Business coaching: how to make it stick

A few pointers.

How do you make coaching stick? This is a question I get asked a lot and whilst there's a lot I would need to know about your particular organisation before I could give specific advice, I thought the following pointers might be helpful:

Follow up initial training

Whilst a typical one or two day coaching skills training course will equip managers with the basic tools and techniques it will only address a change in behaviour. Where behavioural change is not accompanied by a similar change in thinking and attitude it will not stick. A series of follow ups to any initial training is useful particularly where the participants are required to be coached on an ongoing work issue and to regularly report back on their progress.

Include a coaching module on all 'people skills' training

In order to move away from coaching as 'task' to coaching as 'style' it must be seen as part of the overall approach to managing people. It is therefore useful to reflect this need on all people skills training and not just specific coaching workshops.

Get the support of the most senior person you can

Where coaching is seen as merely a skill to learn the involvement of the training department is all that is required. However where coaching is seen – as it should be – as part of organisational and cultural change, it becomes a policy decision that requires the full support of the senior team. However, it is not necessary to get the whole team on board from the start, target the most obvious champion and work from there.

Coach the senior team so that they get the benefits

Many of my coaching skills training projects had their seed in a senior executive being bowled over by the benefits of being coached and wanting that experience to permeate throughout the organisation.

Make sure high performers are coached too

Too often coaching is seen as remedial and people understandably shy away from being seen as needing “special lessons”. We can overcome this through coaching by stealth, i.e. by not labelling it as such – but this seems counter-productive if we are really trying to increase the take up of coaching. An alternative is to very deliberately coach already high-performers. They are highly likely to welcome the initiative and become strong advocates for the approach.

Share coaching success stories loudly and visibly

As above, the positive aspects of coaching should be shouted from the rooftops as much as possible.

Publish the results so that the Executive's greed outweighs their conservatism

We can tie ourselves in knots in trying to evaluate coaching with a degree of precision an academic would admire. However, simpler means are available which nevertheless highlight the sheer irrefutable logic and power of the coaching approach. Some raw statistical evidence backed up with stories and anecdotes of meaningful performance will often be enough to convince even the hardened skeptics.

Include a coaching related KPI in managers' performance reviews

“What gets measured gets done” so the saying goes so if we really want managers to give as much energy and attention to people and well as task matters we should measure their results with equal seriousness

Deal with excuses:

I don't have time...

..yes you do, just differing priorities

The culture works against coaching...

...which is exactly why you need to adopt coaching

My boss doesn't coach me...

...but that is no reason not to coach your people. You may wait a long time for your boss to change but you can change today

I already manage my people this way...

...not according to them you don't

Matt Somers trains managers helping them to become ‘coaches’. He is the author of several books, and his title Successful Coaching in a Week, £6.99 is published by Hodder Education: www.hoddereducation.co.uk

Photograph: Getty Images

Matt Somers trains managers helping them to become ‘coaches’. He is the author of several books, and his title Successful Coaching in a Week, £6.99, is published by Hodder Education. His website can be found here: www.mattsomers.com

Photo: Getty Images/AFP
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Is Yvette Cooper surging?

The bookmakers and Westminster are in a flurry. Is Yvette Cooper going to win after all? I'm not convinced. 

Is Yvette Cooper surging? The bookmakers have cut her odds, making her the second favourite after Jeremy Corbyn, and Westminster – and Labour more generally – is abuzz with chatter that it will be her, not Corbyn, who becomes leader on September 12. Are they right? A couple of thoughts:

I wouldn’t trust the bookmakers’ odds as far as I could throw them

When Jeremy Corbyn first entered the race his odds were at 100 to 1. When he secured the endorsement of Unite, Britain’s trade union, his odds were tied with Liz Kendall, who nobody – not even her closest allies – now believes will win the Labour leadership. When I first tipped the Islington North MP for the top job, his odds were still at 3 to 1.

Remember bookmakers aren’t trying to predict the future, they’re trying to turn a profit. (As are experienced betters – when Cooper’s odds were long, it was good sense to chuck some money on there, just to secure a win-win scenario. I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnham’s odds improve a bit as some people hedge for a surprise win for the shadow health secretary, too.)

