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

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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era