Feedback about job performance and career progress often only comes with annual reviews. What about employees who desire, or need, more? Many companies also offer coaching programs that give employees a longer-term assessment and feedback. Participants are able to lean on their coach for guidance on how best to reach their career goals. From the company’s standpoint, the program potentially offers a win in boosting employee performance.
The question, though, is whether these programs really enhance performance and otherwise provide a return on investment for the time and money required. Four Training Top 125 companies share how they ensure coaching delivers results for them—and their customers.
Offer a Variety of Coaching
Coaching can take more than one form. At AT&T, there are four different types of coaching, according to Assistant Vice President of Organizational Assessment and Development Seth Zimmer. The company offers:
Executive Coaching: One-on-one coaching for the general manager (GM) level and above
Peer Coaching: Small groups of four to five second-level managers and GMs coaching one another
New Leader in Transition (NLT): One-on-one coaching for newly hired or promoted GM-level leaders, based on Michael Watkins’ book, “The First 90 Days”
360 Feedback Coaching: All levels of employees, one-on-one, done in 90-minute sessions to help employees understand their assessment feedback
The type of coaching that’s used often depends on the level of the employee. “Our traditional coaching program combines internal (from within) and external (from outside the company) coaching,” says Zimmer. “For senior executives, we’ve found it more appropriate to use external coaching. This provides both an impartial perspective and comfort. It allows executive participants to ask questions and think through strategies, not necessarily to solve a business issue. Additionally, we offer Peer Coaching to cross-functional groups of peers who meet to coach each other on individual leadership challenges and opportunities.”
Zimmer says to make sure coaching delivers results, either the program organizer or the coach should make sure the employee wants to be coached. “They must be willing to dedicate the time and energy to coaching needed for a successful outcome,” he says. “To provide coaching for someone who isn’t invested in the process is like going to a therapist and not being willing to talk. Without commitment, it wastes resources and solves nothing.”
Just as you want to make sure an employee is a good candidate for coaching, so, too, do you want to make sure the coaches are up to the challenge. “These individuals need to start with a specific skill set. They should be good listeners, have a demonstrated ability to provide constructive feedback, and an ability to put things in context and to communicate in a charismatic, yet comfortable, way,” says Zimmer. He recommends that prospective coaches receive certified training, and that they receive ongoing development from the company, so the coaches are prepared for all different “coachee” personalities and challenges. In addition, Zimmer says it’s important to have a feedback process in place, so coaches receive feedback both from the coachee, as well as the company, on how they’re doing as a coach.
How does AT&T know if it’s worth it in dollars and cents? “In some instances, we can measure the dollar impact coaching had on the coachee’s performance—for example, for an employee in a position with related sales metrics. For others, more qualitative things can be considered instead,” says Zimmer. “For example, you can offer coaching to someone who is a great performer but is thinking about leaving the company. By offering some guidance, and getting some honest feedback, you might get him or her to stay. You’ve benefited in terms of retention value in the person’s continued productivity and not incurring the cost of acquisition for a replacement. And that’s just the immediate benefit.”
The company also can gauge the impact of coaching by looking at its ability to attract and retain talent, to “be competitive and maintain a strong reputation in the marketplace,” Zimmer says.
Make It Methodical
Coaching programs that are structured, rather than left informal and entirely up to the coach and coachee, may produce better results. At Afni, coaching adheres to a five-step process, says Director of Talent Development Tracy Hahn. That process includes:
- Inspecting Performance
- Identifying Behaviors
- Coaching for Results
- Documenting Commitments
- Measuring and Follow-Up
A structured program not only works better for participants, but for the company and customers, as its effectiveness can be more easily assessed, Hahn says. “The model provides a consistent framework for quality review, performance improvement, employee development, and succession planning ,” says Hahn. “Research shows that consistent coaching will improve employee satisfaction and retention, while ultimately leading to a better overall experience for our client’s customers.”
It also helps when the coach isn’t assigned haphazardly, or randomly, but is the employee’s manager. “We know that the primary influencer on front-line employee engagement and satisfaction is their direct supervisor—which at Afni is known as their coach,” says Hahn. “The model includes weekly coaching sessions focusing on trending performance and behaviors, as well as observation sessions to validate skill and verify willingness to execute the agreed-upon behaviors. The weekly coaching sessions last approximately 30 minutes per week, with follow-up feedback sessions lasting approximately 15 minutes each.”
Rather than take a top-down approach , Afni asks the coachee to help identify areas for improvement. “Coaches are put through an extensive development program to learn how to collaboratively communicate and document steps for improvement,” Hahn explains. “Coaching and feedback sessions are tracked on a weekly basis by management, and are required for all employees. These development sessions are conducted by 890 leaders for a total of 4,950 employees on a weekly basis.”
It’s important for coachees to feel the program delivered, too. “Expectations for the employees are just as critical as they are for the coach. Employees should understand they are expected to participate in the coaching session and self-reflect on performance, behaviors, and any obstacles that have hindered them from achieving their goal,” says Hahn. “It is important employees understand the coach role, and can assist in holding the coach accountable in investing in employee development.”
