Magazine article Talent Development

Expanded Coaching Culture Drives Results: A Professional and Peer Coaching Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Has Improved Individual and Organizational Performance

Magazine article Talent Development

Expanded Coaching Culture Drives Results: A Professional and Peer Coaching Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Has Improved Individual and Organizational Performance

Article excerpt

Today's fast-paced world--with back-to-back meetings, pages of emails, and the constant ping of devices--often forces us to focus on the fastest way to meet an urgent need. Coaching is a purposeful connection with another human that supports immediate change and stimulates long-term, sustainable results. Whether by a leader, a peer, or a professional coach, great coaching can feel like magic. But it's not.

Journey to better coaching

In Creating a Coaching Culture, a 2014 Institute for Corporate Productivity report, it says, "If done well, coaching can elevate the productivity and performance of every individual in the organization. And there is a significant correlation between having a strong coaching culture and market performance."

Although the evidence shows that coaching works, its use isn't optimized. In a 2014 survey conducted by the Association for Talent Development and reported in The Coaching Approach: A Key Tool for Successful Managers, almost three-quarters of respondents (73 percent) indicated that they don't emphasize coaching in their talent development portfolio.

The Gates Foundation is the world's largest private philanthropy, with its headquarters in Seattle and regional offices in Washington, D.C., and six countries. Working with partner organizations around the world, the Gates Foundation focuses on global health and development, as well as improving education in the United States.

Growing quickly after its founding in 2000, the Gates Foundation initially emphasized hiring technical subject matter experts more than hiring great people managers. Similar to many organizations in the past decade, the foundation used professional coaches with limited guidelines. HR often wasn't involved, coaching goals weren't consistently established, and leaders sometimes misused coaching by outsourcing difficult performance feedback to external coaches.

Over time it became clear that to achieve the foundation's aspirations, we had to cultivate relationship skills such as collaboration, empathy, and giving and receiving feedback. Through 2008 and 2009, the Gates Foundation identified a strategic goal to enhance management effectiveness, including boosting skills to coach teams and individuals. In the years since, we've built several gears that work together to drive results: program management, professional coaching, peer coaching, and on the job application.

Program management

Professional coaching is one method in the organization's talent strategy, along with leadership and management development programs, performance management, 360-degree feedback, competencies, and other learning approaches. Responding to heightened organizational needs, in 2009 the HR team partnered with key leaders and studied best practice research regarding the use of external coaches.

Now six years since establishing our professional coaching program, we continue to refine it and learn from experience. We've found that these elements are essential for success:

* central program management and evaluation

* engagement methodology focused on return on expectations

* employee (coachee) readiness and follow-through

* talented coaches with significant experience

* a coordinated team (manager, HR business partners, learning and development, coach) working together to support employee growth.

The learning and development team centrally manages the professional coaching program and screens, selects, and orients the pool of professional coaches. Partnering closely with HR business partners (HRBPs), we work to ensure a solid return on coaching investment through clear expectations and evaluating the results achieved.

We have found that the investment in professional coaching is best made when the employee is already an effective contributor, with the opportunity to grow skills in particular areas and with the potential to advance to a more responsible role. …

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