A 10-step plan for starting a coaching program

Make your organization stronger by developing staff at all career levels.
By Yasmine El-Ramly, CPA/CITP, CGMA, and Anita Dennis

A 10-step plan for starting a coaching program
Image by Nadzeya_Dzivakova/iStock

A few years ago, Brian Kreischer, CPA, came to a turning point. "I love what I do," said Kreischer, who is now managing partner of Frank, Rimerman + Co. LLP in San Francisco. "But I felt the time demands were just too much." Facing a crisis of confidence, he wasn't sure he could sustain a career in accounting.

For Kreischer, the solution that made a difference in his professional life was coaching. He started working with a coach to address time management issues and gained better control over his schedule and his work and personal time. Most significantly, coaching "made me aware of my tendency to give people answers," he said. "That is an orientation that can be pervasive among leaders." Coaching helped him step back and work with team members to solve problems on their own.

Kreischer went on to develop a vibrant and productive coaching culture in his firm. Frank, Rimerman began offering coaching to its partners in 2014, and in the ensuing years it added coaching for managers, and then for all staff including new hires. After using external coaches, it developed a Coaching Corps within the organization, made up of 15 managers and partners who have received coaching training and act as coaches for other team members. Among other benefits, this new emphasis on coaching has allowed the firm to continue to keep its people engaged and connected as it grows.

THE CASE FOR COACHING

As Frank, Rimerman's experience demonstrates, coaching programs can benefit firms in various ways. Coaching can help organizations and their people identify and unleash potential and make it possible to find solutions to problems that are holding professionals back. It can benefit staff at all stages of their careers (see the sidebar, "How Is Coaching Different?").

"Coaching can be used for leadership and career development, to groom high-potential professionals, and when a team member is making a significant transition," said Sarah Elliott, CPA, co-founder and principal of Intend2Lead LLC in the Austin, Texas, area and a co-author of A Toolkit for Possibility: Creating a Coaching Culture at Your Organization, published by the AICPA Women's Initiatives Executive Committee (WIEC).

There are many good reasons for firms and professionals to get involved in coaching. "If even a handful [of employees] in your firm are able to turn a corner from stressed to in control and motivated, there's a quick payoff," Kreischer said. "People who work with coaches have the potential to be more in control of their careers, more effective, and happier," he added.

With talent at a premium, coaching can help firms keep and motivate good people. The high turnover rate throughout the profession was one reason HORNE LLP started its coaching program in 2013. "We anticipated a leadership gap in the future if we didn't grow our leaders faster," said Tara Chrisco, full potential coach at the firm's office in Ridgeland, Miss. She reported seeing numerous people decide to stay with HORNE after their coaching experiences, and the numbers confirm the program's effectiveness. In an employee survey on the program's impact, 83% said it increased their level of commitment to the firm.

Weaver and Tidwell LLP, headquartered in Houston, turned to coaching two years ago to boost the skills of senior managers and new partners in areas such as managing people, business development and lead generation, and dealing with difficult client situations. These staff members "were technically competent and good at managing their existing books," said David Rook, CPA, the firm's COO, but the firm wanted to broaden their skills and strengthen its leadership bench amid a period of rapid growth. The partner program includes participation by new partners in a monthly group session with an outside coach. New partners also have individual sessions with outside coaches as needed, and senior managers are coached monthly by high-performing partners.

HORNE has also found that coaching has helped people flourish. "They have moved into roles that they are better suited for and thrived," Chrisco said of those who have tried coaching. At Weaver, partners who have been very active in taking advantage of the coaching program have scored higher in their performance evaluations in the areas of business development and retention of direct reports, Rook said.

