· 8 min read · Features

Coaching and mentoring: doing more with less training budget

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As public sector organisations implement severe cuts and the private sector faces increased competition, all having to manage 'more with less', an increasing number of organisations are turning coaching and mentoring into their training and development solution of choice.

Evidence suggests that developing middle management-level employees in particular is a key focus. Meanwhile, a recent survey of 2,500 public and private sector HR and non-HR senior managers conducted by Henley Business School revealed that the majority of organisations are set on delivering this learning and development themselves.

Indeed, 62% of respondents to Henley's Corporate Learning Priorities Survey 2011 said that in 2011 they would be doing more informal knowledge-sharing between peers and 59% more mentoring of peers, compared to 2010.

Doubtless, this reflects priorities at a time when retaining and developing talent to achieve growth and competitive advantage need to be balanced against over-stretched budgets and ever-growing demands on employees' time. But the question is whether coaching and mentoring deliver timely and positive interventions that provide real value, or whether it simply amounts to training on the cheap.

"Coaching and mentoring are often part of a response to the need to address a known skills shortage quickly and to base the learning on real-life, on-the-job experience, rather than on a theoretical understanding gained via a classroom," says Robin Hoyle, head of learning for training design agency, Infinity Learning, adding, "but doubts still exist".

These include the mistaken perception that any learning outside the classroom is 'dumbing down'. Meanwhile, senior managers can display reluctance, viewing expectations around coaching or mentoring as an imposition, or yet another drain on their time. Likewise, without the perceived reward of more formal training, 'mentees' and 'coachees' can also feel let down.

Avoiding such pitfalls clearly requires the development of a coaching and mentoring culture. This may be through the likes of competency frameworks and performance measures that reinforce these techniques - and developing others as an essential part of being a good manager, rather than an optional extra.

Equally important, however, is ensuring that such attitudes and behaviours are championed internally, from the top down. Credit risk company Experian, for example, has since 2008 been running a global talent development forum and internal mentoring initiative, the Experian Business Network (EBN), for its high-potential and diverse emerging talent.

Crucially, the EBN is sponsored by the company's global CEO, Don Robert, who was instrumental in its creation. Group HR director, Mark Wells, says: "The scheme has direct involvement from the board and senior management team and has demonstrated how it plays a key role in developing, promoting and retaining talent within the organisation." Proof? Those on EBN register double the retention rate and more than double the promotion rate, compared to company averages.

While coaching and mentoring are becoming an ever more widely adopted learning and development technique, internal peer-to-peer delivery is not for all.

"It is not easy to create an internal coaching culture, as it takes time and involves training line managers in coaching skills and establishing tight processes around quality control, assessment and evaluation," says Paul Brewerton, director of HR coaching and consulting firm, Strengths Partnership.

In addition, there can be ethical questions around line managers acting as coaches or mentors and having to provide feedback to team members. Furthermore, the relationship between management and employees is often part of the very problem that coaching or mentoring is designed to solve.

Because of this, organisations can take very different approaches. For example, Tesco has worked with Brewerton's firm to focus on building consistency into its in-house team of accredited coaches. This has involved training members of Tesco's Training Academy and Personnel teams in its 360o strengths profile tool, Strengthscope.

Saint-Gobain, a global specialist in construction materials, which employs more than 15,500 people in the UK and Ireland alone, uses a mix of both approaches. "External coaches work with cross-functional groups to enhance our networks and team performance in pursuit of shared objectives, while a team of internal coaches is used for career coaching," says Richard Batley, Saint-Gobain director, career management and executive development, UK, Ireland and South Africa.

One of the major problems with using external mentoring and coaching support is finding the right supplier. "Coaching is highly unregulated in terms of professional qualifications and selection, hence it is important that those doing the purchasing exercise due diligence," says Carole Miller, director of business coaching specialist Tinder-Box, which works with organisations including PepsiCo, BP, Premier Foods, Lloyds Banking Group and social enterprises such as Jamie Oliver's restaurant group, Fifteen.

