Starting a Coaching Service Inside an Organisation

By: Callan McDonnell • 4 years ago •

During my first experience of coaching, I became acutely aware that my thoughts about my particular situation were fundamentally transformed as a result of the questions my coach asked me. It was as though she had changed my brain and I could no longer think about myself or my situation in that old way. I thought, “There’s magic in this.” I wanted to learn the skills and try to give this empowering skill set and service offering to as many people as possible.

An organisation is, in some ways, a collection of people who have adopted a certain mindset about how work happens and how business relationships need to occur. Habits and patterns of thinking form and influence the organisational culture. How we approach business problems and how we think about future business opportunities is largely dependent on our ability to flex our thinking. I can think of no better way to cause this behavioural flexibility than through coaching.

At Suncorp Commercial Insurance, we have been building a coaching culture for the past five years. We decided that coaching needed to form part of our leadership and technical specialist tool kits. Establishing a coaching mindset has been a significant pillar in our capability plans for the last four years. We partnered with an external provider to support us in building up a set of coaching skills and initially chose to focus our development on our middle management level. The coaching capability has now been expanded into our senior leadership area and all our first line leaders. Approximately 70% of our leaders have now received formal training in coaching skills and are, on the whole, using coaching techniques in their conversations with their direct reports, manager and colleagues.

All our staff members have the opportunity to book a coach through an online booking service. Our qualified coaches can load up their e-bios indicating their areas of specialisation and staff members can book a coaching time and run through their area of focus. The conversations are often themed around career progression; challenges with leaders, direct reports or colleagues; work-life balance or struggling to find meaning and purpose in the work they do. The coach will typically have five to six coaching sessions each of an hour duration and, within a matter of months, our staff members are able to make new, informed decisions about their future goals.

We have established an internal community of practice to ensure there is support provided to our coaches. Co-coaching opportunities are also made available to keep skills current. Coaching techniques are refreshed and general conversations unfold that allow the coaching community to see and hear the similarity of the themes that emerge in coaching conversations. Occasionally, we access external specialists that present certain topics such as narrative coaching and laser coaching.

An internal coaching service fosters a culture of possibility. Coaches ask the questions that empower people to consider new ways of thinking about old problems. Stemming from this, staff members develop more coherent concepts about what matters and what should matter. There is a gradual maturity of thinking, problem solving and connection happening between people.

We have seen a steady increase in our coaching measures as reflected in our annual engagement survey. Apart from the anecdotal feedback from both coaches and staff, we are able to measure how we are doing in relation to coaching through our annual survey. All employees are asked the following question: ‘Rate your leader in coaching you in your development’. Our results are shown below:

Year Favourable Neutral Unfavourable Aus/NZ Norm Global High Performing Norm
2011 63% 24% 14% +3 0
2012 69% 22% 9% +14 +6
2013 75% 17% 8 +20 +10
2014 72% 20% 8% +16 +9
2015 72% 20% 8% +16 +9

There have been some extremely valuable spin-offs from the coaching culture that have emerged in our business. We now use coaching conversations with clients. When we are discussing return-to-work options with injured workers, a set of coaching questions can be used to help the injured worker re-establish new goals and see clearer options for their future work life. The conversation is empowering for both the customer and the injury management advisor. Coaching relationships have also been developed for our Hi-Potential employees (HiPos). All HiPos in specific parts of our business are allocated a coach and the coaching conversations are centred on stretch assignments in order to provide strategies to elevate them to their next level of excellence.

Coaching is a key skill set for anyone wanting to support others to become better versions of themselves. We have seen a tremendous uplift in our learning metrics and we know that when coaching is used to support learning, people report a marked improvement in their ability to apply their new skills and knowledge in their personal and professional lives.

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