Coaching at the BBC - What is understood by coaching? →
Coaching at the BBC - What is understood by coaching? →
Coaching at the BBC What is understood by coaching? Within the BBC, coaching has become known and associated with programmes offered by the in-house coaching service, which trains and manages a process to link line managers working as executive coaches to coachees from other parts of the organisation. The impact on their management skills of those trained as coaches is felt significant, but this is treated as an added ancillary benefit rather than the aim of the BBC approach. They do offer a ‘Coaching Skills for Managers’ course to help managers use coaching skills in managing their people. This is run with cohorts of 12 managers over two modules with fieldwork. They work in triads, with a coach to each triad.
Overall objectives for coaching Coaching at the BBC is understood to be a leadership development process, offering support and development for developing their sense of responsibility and self-awareness. Its aims are: ● supporting managers in times of change and when changing role ● helping people to feel less isolated ● developing managers’ ability to deal with performance management. Developing internal coaching resources The coaching programmes use line managers as coaches. There are now 70 coaches, with 12 more being developed. All coaches have ‘day’ jobs and get no extra pay for coaching. Qualifying to be a coach within the organisation involves a rigorous selection and development process as well as a process of continuing development while they are coaching. Coaches apply to go through a competitive selection process (limited to 24 places a year). Those involved in this research had all applied after having received some sort of coaching. It was noticeable that when they discovered that they could apply to become a coach, the coaches in our research sample all expressed a very high level of motivation to be involved. ‘I was on the Ashridge leadership programme with a coach. It was so powerful, one of the most powerful things I took away that gelled the learning of the week. It interested me and I persuaded the BBC to let me do some more.’ The procedure to apply starts with filling in an application form, where the prospective coach is encouraged to think about their skills in terms of their interest in people, capacity for detachment, listening, and their understanding of what coaching is trying to achieve. Candidates for the second stage are shortlisted by the senior staff in the coaching service. The second stage is a practical one; applicants are invited to coach someone (an actor) and observed by BBC occupational psychologists, who prepare an assessment. Candidates write
a report of their coaching experience and both of these are reviewed by the coaching service against their selection criteria. The final stage is an interview with members of the coaching service to explore why candidates want to be a coach and check if they have the time to do it. Successful applicants are then offered a place on the Coaching Foundations Course (CFC), which is accredited by the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and well thought of by the coaches we spoke to. ‘I was offered feedback at every stage, which then became material for development for the training.’ Participants attend the course, which is run by three tutors (two internal and one external), in cohorts of 12.
The programme is structured around the five coaching competencies used at the BBC: ● organisation (including session planning, note taking, planning and logistics of session, and so on) ● analytical skills (during the session – understanding the story, choice of interventions, and so on) ● self-awareness (recognising what they are doing well and the impact they are having) ● building relationships (establishing a trusting, safe, confidential space) ● communication skills (listening and questioning).
Key elements of the course: ● three modules, with mornings taught, afternoons practical, and each swapping roles to do some coaching with one another ● skills work between the modules, supported by mentors ● two guinea pigs – people of at least middle-manager level with real issue(s) to work on who have agreed to be coached by them for the duration of the training programme and to provide evaluation ● a coach mentor (a coach and graduate of an earlier programme) to support them through the development process ● evaluation of their competence each day of the modules (how the tutors are experiencing them) and in practice ● final assessment – this includes: a final observed session on the last day working with the client with a genuine issue; learning journal; client evaluation forms; mentor reports and experience of tutors (based on observation of competencies, their signature presence and would the tutors enjoy being coached by this person – not all of them have to say yes, but at least one of them needs to).
‘We learnt how to become aware of the tendency to jump to conclusions about the client and their thinking, not letting our own thoughts interfere.’ ‘I had to learn about challenging – not taking things at face value.’ ‘I am now a mentor on the current programme. The standard has got higher, how the course is structured is continually improved, what they do on the modules are things that we have done in subsequent workshops so obviously they feedback into the CFC.’ When a coach has completed the programme – and if they have been successful and are fielded in the network – they stop working with their mentor and are assigned a supervisor, who they see every other month. In the alternate months they are in a shared learning group in an action learning set style.
‘Did I feel ready after the training? I still have days when I wonder that. It’s terrifying
in a good way, difficult to judge objectively. I felt ready to do what I was doing, where I wasn’t ready, there was a structure to use. We were very grow-model-focused, relying on the structure, this was a good thing at that point I suppose. Since then we’ve had more workshops, learnt new techniques, it’s an ongoing process of development.’ ‘With your supervisor you can focus on one thing, in the group you can learn from others, their different experiences, get help for things you’re working on.’ ‘After finished training I’ve had supervision, my learning has continued constantly, it has been brilliant for me, thinking out loud, I get to think the sessions through – it’s like coaching itself. Training has the tools and in supervision I get reminded of them.’ Sharing learning across the coaching community Every month internal coaches attend shared learning groups (10–12 coaches). These sessions include group supervision and exchanging models and ideas. Twice a year they all get together (summer and Christmas) and have an interesting speaker from the world of coaching (John Whitmore, for example), some networking time and lunch. Some informal sub-groups have also formed (for example triads from the Coaching Foundation Course) and meet on a regular basis.
Liz McCann co-ordinates the programme of continuing professional development (CPD). This has included themes such as Gestalt techniques, pyschosynthesis and master classes, for example a refresher course on goal-setting and a session with Nancy Kline. The Standard Executive Coaching Programme Liz McCann allocates coaches based on an understanding of the coach’s level of coaching capability (in terms of seniority of coachee) and what the coach likes to work with. Typically coaches will not coach someone more senior than themselves until they have gained a significant amount of experience. Twenty of the existing coaches, as well as Alison and Liz McCann, do senior coaching, having self-selected for this.
The coachee is not given a choice of coach. This was not the case originally but the practice of chemistry interviews was stopped four years ago because of the number of programmes. No problems have arisen from not doing chemistry meetings. One rule of the allocation process is that coaches cannot coach within their own BBC division. A key consideration for the coaches is the possible prior knowledge they may have of their coachee’s situation and, in particular, people they work with, for example the coachee’s line manager. As they get more senior it becomes inevitable that they know people in the organisation with whom their coachee is interacting. The coaches I spoke to explained that they have needed to ‘listen to the level of distraction I experience when a name gets mentioned that I know’ and they explained that they have to make ‘a split-second judgement about whether the distraction is likely to be something that needs to be brought up and made transparent to the coachee or not’. This is apparently typical of the sorts of issues the coaches discuss in their regular shared learning meetings.
‘We have debated about whether we can coach the most senior people in the organisation
since we are very likely to know the people who they are talking about and we have decided that we can’t afford not to because of the loss to the service.’ The coachee generates objectives for the coaching programme and works with the coach to generate measures; this includes the consideration: ‘What will your line manager have gained from this work?’ A coaching programme includes an initial objective-setting meeting with the coach, a three- way meeting with coach, coachee and line manager, and then five coaching sessions (three to four weeks apart). The first three-way meeting is now mandatory and coaches are asked not to continue until this has happened after many experiences of getting to four sessions and without having a conversation with the manager. In some cases coaches used to have a one- to-one conversation with the manager if their coachee wasn’t present. However, this created feelings of tension and anxiety in the coachees about what had been said, so all of these conversations are now three-way. A follow-up post-coaching meeting with the manager also takes place sometimes, but this is not mandated.
‘The simple practicality of making the meetings happen is sometimes hard.’ Line managers fit coaching into their work schedule in a way that suits them, but this can raise conflicts. Finding time is probably the difficulty most coaches face, but it seems this turns out to be more of an issue for coachees. ‘I don’t have enough time for the day job but I make this a priority – because this has a significant impact on my job as a manager. Managing the process and keeping the momentum maintained is sometimes difficult. I test it out by asking, “Is this not for you?” after two or three cancellations, and they will hang on like mad. It can be hard to finish through an agreed course of time. I am flexible.’ Occasionally, either for reasons of conflict of interest or chemistry, a coachee is returned to the service to be reallocated to a new coach.
The service ran 500 coaching programmes last year. Duration varies by seniority and programme; for the standard service, more junior managers will have ten hours over six months, rising to 20 hours over 12 months for the most senior staff. They coach face to face for UK-based staff, while some staff in other locations are coached by phone. First 100 days: People in Transition Programme This is a specific, intensive coaching programme for people who are joining the organisation, changing role (for example through promotion) or changing department/division. Based on research that says you have 90 days to make an impact in a new role or organisation, people need to join the programme within three weeks of their change of role. It is available for managers that have been nominated by their line managers.
In this programme the role of the coach is to act as a partner to the coachee for 100 days. In the first month they will meet once a week face to face, with regular contact by phone and
email. For the rest of the 100 days they can meet as regularly as they agree, up to a limit of ten hours. BBC leadership development programmes The BBC used to offer a suite of leadership development programmes through Ashridge (for team leaders, middle managers and senior managers). In these programmes coaching was offered to a limited extent to team leaders, middle managers had four coaching sessions, and senior managers had six sessions with an Ashridge coach. The coaching was driven by 360-degree feedback. A new leadership programme is currently being designed, which will include coaching, but will link into the business by including the line manager. It will be structured as per the Executive Coaching Programme – with seven sessions, including the initial and triangular contracting sessions.
External coaches This is funded by the divisions from their own budgets. Liz McCann compiled a list of preferred suppliers, which contains 25 individuals and organisations. Each organisation can field a maximum of three named coaches. The list is now held by procurement. She has avoided retaining the list to avoid potential conflict in selecting coaches from this or internal sources. In external coaches they look for top qualifications and a signature presence that will work in the corporation (integrity, authenticity, ability to connect with the person, and so on). If people ask for an external coach they can have one. The reasons for asking for an external coach are typically: ● the coachee is a senior person ● confidentiality (for example, high-profile person or issue) ● desire to draw on coach’s experience (in a coach/mentor type role); for example, real exploration about running a broadcasting organisation, someone saturated in the industry can draw on knowledge; commercial expertise.
Evaluation The BBC runs an overall evaluation process every year. Individual coaching programmes are evaluated as follows: ● review session ● client evaluation forms are sent to the coachee at the end of the programme and returned to head office ● a copy of the evaluation form goes to the coach and their supervisor, who then explore the messages in the evaluation. Typically, clients are asked: ● to describe their experience ● to provide feedback on their coach’s style ● about the most and least effective sessions ● how they have benefited ● what they do differently as a result ● what others will notice them doing differently
● for suggestions for improvement ● if they would recommend it to others. The client evaluations gained an 18% response rate (as of 2006). The BBC have also commissioned various qualitative studies. ‘It was absolutely fantastic – quite invaluable.’ ‘Yes, I knew my coach, and I didn’t find it was a problem because we were aware of it. I was surprised how useful it was, even though I have all the skills myself. It was very useful, because of being challenged from a viewpoint that was not my own, a different brain looking at things with you. I would defy anyone to be able to analyse and look at things objectively on their own.’ In this research sample, coachees identified that being ‘forced’ to take time to think, the challenging questions and the opportunity to work with an impartial person were all critical to the success of their coaching experience.
History of coaching at the BBC The programme originated in Greg Dyke’s time as Director General. He encouraged the staff to make things happen rather than wait to be told what to do. This encouraged Liz McCann to follow her passion to bring coaching to the BBC. There had been some coaching for the very top level, but this was done by bringing external people in from the US. Liz McCann put out an offer of internal coaches via free pilots and was inundated. The beginning was not top– down, but people–up. An internal restructure within HR gave her the opportunity to shape her own role developing the coaching practice.
Interesting general comments Below are some other comments regarding the experience of coaching in the BBC: ● ‘Coaching is like an oasis in the organisation.’ ● ‘The coaching development programme is the only BBC programme that people never pull out of.’ ● ‘There is no extrinsic reward for being a coach Liz McCann has just written a paper for the board to ask that coaching activities as part of objectives should attract the possibility of a bonus]; only intrinsic reward of fulfilment and doing more of what they enjoy.’ ● The coaching programme is run on a shoestring – no extra pay for coaching, Liz McCann calls in favours, uses her network and negotiates to keep quality of development for coaches going.
● Managers described a very positive impact on their own style leading their teams: ‘Huge impact on my style as a manager, for example my understanding of how different people are and how my own emotional reactions can be understood and how I can work with them, how I am directive and the true meaning of delegation. Every manager ought to go and learn to be a coach, it’s very hard. You have this “a-ha” moment, because you want them to get to your answer, you want them to have a great session. You have to learn about managing the process, not taking responsibility for them. I now coach my staff and they say they feel I am very supportive.’ ‘There’s been a total change in the way I run my team. It’s smoother, they have autonomy, they love it, between us we produce more, with less grief, and I get fewer questions about how they should do things, with less tension. They like the autonomy and trust. My
organisational skills have improved because of the juggling act. Listening improves with practice – learning that you think you can do it and finding out how much concentration it takes. Making space before and after to get myself in to the right place and to reflect on afterwards – space is sometimes hard to fight with myself for.’ ● One disadvantage with trying to fit coaching around the day job is guilt. One coach described feeling ‘guilty about leaving my team to it when I'm going to workshops and taking time out to coach other people’.
● An advantage to the BBC as a whole is that coaches can feed back the mood and key issues that staff are grappling with in a totally confidential way without mentioning names. This is fed back through shared learning groups to the lead coaches and from there to senior management. Possible opportunities for the development of the BBC coaching offer They are presently piloting a management information system, which will enable tracking of coaching and supervision hours, and coaches will be required to complete it. The members of the coaching service are interested in building their reputation within the corporation, ensuring more managers know about the programmes on offer, their benefits and impact. To do this, they are considering a road show tour next year. Coaching is publicised through the leadership programmes, where it’s an integral part of the programme and linked to recruitment for the first 100 days. It is also highlighted in the training bulletin and offered as part of learning at work week, as well as having a page in the intranet.