A 10-STEP PROCESS FOR STARTING A COACHING PROGRAM

If you're interested in launching a coaching program at your organization, you may find the guide A Toolkit for Possibility: Creating a Coaching Culture at Your Organization a good place to start. Here's a brief overview of the 10-step process it outlines:

  • Step 1: Start with why. Determine your purpose for launching a coaching program and what you want to achieve.
  • Step 2: Establish your key players. Identify the people inside and outside your organization who will be integral to the program's success, including leadership as well as human resources and learning and development staff.
  • Step 3: Create a vision and measures of success. Picture what a successful program would look like, and set measurable goals and milestones for tracking progress.
  • Step 4: Determine who is eligible for coaching. Ask which employees need it the most and would benefit the most.
  • Step 5: Identify what type of coaching is needed. Choices might include one-to-one, group, or team coaching.
  • Step 6: Identify the coach(es). Organizations can use external coaches on a contract basis, hire coaches to work internally, or provide coaching-based skill development for their people.
  • Step 7: Assign clear roles and responsibilities. Make sure everyone taking part knows what they and the other stakeholders are responsible for.
  • Step 8: Launch a communication campaign. Frequently and clearly communicate with everyone in the organization about the coaching program. Coaching can easily be misunderstood, so make sure communications address the program's purpose and benefits and who is eligible.
  • Step 9: Determine how the coaching will work. Pin down such details as the program's purpose, the process, the selection criteria for coaches and coachees, whether the program will be integrated with performance management, and how matches will be made.
  • Step 10: Develop your coaching team. Ensure that external or internal coaches have the proper training.

MAKING COACHING EFFECTIVE

Organizations can take several steps to set the stage for a successful coaching effort:

Create a vision and ways that the organization will measure success

Elliott recommends asking questions such as "What does your organization's ideal coaching culture look like?," "How will you know you've been successful with this coaching program?," and "What specifically will be different? What will you see more or less of?"

Get leadership to buy in

A coaching initiative "won't work unless a partner is behind it and involved in it," Kreischer said. Leaders must understand the value of the initiative and the benefits that it can offer the organization. They must be prepared for the change in mindset that is necessary to shift from a top-down leadership model to one that allows people greater control over their work lives.

Getting leaders involved also takes away some of the stigma around coaching. "It takes a fair amount of vulnerability to say you want to work with a coach," Kreischer said. "People aren't willing to talk about what they could do better." Given that reluctance, knowing there's acceptance at the top makes it easier for other team members to risk being vulnerable.

In addition, staff sometimes assume that coaching is only needed by those who are underperforming, when this is not the case. "People need to know it's not a remedial action for a failure but a powerful tool a partner has used," Kreischer said.

Determine how access will work

At some organizations, participation in coaching programs is required; at Weaver, for instance, it's mandatory for partners and senior managers. At HORNE, coaching is open to all professional staff and is now voluntary, although the program did begin with some requirements for certain roles, Chrisco said. Partners and performance advisers do recommend that team members engage in coaching when they would benefit.

Kreischer said coaching is so popular at Frank, Rimerman that the firm has set guidelines on how much coaching time people can have and how long they can use it.

Scale a coaching initiative for smaller firms or other organizations

Smaller practices don't need to create an elaborate coaching program to develop a coaching culture. Instead, they might consider hiring or contracting an external coach, then determining how to ration that resource among their people. They can also provide coaching-based skill development for their people through training programs.


How is coaching different?

Coaching is sometimes confused with mentoring or sponsorship, but each of those three types of career development relationships is distinct. Here's a rundown of the differences between them:

Mentoring

Typically, a mentor talks with you. He or she may be assigned to you or be someone you have sought out on your own. A mentor is a more experienced person who can offer feedback and advice on challenges or opportunities in your career.

Sponsorship or advocacy

A sponsor or an advocate talks about you. A sponsor's or an advocate's role (different firms may use different terms for the same role) is to help raise your visibility in the organization and make sure you are well positioned for promotions, raises, or stretch assignments. A sponsor or advocate does not offer advice or instruction but, rather, advocates on your behalf. In addition, while a mentor or coach may not work for your organization, a sponsor must be a leader within your organization.

Coaching

A coach usually talks to you. According to A Toolkit for Possibility: Creating a Coaching Culture at Your Organization, published by the AICPA Women's Initiatives Executive Committee, "coaching helps someone discover what they want and identify paths to the desired results." A coach acts as a facilitator, asking questions and listening to help you determine what steps or solutions are best. A coach doesn't teach you or offer guidance. Instead, he or she helps you learn from your own experiences and use your own resources to tackle your challenges.


About the authors

Yasmine El-Ramly, CPA/CITP, CGMA, is director—Governance for the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Anita Dennis is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4125.


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