Rogers call centres though, with a leader sharing they had used coaching as a parent to help their daughter overcome her fears. (For more detailed information, refer to the ICF Case Study).
In recognition of their success, Rogers was the recipient of the International Coach Federation Prism Award, which honours organisations that have achieved the highest standard of excellence in coaching programs. I experienced first-hand the palpable impact of Rogers embedded coaching culture. There was open and authentic communication, energy was high, hierarchies seemed irrelevant, and there was a very genuine sense of fun in the air.
At Rogers, the coaching agenda aligns with their corporate values and drives their culture. It is viewed as an organisational habit, which has a defined role in each leader’s tool kit and is an enabler to great conversations. Coaching is embraced across a performance-based conversation continuum, from coaching conversations with an open agenda, where the team member sets the topic and determines their commitment to action; to a cross-training/teaching approach – with the leader providing new information; right through to directive coaching conversations, where the leader tells the team member what specific action is required. Whilst coaching is modelled throughout the organisation it doesn’t replace leadership, rather it increases transparency in conversations, develops trust between leaders and team members, and provides an opportunity for team members to own their performance.
In 2015, Chief Human Resources Officer, Jim Reid, from Rogers Communications was quoted as saying:
We introduced coaching as an enabler of the cultural transformation that would position Rogers to win. We knew we could change culture, one team at a time, and that’s what we’ve seen in our call centers.”
It was not surprising that as a result of coaching conversations with their managers, call-centre agents reported they felt more accountable for their work and had a better perception of their relationship with their managers, because leadership is after all, about conversations.
As a leader, by adopting a coaching approach, you are providing an opportunity for your team to open up to a sounding board. Zenger and Stinnett (2010) have described coaching as ‘any interaction that helps individuals to expand awareness, discover superior solutions, and make and implement better decisions’. We consider coaching conversations as an essential and attainable element in these complex, yet technologically connected, environments. Even more noteworthy is that these types of conversations do not need to be planned nor diarised, they can be unprompted and informal and have a cascading benefit for the organisation.
Learning how to move forward embracing a leadership coaching mindset is particularly important for individuals and organisations as we navigate this new path forward.
We know that there are powerful benefits from the 3 C’s, namely connection, collaboration and communication. Fortunately, advances in communication and connectivity, brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, provide a rich environment for individual and organisational flourishing.
References and useful sources:
Edmondson, A and Mortensen, M, (April 2021), ‘What Psychological Safety Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace’, Harvard Business Review
Pozen, R. C and Samuel, A, (May 2021), ‘What Mix of WFH and Office Time Is Right for You?’ Harvard Business Review
Davis, D (June 2021) ‘5 Models for the Post-Pandemic Workplace’ Harvard Business Review
Peakon, (April 2021), “The impact of COVID-19 on Employee Engagement”
ICF Case Study, (2015), ‘Calling on Coaching at Rogers Communications’
Ibarra, H and Scoular, A, (November-December 2019), ‘The Leader as Coach’, Harvard Business Review
Zenger, J and Stinnett, K, (2010), ‘The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow’