Coaches are nothing new at Scientific-Atlanta (S-A). The Lawrenceville, Ga., high-tech company, which specializes in interactive video, data and voice products and services, has employed external “expert” coaches on an ad-hoc basis to train executives and managers for years—though for managers, primarily for remedial purposes. “We’d basically call coaches in to help those who were exemplifying bad behavior from a management perspective,” says Laura Grams, the company’s director of learning and development solutions.
Using coaches as a reward for top performance—even as a perk—however, is something S-A only began doing fairly recently, when it launched its “Coaching Consortium.” “We wanted to shift the idea of coaching so that people would begin to see coaches as a reward instead of as punishment,” Grams says.
The bedrock goal of the consortium is to create a “coaching culture.” The idea, Grams says, is that S-A managers who are trained in coaching behaviors and coached accordingly will not only come to recognize that coaching results in improved efficiency and effectiveness of individuals, processes and systems, they’ll also begin to model effective coaching behaviors with their own reports.
“We are primarily an engineering company that employs some very bright folks. These engineers, however, are accustomed to knowing the answers, but sometimes, the questions asked are more important than the answers,” Grams says. “Coaching helps to shift their mindset and learn what it feels like to be asked questions instead of told answers, which helps them to become better managers and leaders.”
Inside the Consortium
S-A’s new Coaching Consortium features two components: the Expert Coach Consortium and S-A Managers as Coaches.
The objective of the Expert Coach Consortium is to provide opportunities for individual leadership development for senior managers and executives through one-on-one guidance, coaching and feedback from an expert coach. External expert coaches within the program use assessment tools, individual interviews and observations to identify target areas for development. They then work with “mentees,” their assigned mentors (who are internal to S-A and who typically hail from the company’s executive ranks) and mentees’ managers to agree on desired results. During the course of the yearlong program, all four individuals gather together at least eight times (sometimes more frequently) to monitor progress and establish plans to improve targeted competencies.
The objective of the second component of the program, S-A Managers as Coaches, is to build the capability of managers to provide quality coaching and feedback to their reports on an ongoing basis. To accomplish this, coaching workshops are conducted to help managers (who are primarily engineers) understand that coaching is an essential part of their daily work.
Since the Consortium’s inception, 77 mentors and 130 mentees have participated in the program. Of these, Grams says, 13 percent of mentors and 21 percent of mentees already have been promoted. And while she concedes that other factors contributed to these results (“We’re dealing with a high-potential pool that you’d expect to be promoted anyway.”), the qualitative link between the program and job-promotion rates is “exciting,” she says—and at least partially attributable to the new coaching program’s effectiveness.
Create or update your own
Interested in designing—or refining—your own coaching program? Here are some tips from Grams:
Founded in 1951, Scientific-Atlanta Inc. is headquartered in Lawrenceville, Ga. The company is a global manufacturer and supplier of products, systems and services that help operators connect consumers with integrated, interactive video, data and voice services. In 2005, it was 74th on Training magazine’s Top 100 list, an annual ranking of organizations that excel at human-capital development. To learn more about the Top 100, visit www.trainingmag.com/training/reports_analysis/top100/index.jsp.
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