Feature: The Coach Route for Learning and Development

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Rosey Village, training co-ordinator for engineering company MWH, gives a personal account of how coaching has meant a step-change in the way learning and development is approached in her organisation.

Background
MWH is a global water supply, wastewater engineering and environmental management company offering professional consultancy, engineering design and construction services, to water companies, towns, cities and industry. It employs 6000 staff in 160 offices across the world, 1500 staff are based in MWH's 10 UK offices.

Why did MWH introduce coaching?
The programme had a combined aim of empowering staff to manage their own development and career, and to change the organisational culture from taking instructions to taking the initiative.

What was the process?
We launched the coaching programme in conjunction with a structured individual development plan for staff to identify their career goals and create a plan for achieving them. The coaching programme gives staff the opportunity to discuss their plan with a trained internal coach of their choice.

We trained managers and supervisors from each of our 10 UK offices on a two-day coaching programme. The courses were designed with an external training consultancy which co-delivered with a business sponsor or member of HR. We have now trained over 170 managers including the full senior management team.

A booklet on coaching and mentoring was produced at the beginning of the campaign and sent to all staff. This explained the concepts of coaching and mentoring; how they were going to be used at MWH; how they fitted in with the current performance review process and the new development plan.

How have staff reacted to the programme?
Well, it has certainly been a challenge for people to acclimatise to this new freedom. It’s now just over a year since we launched coaching into the organisation and staff are just beginning to appreciate the benefits. The traditional culture of the organisation has been that of ‘ask and tell’. Staff expected, and were given, clear direction on how work was to be completed and learning goals achieved. By introducing coaching (where managers do the asking, to help the employees supply their own answers) as a new management style, we have empowered staff to manage how learning issues are resolved and how their career can be developed.

What have you done to help staff understand this new development style?
We have promoted the fact that coaching is for personal development and emphasised that the role of the coach is to provide support to enable you to create your own development plan, improve your performance and maximise your potential! Having trained our managers and supervisors to give them a new toolbox of coaching skills, we then began a general awareness programme for staff, together with lunchtime coaching workshops to embed coaching from the bottom-up.

What is expected of the coaches?
Our trained coaches have been encouraged to use their new coaching skills as often as possible:
* In their every-day interaction with staf.f
* To help staff think through a particular work or development issue – this may be over a long time period.
* At performance review meetings.

How often and for how long ‘formal’ coaching sessions last depends on what staff want from their coach. As suggested above, it is their opportunity to get the most out of coaching and using their development plan.

What is the next step for MWH?
It is clear that one of the more challenging aspects of introducing such a programme is making coaching a ‘normal’ part of working life. I am keen to hear about the experiences of other companies who have rolled out a similar programme, how they have achieved this and how they have measured their success.

Rosey is conducting her own research into coaching programmes, for more information contact her at [email protected] or post your comments below.

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