Keep It Positive and Tied to Corporate Culture
At Anthem, coaching is part of the overall culture, and a positive way to help employees grow, says Adrienne Sims, Psy.D., staff vice president of Organizational Effectiveness. In 2014, the company launched the Anthem Coaching Team, and each year since then Anthem reviews a candidate slate, interviews them, and selects employees to participate. The program is treated as a privilege, or something to aspire to, rather than a requirement. “We do not use the program as a tool to get inefficient or ineffective employees back on track to success—it is not a punitive measure, and should never be used as a ‘last resort’ to ‘save’ someone from being terminated,” says Sims. “Coaching is an investment in an associate by the company and by the coach. Only by ensuring this consistent approach to coaching can we make a difference.”
In addition to making sure participants enter the program with a positive, motivated attitude, the effectiveness of the program is ensured with a training and assessment program for prospective coaches, who are evaluated to make sure they can do things such as be reflective, determine the coachee’s receptivity to being coached, ask thought-provoking questions, think critically (analyze and problem solve), and hold coachees accountable.
Along with ensuring the motivation of the coachee and the abilities of the coach, Anthem’s coaching program works well because it is so cost-effective. “Since our trainers are Anthem associates, and we use on-site conference facilities, the only expenses are travel and meals,” says Sims. “ROI is determined by the cost savings of our associates being coached assigned to specific key performance indicators using a business impact survey.”
Going forward, the company also will have technological help in tracking and assessing the ROI of its coaching program. “We recently implemented AIIR’s Enterprise Coaching Manager (ECM) system,” Sims points out. “This cloud-based system will allow us to track engagements—individual and programmatic—and measure their success using ROI.”
Show Coaches and Coachees the Big Picture
To get the most out of your coaching program, it helps if both coaches and coachees understand the ultimate goal. At Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, the Coaching for Success program begins and ends with an assessment, including a Fundamentals of Coaching session in which participants discuss the business case for coaching, along with department-specific goals, says Director of Organization Effectiveness Jan Wagener. “Participants attend three to six monthly coaching circle meetings led by nominated leader coaches from the business. The group determines the topics to ensure participation, relevance, and motivation,” says Wagener. “Popular coaching circle topics include coaching up, coaching peers, coaching through change, and modifying coaching conversations for different personality types.”
Wagener explains that the expectations of both coaches and coachees are managed, including an agreement on the purpose and outcomes of the ongoing coaching conversation and the responsibilities of participants. After the coaching occurs, an assessment gauges what the participants thought of it. “There is a pre-and post-assessment given to both the coach and his or her direct reports,” she says. “These assessments ask questions regarding the quantity and quality of the coaching conversations between the coach and the employee.”
The company creates all of the learning materials, which keeps the program cost-effective. “All the coaching models and training materials were created in-house, so there are no licensing fees. We use an in-house facilitator to lead all of the sessions. Cost is limited to making copies of participant guides,” Wagener says.
The program is seen as enough of a success to warrant a new, and even better version, a “Coaching 2.0” program, planned for rollout in the future. “This program would build on the coaching skills learned in the initial program,” Wagener notes. “It would include opportunities for coaches to stretch their skills by using the coaching conversations to increase innovation or manage change.”
- Offer coaching for multiple employee levels, each geared specifically to the respective level’s challenges and goals.
- Make sure both the coach and the coachee are well suited to their roles.
- Create a structure for the coach and coachee to follow, rather than leaving it up to each pair of coaches and coachees to figure out.
- Make coaching a privilege rather than a requirement by limiting involvement and having those interested apply for acceptance.
- Take ability to retain and attract talent as evidence of ROI, since those coaches may feel they are being invested in, and stick with the company.
- Use your own learning materials, facilities, and employees as coaches, rather than using outside materials and expertise.
- Give assessments before and after the program, and set department-specific goals you would like the coaching to positively impact.
AN OBJECTIVE APPROACH
By David Shanklin, Head of Culture Strategy, CultureIQ (https://cultureiq.com)
The trick to measuring all coaching ROI is making the subjective more objective. Calculating the exact ROI of coaching has been notoriously difficult to quantify for professionals, but there are ways to overcome this challenge. Although exact results are difficult to obtain, the following tips are a step in the right direction:
Define objectives and goals. A good rule of thumb is that any coaching engagement should outline clear objectives and goals. If it doesn’t, you likely will need a different coach. For example, your goals could be as broad as “feel better about my career trajectory” or as specific as “spend less time on my inbox.”
Establish a baseline to measure progress. It is important to identify how you will measure achievement against your goals and objectives over a specific time frame. For example, let’s take the first scenario discussed above. First, you would ask yourself to assess on a scale of 1 to 10 how you feel about your career trajectory. In three months, you will revisit this question to re-asses your state.
It’s important to note that you must work with your coach to quantify your results based on metrics that are relevant to you. For the inbox example, it is easier to quantify with a question such as “How many minutes a day do you currently spend on your inbox?” In this case, metrics would be measured in time intervals, as opposed to a scale of 1 to 10.
Create a schedule to track these metrics over time. Now that you have metrics you are tracking, establish a schedule to regularly check in on progress, as it should be clear if the coaching is effective or if you need to make any changes to increase the impact. For any coaching engagement, it is important to regularly assess yourself at intervals, and tweak your actions to reach your goals.