She advises that, as part of the procurement procedure, HR professionals look at coaches' professional qualifications, such as whether they have ICF (International Coaching Federation) or EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council) accreditation or similar. In addition, while there is a school of thought that coaching skills are transferable, she recommends scrutiny of coaches' business credibility and sector expertise. "Can they give you evidence of enabling sustainable results for an organisation?" she asks.

Meanwhile, it is important that HR professionals consider how they will measure any proposed out-sourced programme, to help identify when the time is right for the supplier to step away.

Indeed, if any mentoring or coaching programme, internal or external, is to be justified and deliver something back to an organisation, it is vital that some form of measurement and evaluation takes place. This may involve 360o employee feedback, both before and after, looking at how performance and behaviours have changed.

Equally, where interventions are designed to help solve an operational question, such as improving business efficiency, it may be that KPIs or hard financials are a more appropriate yardstick.

Logistics group DHL Supply Chain, for example, which integrates its coaching and mentoring with more formal training and on-the-job learning, tracks investment against a range of measures. For its high-potential employees, this includes logging an individual's progress against corporate expectations of taking on new responsibilities and promotions. "We also measure against business projects and their financial outputs," says DHL's head of learning UK & Ireland, Fiona Light, who cites a training initiative that in 2010 delivered almost £1 million in savings for her organisation.

Clearly, mentoring and coaching alone are not enough to meet organisations' people and business objectives. Nevertheless, there is a growing recognition that it complements other learning and is part of supporting individuals and teams in finding the best solutions to important business issues.

As Saint-Gobain's Batley says: "Coaching is relatively cost-effective and, as it is driven by individual and team commitment, it delivers good value for money."

Chesapeake Energy: an informal approach

Last December, US natural gas producer Chesapeake Energy embarked on a coaching programme with one of its technical divisions. "Our goal was to make the leadership team more aware of their own strengths and areas for improvement and increase their ability to have meaningful conversations with the people they manage about their strengths and areas for improvement," says the energy firm's supervisor of corporate employee relations, Kelli Adams.

Instigated and rolled out by the division's senior leader, the programme involved assigning to 42 front-line leaders and senior executives an individual external coach for a two-hour session each month, supplemented by group training classes.

Explaining why the firm chose coaching over other learning and development techniques, Adams says: "In some cases, formal training courses aren't the best fit, as they tend to be designed to meet a wide variety of needs."

To date, Chesapeake has used informal measures to evaluate the success of the programme - although Adams reports that improvement in communication among leadership team members and with their employees is "self-evident". The programme is being extended to embrace the next employee performance review cycle this July, when more formal evaluation (against baseline measure taken last year) will take place.

Merseyside: in-house pool of trainers

In 2008, the Merseyside Capacity Building and Learning Group (MCBLG), which comprises the six local authorities on Merseyside (Haltom, Knowsley, Liverpool, Sexton, St Helens and Wirral) and the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, established the Merseyside Coaching Academy, creating a network of coaches and managers with coaching skills.

The vision was for each partner to significantly improve performance at an individual and team level and to build capacity across Merseyside to establish a culture of empowerment and innovation. The challenge was to achieve this in partnership, efficiently sharing resources and expertise.

As a result, several hundred managers across the partner organisations have been trained in coaching skills, 12 of whom have undertaken a five-day 'Train the trainers' programme, creating an in-house pool of trainers. The academy also has six coaches qualified to post-graduate certificate or diploma level, available for cross-authority coaching.

More partners have come on board, including public transport authority, MerseyTravel, which is making a valuable contribution, due to its previous investment in coaching. Meanwhile, the partner organisations have used coaching in different ways to help deliver various outcomes. "It is hard to identify empirical evidence of the success of the academy, but it has helped support the achievement of Investors in People gold status in one authority, an authority-wide culture-change programme in one partner and the achievement of an 'excellent' rating by the Audit Commission in another," says St Helens Council corporate training development manager, David Broster, who is also the MCBLG partnership's coaching lead.

