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CASE STUDY: Coaching Conversations for Managers as an Intervention for Culture Change

By Mairi Maclean- Consultant and Coach

The culture of a company is crucial to its success and, as we know, the culture is determined by the people within the organisation and how they behave. Communication that is engaging, empowering and fair helps build effective relationships and promotes respect in the workplace.  Managers who use this communication style, can help influence the culture by how they conduct their business relationships.  

The request:

We were approached by an organisation in the oil, gas and construction sector to design an intervention that would help managers develop a range of approaches for communicating with staff and stakeholders and ultimately lead to helping with culture change. 

With the drop in the oil price seriously affecting this sector in the last few years, managers have had to deal with competing tensions such as having to reduce staff numbers, whilst retaining and developing the talent in the company. Furthermore, with businesses diversifying and merging, managers are expected to nurture healthy stakeholder relationships that in turn enhance the organisation’s results and reputation.

The thinking:

©Designed by Mairi Maclean

The model was developed by the author after 20 years of working with Managers in many types of organisations and business sectors.  The working hypothesis is that if we can tap into the skills and creativity of managers and help them have conversations in a fair and inclusive way by using a coaching and collaborative style, then this can create work based relationships that embody respect, deliver better results and contribute to a change in culture.  

What we did:

We wanted to provide support for managers to look at their own communication style, raise their awareness, develop skills and explore alternative models to expand their choices in their day-to-day business interactions with staff, clients and stakeholders.  Therefore, in collaboration with the sponsor of the programme, Coaching Conversations was agreed to be a method that could meet the needs of the participants. 

The format included pre-work, a one day workshop and then two coaching calls with the coach/facilitator in groups of four. The first call took place after 4- 6 weeks and the second call after a similar time had passed. 

The pre-work

Participants were asked to reflect on their communication style and to bring a work-based communication challenge to the workshop.

The workshop 
Key Session 1

What is and isn’t coaching; benefits of coaching conversations for the individual staff member, the team and the organisation; coaching for culture change.

Key Session 2

Knowledge and skills of a good coach; emotional intelligence; limiting beliefs, communication skills. 

Key Session 3

Models of coaching; GROW model (Whitmore, 1996), CLEAR model (Hawkins, 1980’s).

Key session 4

Coaching Practice: the practice sessions used both models to offer slightly different approaches to enable the participants to explore and see if they had a preference for one over the other and to consider which would work best for them in their working environment and context. 

Feedback, identify personal actions back at work. set up coaching calls.

GROW (Whitmore, 1996: We suggested using this method to start coaching conversations with staff, or in a more formal coaching setting such as a career interview.

CLEAR (Hawkins, 1980s): We suggested using this method to provide an alternative way of planning and holding a business conversation, such as with a stakeholder or client.

Group coaching calls 

The compliance and uptake of the coaching calls was 95% and, apart from a few technical hitches, participants reported the calls to be a really valuable component of the programme.  

Each person was asked to commit to an action at the end of the workshop that they could review in the coaching group and receive coaching on from the facilitator and the other group members.  

Often the original issue changed and the group worked with what was presented in the moment. The participants reported that sharing work based issues, hearing from others’ experience and the subsequent mutual support was something that they had not expected and found really useful and helpful.

What the participants said

Participants reported positive differences in the interactions with staff, clients and stakeholders. Some examples of how they put the learning into practice:

I used the CLEAR model with a graduate I mentor.  It helped to frame the conversation.

I held different appraisal conversations using a coaching approach.

I am listening more and asking questions rather than jumping to conclusions.

I liked the CLEAR model, it helped me talk about impact and actions.

I used GROW to shape a career development conversation.

The course helped me with my delegation skills and how to communicate with my team.  I now only have to intervene if there are more tricky issues they need help with.

My boss has noticed a positive difference (in my communication style).

Myself and a colleague are going to do ILM 7 coaching and roll out coaching in the organisation.

I’ve stopped rushing for a solution and now explore more with clients.

My confidence has grown, I’m more assertive.

I’m learning how to deal with silence and not filling the gap.

I’m now asking for and giving feedback regularly.

Using a coaching approach takes practice.

The coaching calls were a great idea to hear other people’s experience, have time to reflect and get support.

Some closing thoughts:

A short training and development intervention such as Coaching Conversations can positively effect an individual’s confidence, communication style and behaviour. This then can lead to improved work based relationships, increased productivity in one to one and other meetings, a reduction in conflict and create a supportive work environment Together these could help change the working practices and culture in an organisation.  


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