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Building coaching capability at LateRooms.com

Steve Coomber

LateRooms.com website

Training managers to take on a coaching role can have huge benefits in an organisation – but how do you go about it? Steve Coomber finds out how the discount hotel chain LateRooms.com is using ILM coaching qualifications to upskill staff

Instilling a coaching culture in an organisation is a challenge and relying on external coaches can be costly and doesn’t always suit your purpose. One solution is to enable managers within the organisation to take on a coaching role, and for staff to use coaching techniques in their everyday work. This is the approach adopted by online accommodation specialists, LateRooms.com.

LateRooms wanted to boost its coaching capability for a number of reasons. "There were some issues around helping people to change behaviours and improving leadership capability and skills, for example," says Nichola Hewitt, learning and development manager at LateRooms.com. "We also wanted to use coaching to help embed learning from training programmes that our people were going on."

Hewitt put 24 senior and middle managers through the ILM Level 5 Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring. The intention was for these managers to go on and provide a coaching facility within the business. Another eight people managers enrolled on an ILM Level 3 Award in Coaching  programme. Here the motivation was slightly different. "It was more around them coaching in role," says Hewitt. "These were people working in quality assurance, learning and development advisors, HR advisors, for example - where coaching within their roles should be part of the job."

Mix up training for best results

The programmes were delivered and facilitated by organisational development consultancy Straight Forward, using a mixture of workshops, tutorials, and coaching practice back in the organisation. Both programmes were very practical, with managers getting to grips with coaching early on, and taking the skills they acquired back into the business as the course progressed.

"If you're not careful the learning experience can be too theoretical," says Charlotte Cook, a director at Straight Forward. "Our fundamental principle is being pragmatic, it has to apply in a business context, participants must be able to do something useful with it."  Managers should be able to relate the skills and knowledge acquired in the workshops and tutorials to the day-to-day reality of their working lives.

As part of the Level 5 programme, the managers do 12 hours of coaching inside their organisation, logging those hours in a coaching diary. Managers on the Level 3 programme do six hours each. That equates to a significant amount of coaching hours being delivered within the company. In addition, Hewitt persuaded the senior and middle managers to commit to delivering another 20 hours out of role coaching in the business after completing the programme. This helped ensure that the coaching became an integral and permanent part of the way people interacted within LateRooms.

Business benefits of coaching

The benefits of sending managers on the programme were evident almost immediately.  "The people being coached told me how well their coaching sessions were going. While the coaches said that they feel more developed - they have these additional skills, and that's boosted their confidence levels," says Hewitt. "People are beginning to ask for coaching, they see the benefits in it, and want to do it. Plus people want to go on the programme."

Donna Carr, a resource planning manager at LateRooms has experienced the advantages at first hand, after completing the Level 5 programme. "Every session you learnt new techniques, and those techniques become your normal way of reacting or talking to people," she says. "It's almost as if you become a different manager. The coaching programme has become a normal part of my working day."

The coaching skills that Carr acquired have, she says, helped her to build a better relationship and understanding with her team and to raise their performance to another level.

To get the most from these types of programme, says Hewitt, it is important to do some preparation beforehand. Hewitt got buy-in from the senior team and made sure people in the organisation were comfortable with the concept of coaching - that it was about "getting people to be the best that they can be".

"It's one thing getting all the coaches on board," she says. "But you don't want people frightened of being coached, and there being a perception early on that coaching was because someone had done something wrong or they were underperforming."

Choosing the right coaching facilitator

It is also important to get the facilitation that suits the company best. "Meet the facilitator and ask them what their training style is," says Hewitt. What does a typical day look like? What would they be doing? Then monitor and get feedback from the people attending the programme. What do or don't they like about the programme. Do that immediately, rather than waiting until you are six months down the line."

With the right preparation, equipping managers with coaching skills and building a coaching capacity in the business can prove very rewarding.  "Some people will end up being internal coaches and part of an internal coaching pool, others will use their coaching skills to manage their teams more effectively," says Cook. "Coaching is the thing that makes the difference. It makes managers think more about the wider picture, and about developing the people in the organisation, instead of just focusing on managing their KPIs."

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