Cirque du Soleil and defining values
The journey towards the introduction of a coaching culture started when a new managing director was appointed from the USA and there was significant restructuring at the executive level, including the appointment of new general managers across sales, human resources, finance and marketing over a six-month period. These roles were filled by leaders from various other countries as well as external local appointments, bringing a new mix of experience and cultural diversity to the organisation.
The external and internal business environment and demanding financial objectives provided the catalyst for change at that time:
- Challenging labour market
- Demanding sales targets
- Strong financial focus from parent company
- High associate (employee) turnover
- Tenured management team
- High internal competition with ‘silo’ focus
A strong commitment to business growth, building a stronger workplace and creating a new culture was required. The executive team asked a key question about creating a new cultural vision: ‘How do we create a culture to drive business success?’
The MD took the executive team to see the world-class production, Cirque du Soleil, as a source of inspiration to create their own vision for the future.
Each of the executive team took something different from the production. For some it was about the team, how the planning, practice, accuracy and years of perfection of every little detail paid off on the night of the performance. Some were simply caught up in the magic of the music and of the visuals and their creativity was ignited by the possibilities of human potential and what can happen with dedication, hard work and time. Others wondered at what it took to put on a production of that scale, with so many performers, marvelling also at the behind-the-scenes management, processes and skills that it must have taken.
From the inspiration of Cirque du Soleil, the executive team built the values for their team and the organisation and selected the following key themes:
- Commitment and passion
- Open feedback
- Recognition and fun
It was also identified that communication, challenge and creativity must also be embraced!
Coaching had to be part of the culture change
Jill was first exposed to coaching when she was working in the UK and a colleague started coaching her informally. For her, a ‘light bulb’ went on and she realised ‘this is powerful, it really works!’ The skills and techniques that the colleague was using with her were really making a difference to her. What really stood out was the colleague’s belief in Jill and how she built her confidence and encouraged her to reach higher and achieve more. Jill knew that coaching had to be part of the new leadership frameworkand culture.
Jill feelings and comments are typical of other great leaders and their discovery of coaching. It’s also a key tip for introducing coaching into the workplace – if the senior people experience coaching and get a lot of value out of it, they are likely to want to roll it out to others!
Changing the culture
Managers in the organisation didn’t know how to empower their people and bring out the best in teams to achieve the business goals. They were stuck in ‘telling’ mode and they needed tools – particularly coaching tools.
In order to be credible about the implementation of the coaching skills into the organisation, Jill completed the Diploma of Workplace and Business Coaching and through her studies was able to coach people in the workplace. Using the GROW model, Jill started coaching with a framework and started to notice the changes in the people she was coaching.
One coachee declared that the coaching had ‘changed her life, she was more confident and people could really see the changes.’ Doing the accredited coaching program gave Jill the confidence and passion to share her newfound skills with others in the organisation to help them realise the same benefits.
Building the support around you
Being a lone-ranger in an organisation, the sole champion to introduce change and a new culture, is a challenge. A key strategy for Jill was to build the support for coaching around her. She found allies in the General Manager of Sales and the Learning and the Development Manager. Both managers and the MD had been receiving executive coaching and attended coaching training programs with the General Manager of Sales choosing to attend the accredited training program that Jill had attended.
Starting with the middle layer
The coaching culture was introduced with the middle management layer of the organisation. This group of managers all thought they knew how to coach! And they received quite an awakening at the one-day program that was introduced.
Coaching went from being a ‘woolly word’, with managers being unsure exactly what it meant, to a skill that they became really engaged with. They were encouraged to do role-plays with the coaching models using real life scenarios and conducting three coaching sessions with each other as follow-up. The changes that the business started seeing were remarkable.
The reality is, however, that not everyone becomes engaged, and certainly not at the same pace. That’s just part of introducing a new culture!
One participant, from finance, proudly relayed his attempts at coaching.
He said, ‘I asked a question, rather than telling her what to do!’
‘How did that work for you?’ asked Jill.
‘It didn’t,’ he said. ‘She gave me the wrong answer, so then I told her what to do.’
Integrated communication strategy
One of the other keys to the success of the introduction of the new coaching culture in the organisation was the integration of the communication strategy. The business goals of the Executive Team were shared with the organisation and they created key business themes to engage and energise the employees. Sales led the way and were soon followed by the Client Service Teams.
The Client Service Teams also became engaged and came up with key business themes appropriate for their teams. This started with Super Heroes and extended into Driving Performance using Formula One Grand Prix as a theme for the following year.
