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Learning curve: Coaching to make London safer

The Metropolitan Police Service was keen to ensure its coaching fitted organisational needs.

Why does coaching so often fail to deliver? Perhaps it is because we tend to expect organisations to fit around the needs of coaches rather than coaches to fit around the needs of organisations.

Before the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) first went down the coaching route we carried out research to establish what type of coaching would actually work well. We visited and interviewed a whole range of both public and private-sector organisations that had introduced coaching. We asked two questions: what would you do differently and what one thing has really worked for you? This enabled us to gather facts together so that senior leaders could make a well-informed decision about whether coaching was going to fit our organisational requirements.

But we didn't stop there. We also asked our own staff what they wanted. We sold the idea that coaching was an opportunity for personal development and as a powerful aid in enhancing performance, not a form of training.

We think we have succeeded where others have failed, because we approached coaching knowing that it means different things to different organisations. In its very broadest terms it is a series of conversations that enable people to operate at their very best. It helps to motivate, to encourage and nurture new ways of thinking and doing; and it can be an extremely powerful catalyst for a culture change. Coaching delivered subtly is a major lever for a culture shift.

Subtlety though does not mean having no communication. We found that one of the most important first steps was to get the buy-in of senior management by aligning coaching with personal goals and those of the organisation. This flags up how coaching is maximising performance. My senior leaders have been extremely supportive and innovative in seeing how tremendously useful it is for the organisation. I passionately believe coaching underpins true transformational leadership.

We also monitor who our coaches are. At the MPS everyone who applies to be a coach undergoes a rigorous selection process. Our Leadership Academy programme is bespoke, with a hybrid of various models which we designed in partnership with an external consultant. We also strictly adhered to set coaching standards and ethics underpinned by our core values.

Alongside the purist-coaching programme is a one-day skills module that incorporates a five-minute intervention designed to deliver short, 'Just a Minute'-type (JAM) sessions for sticky conversations. I adapted the concept of micro-tools, introduced to me by Michael Hjerth, a Swedish fellow coach, to produce JAM speed coaching, and although this is still at an early stage, feedback has been positive. Managers are asking for more.

We have a huge internal coaching network. We run masterclasses where both internal and external coaches share learning. We encourage buddy coaching both internally and externally too.

Coachees have reported that their confidence, self-awareness and perspectives have widened. Coaches and buddy coaches also claim their own self-insight and sense of purpose and contribution has been enhanced. But the main reason MPS coaching has been successful is because coaching is considered by staff as a support mechanism. It is not perceived as a threat. It is enabling our core values to be lived.

Coaching must fit the needs of the organisation The loudest call I hear from managers at the MPS is for help in dealing with staffing issues while going about their core business. Any intervention that can assist in these situations is most welcome. And anything that helps achieve our ultimate priority of making London safer gets our vote.

- Jackie Keddy is detective chief inspector, Leadership Academy, the Metropolitan Police Service.