Blog from our global partner: by Stephan Murdoch

Below is a case study of “Manager as Coach” implemented by Hazell & Associates, Career Partners International – Toronto. This article was reprinted with permission from HR Professional magazine and the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

In 2011, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences developed a coaching program for their management team. A total of 50 management team members, from the front line to senior executives, participated in the two-day workshop and ongoing coaching supports. The innovative session, with a focus on coaching principles allowed participants to share candidly their work-related challenges and issues.

Starlene MacDonald, organizational learning and development specialist for Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences explains how the coaching program came to fruition. “The coaching program came about because we were seeking ways to support our leadership team. They were navigating and guiding their respective teams through an enormous amount of change,” MacDonald says.

Initially, the program was launched on a small scale; however, the response was overwhelming. The program initially started in 2009 with small coaching groups with external coaches leading group discussions. From there, it took root and continued to grow. It was then that they decided to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and, as a result, determined the managers enjoyed the experience but would get more from one-on-one coaching.

The new and enhanced coaching program started with an RFP seeking vendors with experience in coaching supports. The successful vendor selected was Hazell & Associates/Career Partners International. They began the program with a two-day workshop grounded in the fundamentals of “managers as coach” and skill building. The managers were provided with powerful models and practical tools to provide coaching to employees. “More importantly, they had the opportunity to use these tools in various exercises and interactive activities,” MacDonald says.

Like any new leadership program, there was initial resistance. “Some of the leadership team was cautious as to what they should share with an external coach. There was an underlying belief that this outside source could not help or, better yet, relate to their everyday challenges. However, after only a few coaching sessions, most if not all of the managers bought into the system. They quickly realized that the coaching they received could help them during their day-to-day management. A majority of them went home to reflect on the way they lead and what they can do to better guide the efforts of their fellow team members,” says Michele Migus, director of HR with Ontario Shores.

For those that participated in the training program, there was more to learn beyond the classroom.

“My coaches embraced this initiative and were really thrilled to find their Ontario Shores’ coaches committed to the heavy lifting required to change behaviours and try new approaches. The coaches never shied away from bringing challenging issues to their coaching sessions, which upped the ante in terms of positive results and impact,” says Melanie Hazell, executive coaching managing partner with Hazell and Associates/Career Partners.

In addition to their external master coach, the managers were also partnered with an internal colleague. “The internal coaching partners also played an integral role in the program’s success. The pairs were matched up during the two-day workshop and met on a regular basis to share their best practices with each other along the way,” MacDonald explains. The inclusion of internal partners throughout the process paid great dividends for those that participated.

“The internal partnerships turned out to be a hidden win for this program and for those who were committed. To date, a significant number of the internal coaching relationships are still going strong even after the program ended. Collegial friendships have been formed which otherwise might not exist,” she adds.

The feedback from the participants at the midpoint evaluation indicated they found value in the coaching program. The evaluation indicated that 90 per cent of the respondents found the program insightful. Some 76 per cent of the managers felt an increased sense of self, while 70 per cent of the managers felt closer to achieving their personal goals thanks to the help of their coach. The coaches also scored high marks for their contribution to the program. The evaluation indicated that 83 per cent of managers felt their coach assisted in supporting the coaching efforts of their team and the same percentage of respondents felt their coach provided a safe space for coaching.

Several of the management team members were more than pleased to share their feedback. “Knowing you have this person who you can confide in makes a difference in what you do as a manager. It was nice to have a safe environment to discuss issues and problems,” says Anne Milliken, director of data integration for the Ontario Shores Centre. Cynthia Weaver, director of adolescents and dual diagnosis service with Ontario Shores, was also pleased to have participated in the program. “The actual coaching experience with my individual coach was exceptional.”

For other organizations that are considering a similar coaching program, MacDonald and Hazell encourage them to commit the resources to ensure it is done correctly. They both agree you will only get out of the program what you put into it. Although this program was voluntary, it was strongly encouraged as it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

They note that for some people, being open to coaching is a challenge. It’s important to work with employees and encourage them to take on new responsibilities and see things from a new lens. Being open to the process is sure to make your own coaching program a resounding success. Another key lesson to learn from this coaching program is that the support of senior leadership is critical. “Their willingness to participate in and support a development opportunity that occurs outside of the usual organizational boundaries speaks to their commitment to leadership development,” MacDonald says.

Like any new proposition, the introduction of the coaching program had its own set of challenges. “Overall, the program was an overwhelming success. However, there were a few bumps along the way. As with any newly formed relationship, there were times when the external coach and staff member were not on the same page. When that occurred, we worked with our partners at Hazell & Associates to match the team member with another external coach. We also later found out that some internal partnerships were never established due to workload and the availability of the managers to coordinate the time,” says MacDonald.

As for future plans, the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences managers have been encouraged to continue with the program. “We decided to extend the coaching hours for any of the managers who wish to continue working with their coaches. The opportunity to provide one-to-one external coaching for a leadership team has proved to be a great resource for the leaders. The coaching program provided the 50 team members with a safe environment to explore their feelings and the confidence to develop strategies for future growth,” concludes Karim Mamdani, COO of Ontario Shores Centre.