The business engaged in quarterly branch updates, the company intranet was enhanced as a means of communicating, monthly team meetings were called, monthly one-on-one meetings where held using the GROW model as the basis, and also the ‘Straight Talk’ feedback model, which was developed as a way to differentiate between times when coaching is appropriate and when it is not.
There were more visible communications around the office with posters, signs and personalisation of the facility relevant to each department. The MD introduced ‘breakfast with the boss’ to open communication channels and encourage open feedback.
The GROW model was laminated and could be found on every manager’s desk. It started to become part of the general management vocabulary.
Introduction of coaching skills, training and talent development
You can see how Jill’s implementation of a coaching culture really follows the practical approach of the Coaching Culture Map. It’s a perfect case study!
To implement the changes, Jill focused on talent development, including the investment in HR resources and systems, performance reviews, succession planning, performance improvement processes, mentoring for the executive teams and coaching for the management team.
Coaching skills training was introduced as the next step, with key stakeholders attending the Diploma of Workplace and Business Coaching. The Executive Management Team were given access to the US Coaching Community, coaching skills training was delivered to the sales management team in the context of maximising performance, the Client Service Team Leaders also went on a one-day skills course, and coaching skills were incorporated into the Leadership Development Program.
One of the highlights for Jill was watching the Team Leaders develop and find their own ‘light bulb moments!’
One manager said: ‘This is really working … people are more engaged and excited about things … if I ask questions rather than tell, they learn how to do it themselves.’ But then she looked rather bothered and continued, ‘However, this may mean they stop coming to me, and then what will I do?’ She was starting to feel redundant. In the past, she had complained a lot about people coming to her and taking up her time!
‘You can focus on helping them grow while you have more time for the strategic aspects of your role,’ says Jill. ‘Help them grow and you can focus on the good stuff.’
Jill says, ‘It takes a long time, people go at their own pace, but when they get it they get it! Every day a light bulb goes on with someone else … then momentum is gained … things go from being awkward … to momentum!’
‘Beyond formal training courses the HR team is always coaching. Every interaction now has a coaching element and people are “getting coaching from all angles”.’
‘Because coaching is happening in all different areas at different times, the new coaching culture starts to permeate the organisation. It’s not any one program, event or action; it’s the culmination of many.’
Testing the readiness of the organisation
One of the key tips that Jill has for introducing coaching culture into an organisation is to test the readiness of the organisation. After Jill completed her coach training, she went back to her organisation to find people to coach, and to find a business area that might be ready for coaching.
Jill focused on the Client Services and Sales teams. These were the teams that she felt were ready for coaching, and that’s where she started.
Rather than being prescriptive, Jill said it was her intuition that told her whether it was the right time. She was convinced that if Sales and Client Services got on board with the program, then other areas would buy in too, once they saw the results. And she was right!
Leading by example
‘Leading by example and being a role-model is critical to the introduction of a coaching culture. If you go into an organisation and declare “we are introducing coaching culture” you’re likely to see many blank faces. Rather than some outward declaration, the influencing of the culture comes from the actual implementation and momentum – from people actually doing coaching!’ says Jill.
This is the initial approach that she took and that all our leaders interviewed for this book took. Gradually the skills where introduced into the Leadership Programs and the HR systems, including the job specifications, induction programs and performance reviews.
It really starts with walking the talk!
The journey of implementing coaching culture
Jill feels that while the organisation has come a long way, there is still more progress to be made. This will probably always be the case as we grow and welcome new managers to the team. I asked her, ‘How will you know you have a coaching culture in the organisation?’
Her answer: ‘When our associates are all familiar with coaching, can say they are coached by their managers and peers, can give feedback openly and feel supported.’
Jill’s key advice to sustaining the journey of implementation is: ‘You are not going to get everyone’s buy-in on day one, two or three, but if you are making a difference keep going with it! Just start coaching people … take the opportunities … identify coaching opportunities … when it could work … and go ahead and do it.’
Although coaching is now freely offered within the organisation, people will come to see Jill but not necessarily ask for coaching! ‘The tricky thing is when you know people can benefit, but they don’t ask or want coaching. We want everything to move that bit faster but it is important to be patient!’
Ultimately, what does it take to be a great coach?
‘To give people feedback, to help them grow and develop is a true gift, and of course… great questions help!’ says Jill. ‘But first and foremost you have to care about people.’