Case Study: Together for Children’s Cultural Shift

Partnering with The OCM led to implementing coaching strategies that transformed the organization, resulting in improved performance and staff interactions.


UK-based global coaching and mentoring organization The OCM partnered with not-for-profit organization Together for Children (TfC) to run an ambitious coaching program that started in 2021. The program has transformed TfC’s performance and the quality of its children’s services.

The Challenge

In 2017, Sunderland Council Children’s Services were rated “inadequate” by the external regulator appointed by the UK government. This was for shortcomings in the services provided to children and their families. A new organization, Together for Children (TfC), was established in response, with a goal to transform the quality of service it provided. Outside of the council, the organization was free to appoint its own board, and develop its own strategy and ways of working.

However, there were challenges from the onset. Annual employee surveys and exit interviews revealed that some management and leadership behaviors, particularly when it came to conversations and performance management, were a major issue. Employees had raised high number of grievances, each taking an average of 120 management hours to resolve. TfC realized an organization-wide cultural shift was needed to improve relationships between individuals and departments.

The Solution

TfC Chief Executive Jill Colbert decided to make coaching central to their cultural transformation and approached The OCM, a leading coaching and mentoring business. The goal was to lift colleague engagement by enabling leaders to have the skills and confidence to engage in both supportive and challenging conversations.

The OCM designed a holistic coaching program to put coaching at the heart of the organization’s culture and sustain the transformation already underway. The OCM agreed to work on this project on a largely pro-bono basis, making it an affordable solution.

The ambition was that embedding coaching skills broadly across the organization would act as an enabler for TfC’s new performance management strategy and support the desired cultural shift.

A bold organizational-wide coaching program was implemented. It involved one-to-one coaching and team coaching for the senior leadership team, as well as the development of coaching skills in more than 120 leaders. The coaching skills program was delivered through a blend of The OCM’s ELECTRIC online program and virtual Action Learning Workshops for small groups of 10 to 15 participants. The program was delivered in a flexible, agile way, with the right balance between online and face-to-face learning to suit all learners.

An important part of the partnership was developing the metrics that would identify and measure success. TfC decided to focus on key metrics that would highlight areas where increasing leadership capability and improving the quality of conversations through coaching would significantly improve staff survey scores.

If the project could evidence greater staff engagement, improved morale and well-being, better staff retention rates, and reduced grievances over the long term, then both The OCM and TfC would know they had achieved their goals.

The Results

Coaching has transformed interactions between colleagues, and the program has given TfC new techniques that can be used effectively with children and their families. Employees also are active listening and asking the right questions to enable colleagues to seek their own solutions.

Coaching also led to the creation of a new performance management program called Thrive@TfC, which has shifted the previous focus on task-based conversations to conversations focusing on well-being, impact, behaviors, and development.

In addition, a coaching pool open to all staff was created. Several employees now are engaged with accredited coaches, enabling solution-focused development. TfC has built a behavioral framework with coaching at the core, and it sees the trickle-down impact most days, not just in the overall culture, but also in its engagement with children, young people, and families.

TfC currently has the lowest recorded number of grievances and disciplinary cases since the organization’s inception. This is, in part, due to the positive coaching culture, as well as the development of a coaching pool and the creation of a mediation program.

Even more revealing is the data from the key metrics identified at the start of the project. The annual TfC staff survey shows exceptional results, with improved leadership communication up 39 percent from June 2019 to June 2023; morale up 28 percent; and career development and career progression opportunities up 20 percent, plus a rise of 17 percent in employees stating they see themselves remaining in their role in the next year.

As a result of the program, all TfC leaders are externally trained coaches, something that is believed to be unprecedented in UK children’s services.

One of the leaders at TfC commented, “We work in a highly regulated environment where we were constantly being externally moderated, assessed and measured. We didn’t have the time not to be doing our day job. What the team coaching allowed was for us to take a breath and step back from things and to collectively review where we were at, and challenge some of the behaviors we had just learned to accept.”

Another leader said, “Coaching hasn’t been a quick fix, it has taken a lot of time, effort, and investment from everybody across the company. But the feeling of being invested in, being challenged, and being pushed to think differently about how we can achieve success has changed our way of thinking.”

The coaching journey continues today, testament to the value The OCM has brought to the organization. TfC is ensuring all new managers are trained in coaching fundamentals so staff continue to benefit from the positive principles it brings. Other councils and children’s services now are learning how TfC made the leap from a rating of “inadequate” for five years, to “outstanding” using coaching and mentoring as a catalyst for change.

Key Takeaways

Coaching has changed the way TfC operates. In doing so, it has directly impacted its ability to provide transformative services to children, young people, and their families across Sunderland.

The program has been praised by the HR and learning and development community in the UK, with The OCM winning the Highly Commended Award for the Best L&D initiative at the 2023 CIPD People Management Awards, and in the U.S. as the GOLD HCM Excellence Award Winner 2023 – Leadership Development, Best Advance in Coaching and Mentoring.

Jenny Whitefield
Jenny Whitfield is a consultant coach-mentor at The OCM, a UK coaching and mentoring provider working with global brands to support sustained behavior and culture change in service of strategic objectives. Solutions include: Executive Coaching - Transformative 1:1 coaching relationships; Team Coach-Mentoring - Impactful, lasting development for teams at all levels; Building Coach-Mentoring Skills in Leaders - Giving leaders and mangers coaching skills they can use every day; Developing Internal Coaches and Mentors - Building internal resources to coach and mentor people.