Tesco’s business strategy is for long-term growth. A key goal is to be as strong in non food as we are in food. To do this we have needed to achieve more at a faster rate and have been accelerating the pace of the business. With such a lot going on at speed, there is the potential for the environment to be pressured and stressful for those concerned. I see coaching as a way of helping executives cope with this pressure in whatever way they need to use it.
We thought that the personal, individual approach of executive coaching might be the way to provide what people needed, rather than providing the same prescribed training for everyone, so we started by running a pilot programme of one-to-one coaching for 12 senior executives in clothing, working with Full Potential Group (FPG), a coaching, leadership and high performance culture specialist.
We could definitely tell, quite soon, that the coaching was making a difference: the people themselves told me how they felt and what differences the coaching had made to them. I could also see for myself the positive differences in both their business as well as their behaviour.
The pilot created a real momentum and others who were not part of the initial programme could observe the change and started to ask for coaching to be offered more widely.
Having seen the impact of the one-to-one coaching, we then were able to start to create a coaching culture throughout the non food business and we worked with our Tesco HR staff and FPG to implement this, designing a two-year programme that our people would ultimately own and drive.
More than 100 people in non food have now participated in the programme, which has provided not only the skills but the means to embed and sustain the new culture. Many have worked individually with an executive coach, but we have also offered different levels of skills programmes and have trained up coaching champions so that we have in-house coaching expertise across the non food business. Coaching assessments and 360 degree leadership have also been an integral part of the process.
Since we introduced coaching there has definitely been a shift in the culture - and coaching has definitely contributed to the business success that we have enjoyed in recent years.
My view is that if an organisation is thinking about introducing a coaching culture, or about taking coaching more seriously, it’s important to take a long-range view: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Coaching works well for organisations with a genuine desire to support and invest in their people and a commitment to create a high performance environment.
For those organisations where it is appropriate, it should be part of a bigger strategy, as it is at Tesco. It is only worth undertaking if the company is serious about growing the capability of its business and if the individuals who are involved are serious about enhancing their leadership and their overall potential.
People should never be pushed into coaching - it should be a pull from those who want it: individuals who want to be their best and want to transform and develop themselves. It’s not a soft option and it is not a quick payback. A coaching culture is a culture that challenges people for greater performance and stretches them beyond their comfort zones and they have to be willing to rise to this.
At Tesco we’ve seen both soft and hard benefits from coaching. As well as business results, retention rates have improved and many of those who’ve embraced the new culture have been promoted to even more challenging roles. Scores in the staff survey around people’s attitudes to the business and the way in which they are managed are higher, which indicates improved motivation and morale at middle management level.