"The challenge now is how we sustain what we have achieved so far and take it forward," he adds. To this end, Broster has pioneered fresh ways of approaching coaching, for example, establishing a 'virtual' coaching academy to create an online community and access to resources, which he hopes will ultimately provide a matching service for coaches and 'coachees' across the region.

In what are very uncertain times for local government, the academy is focusing on team coaching interventions. "As the recent Government cuts begin to drive a restructuring that brings different people together, it is actually a good time to use coaching to help manage people through change," says Broster. "It is also a relatively cheap and easy intervention, which doesn't involve dragging people out of the workplace."

Tackling the glass ceiling

This February, Lord Davies' report, Women on Boards, recommended that UK listed companies in the FTSE 100 should be aiming for a minimum of 25% female board member representation by 2015 and that FTSE 350 organisations set their own more challenging targets.

This comes on the back of figures showing that 18 FTSE 100 companies have no female directors at all and nearly half of all FTSE 250 companies do not have a woman in the boardroom.

However, Lord Davies' statement that "radical change is needed in the mindset of the business community, if we are to implement the scale of change that is needed" indicates that coaching and mentoring - for both genders - may have a role.

Indeed, there are already many such initiatives in place, including the FTSE 100 Cross-Company Mentoring Programme, which addresses both the demand and supply sides, by pairing able, ambitious senior women with corporate chairmen and CEOs such as Sir John Parker, chairman of both Anglo American and the National Grid.

"One of the benefits of the scheme is that it gives women access to power networks," says the programme's founder and director, Peninah Thomson. She highlights the fact that 57 of the 68 women who have undertaken the programme to date have achieved significant success. This includes 15 being appointed to the executive committee or main board of their own FTSE company. "The exciting development for 2011 is that we are scaling up the programme to include the chairmen and CEOs of FTSE 250 companies," she adds.

Lord Davies' report stresses that gender diversity is not just a numbers game, but is about improving business performance. This places responsibility on individual organisations to develop a pipeline of talented and gifted women.

"More coaching and mentoring needs to be done at an early stage in women's careers, because one of the problems for investment banks and law firms, in particular, is that at a senior level the women have already opted out," says Geraldine Gallacher, managing director of the Executive Coaching Consultancy.

This view is echoed by Chris Parke, CEO of Talking Talent, which specialises in executive coaching for women. "The important element is retention and the decisive period tends to be in the one- to three-year window after women return to work following maternity leave, especially after a second or third child," he says.

This trend may be driven by a lack of flexible working options and flexible career paths; equally, women may simply feel let down by their employer.

"If women are poorly managed through maternity, then the psychological contract with their employer tends to get dented, so they wait awhile and then go and join a competitor," adds Parke.

One of the ways in which Deutsche Bank is addressing this question is with one-to-one maternity coaching for its senior female staff, group workshops for more junior females and a one-to-one coaching programme for all line managers of those taking maternity leave. "We are seeing the success of this programme, as we have a return rate from maternity leave of 90% ," says the firm's UK head of talent and development, Emily Midwood.

Similarly, Barclays Wealth has a number of initiatives in place to embed gender diversity across its working culture and ensure that more talented and gifted women secure the top jobs.

Alongside maternity coaching for women and their line managers, this includes an internal mentoring programme as part of its Women's initiatives Network (WiN). Meanwhile, the firm offers executive coaching to its high-potential, top-tier female managers.

"When it comes to gender diversity, there can be a difficult balance between presenting an agenda that either wags the finger at men or suggests that the women need to be 'fixed', when the reality is that we all need to become more gender-intelligent," says Barclays Wealth European head of diversity, Sarah Boddey. She emphasises that diversity goes beyond gender and needs to be tackled on many fronts, adding: "If we continue to hire and promote based on what we have had before, it will be difficult to alter the gender split in the boardroom."