I still don’t think that there is a plausible path to victory for Yvette Cooper

There is a lively debate playing out – much of it in on The Staggers – about which one of Cooper or Burnham is best-placed to stop Corbyn. Team Cooper say that their data shows that their candidate is the one to stop Corbyn. Team Burnham, unsurprisingly, say the reverse. But Team Kendall, the mayoral campaigns, and the Corbyn team also believe that it is Burnham, not Cooper, who can stop Corbyn.

They think that the shadow health secretary is a “bad bank”: full of second preferences for Corbyn. One senior Blairite, who loathes Burnham with a passion, told me that “only Andy can stop Corbyn, it’s as simple as that”.

I haven’t seen a complete breakdown of every CLP nomination – but I have seen around 40, and they support that argument. Luke Akehurst, a cheerleader for Cooper, published figures that support the “bad bank” theory as well.   Both YouGov polls show a larger pool of Corbyn second preferences among Burnham’s votes than Cooper’s.

But it doesn’t matter, because Andy Burnham can’t make the final round anyway

The “bad bank” row, while souring relations between Burnhamettes and Cooperinos even further, is interesting but academic.  Either Jeremy Corbyn will win outright or he will face Cooper in the final round. If Liz Kendall is eliminated, her second preferences will go to Cooper by an overwhelming margin.

Yes, large numbers of Kendall-supporting MPs are throwing their weight behind Burnham. But Kendall’s supporters are overwhelmingly giving their second preferences to Cooper regardless. My estimate, from both looking at CLP nominations and speaking to party members, is that around 80 to 90 per cent of Kendall’s second preferences will go to Cooper. Burnham’s gaffes – his “when it’s time” remark about Labour having a woman leader, that he appears to have a clapometer instead of a moral compass – have discredited him in him the eyes of many. While Burnham has shrunk, Cooper has grown. And for others, who can’t distinguish between Burnham and Cooper, they’d prefer to have “a crap woman rather than another crap man” in the words of one.

This holds even for Kendall backers who believe that Burnham is a bad bank. A repeated refrain from her supporters is that they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give Burnham their 2nd preference over Cooper. One senior insider, who has been telling his friends that they have to opt for Burnham over Cooper, told me that “faced with my own paper, I can’t vote for that man”.

Interventions from past leaders fall on deaf ears

A lot has happened to change the Labour party in recent years, but one often neglected aspect is this: the Labour right has lost two elections on the bounce. Yes, Ed Miliband may have rejected most of New Labour’s legacy and approach, but he was still a protégé of Gordon Brown and included figures like Rachel Reeves, Ed Balls and Jim Murphy in his shadow cabinet.  Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham were senior figures during both defeats. And the same MPs who are now warning that Corbyn will doom the Labour Party to defeat were, just months ago, saying that Miliband was destined for Downing Street and only five years ago were saying that Gordon Brown was going to stay there.

Labour members don’t trust the press

A sizeable number of Labour party activists believe that the media is against them and will always have it in for them. They are not listening to articles about Jeremy Corbyn’s past associations or reading analyses of why Labour lost. Those big, gamechanging moments in the last month? Didn’t change anything.

100,000 people didn’t join the Labour party on deadline day to vote against Jeremy Corbyn

On the last day of registration, so many people tried to register to vote in the Labour leadership election that they broke the website. They weren’t doing so on the off-chance that the day after, Yvette Cooper would deliver the speech of her life. Yes, some of those sign-ups were duplicates, and 3,000 of them have been “purged”.  That still leaves an overwhelmingly large number of sign-ups who are going to go for Corbyn.

It doesn’t look as if anyone is turning off Corbyn

Yes, Sky News’ self-selecting poll is not representative of anything other than enthusiasm. But, equally, if Yvette Cooper is really going to beat Jeremy Corbyn, surely, surely, she wouldn’t be in third place behind Liz Kendall according to Sky’s post-debate poll. Surely she wouldn’t have been the winner according to just 6.1 per cent of viewers against Corbyn’s 80.7 per cent. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.