Support from the sidelines

Most organisations understand the value of having effective leaders, but hiring them in from outside is an expensive exercise. Teresa Russell talks with two organisations that have invested in coaching to get the most of their senior people and up-and-coming leaders

Most organisations understand the value of having effective leaders, but hiring them in from outside is an expensive exercise. Teresa Russell talks with two organisations that have invested in coaching to get the most of their senior people and up-and-coming leaders

GREAT football coach can turn a team of players that won the wooden spoon one year into a team of champions holding the trophy at the grand final the next. The team members don’t change, it’s just that the new coach is able to bring the best out in the players. They may learn a few new skills from the coach, but mostly, the coach just gets all the previously untapped talent to shine. The same principle applies to business coaches.

Carolyn Barker, the CEO of the Australian Institute of Management for Queensland and the Northern Territory, says that a good coach should be an objective sounding board, able to provide honest feedback and support. So what does that look like in real terms?


As one of Australia’s top 30 companies, Stockland employs around 1,400 people throughout its 40 shopping centres and in its Saville hotel business. Rilla Moore, executive general manager of human resources, says the company has experienced 400 per cent growth in the five years leading up to 2005, resulting in a huge influx of new people.

“Despite the fact that we have a very young staff (80 per cent are 40 or under) and our oldest senior leader is 43, the group has fantastic business skills. The organisation believes in the power of effective leadership and its positive impact on business results,” says Moore. Coaching is a key element in Stockland’s succession management, talent management and leadership development –three areas the company has identified as key to its successful leadership.

Many organisations employ external coaches for senior management teams, but Stockland has gone one step further. Its 40 top leaders have attended an advanced skills coaching program to become better coaches of their own people.

Moore has three coaching vendors which were selected because of her knowledge of the market. “Good coaching providers do extensive interviewing and match individuals with a coach based on requirements and style. It’s critical when selecting the coach to get the chemistry right. The individual must also be ready to accept coaching. It’s very expensive – if you push people into it too soon, you won’t maximise your investment,” she says.

Coaching topics covered by the external consultants include effectively leading your own team, working effectively with your peers, working effectively with your boss and understanding the organisational dynamics (culture) and working within them. “Of course, none of this works unless you have an MD who is committed and demonstrates the leadership attributes you want in the organisation,” says Moore.

Coaching outcomes are measured in both qualitative and quantitative ways at Stockland. The company undertakes an annual employee survey measuring, among other things, people leadership and employee engagement – key drivers of productivity and retention. Moore says that the organisation rates highly on both these measures and that turnover at Stockland is below the industry average. Exit surveys show that 90 per cent of departing employees would be happy to work for Stockland again. She also uses 360-degree surveys and observation of behaviour, as well as feedback from an employee’s manager.

HR professionals need to be the architects of an organisation’s leadership development and people strategy, clearly positioning the coaching as part of the strategy and not just as an ad hoc addition to the program. Also, says Moore, “you must monitor and measure results and make sure that people understand why they are being coached. They have to understand whether it is to help them do their current job, or to skill them up for their next role.”

Moore also believes it is vital for HR professionals to be good coaches themselves. She coaches a few of the top people at Stockland, who chose her over an external coach.

NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal

Operating as a statutory authority with 73 full-time and part-time staff, the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) is an independent economic regulator of electricity, gas, water and transport.

Marianne Guy, IPART’s human resources manager, describes the organisation as a young agency with enthusiastic, passionate and professional staff who are, for the most part, analysts with economic, engineering, legal or financial training. “All managers are coaches – whether they know it or not. Leaders are responsible for getting the best possible performance from their staff. Calling it coaching makes it more personal,” says Guy.

IPART started a formal coaching program two years ago, initially motivated by a need for succession planning. It was called an executive development program, starting with 360-degree feedback and followed by four one-hour coaching sessions. Guy says that the results were powerful because most people had never been involved in 360-degree feedback before and now everyone was involved.

“The coaching was like a rebirth for some managers who were prepared to have high disclosure. Every manager who went through got something out of it,” says Guy.

She believes that HR’s role should be to facilitate the learning experience for managers and to encourage their full participation. “If you are ever offered coaching, you should grab it. It’s like attending a classroom lecture, multiplied by one thousand in just one hour.” She sees another part of her role as matching the correct provider with the organisation and providing feedback to them during the process.

After canvassing six external providers, she chose one that not only had a good cultural fit with IPART, but also had extensive experience with other agencies. “We wanted the coaching to be a fun journey that would not bog managers down. It had to be personal and enjoyable – almost contagious,” she says.

The effectiveness of the coaching is measured through feedback, and some of the best feedback Guy received was from the CEO. The progress made by one of his direct reports was extraordinary and greatly contributed to the CEO’s continuing support of the program over time.

Phase two of the program is currently under discussion, but will involve face-to-face training with managers about how to coach members of their teams, followed by more individual coaching.

How to pick a coach and what to ask

Look at previous coaching experience

– How long have you worked as a coach?

– In what kinds of organisations and industry sectors have you worked?

– What kinds of issues/problems have you coached individuals on?

Ask for references

– Are you able to provide references/contact details from previous clients?

– Are they members of a professional body?

– Are you a member of any professional bodies? If so, at what level?

– Do you adhere to a code of ethics/conduct as part of your membership?

Check out professional indemnity insurance

– Do you hold professional indemnity insurance?

– If yes, with whom and at what level?

Look at supervision issues

– How do you maintain your objectivity and perspective during coaching?

– Do you have your own coach/ supervisor?

Assess their method

– How do you suggest we evaluate the success/impact of the coaching?

– Can you describe the theoretical framework you use for your coaching?

– What tools and models do you like to use?

Source: AIM, QLD and NT

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