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What was the Business Issue?

Within the Opticians business of Boots, there was a need to grow sales by differentiating our customer service, in an increasingly competitive market place. One of the barriers to this was a history of a primarily autocratic management style used by most of our managers. We needed to change this from 'tell' to 'coach', to release the potential of the store teams and to empower them to serve our customers better and deliver more sales.

Why did We Choose Coaching?

  • Personal service needs empowered decision making, to be able to give all customers what they need - it can't be done by formula.

  • There was lots of latent potential within our professional staff (optometrists, opticians etc), who reacted badly to a 'tell' management style, usually from someone younger, with less knowledge and paid considerably less.

  • The business model that was being implemented was that inspiring leadership leads to motivated staff, which leads to satisfied customers, which leads to increased profits - one key element of 'inspiring leadership' was deemed to be a coaching style.

  • There was poor staff satisfaction across the organization especially amongst the professionals who constantly had issues with the ethics of their profession clashing with a selling culture.

  • There was a history of 'GROW' coaching, although often used inappropriately and manipulatively, so it was building on existing knowledge and skills.

What did We Do?

Our program was based on the philosophy of 'increasing ownership to release potential'. This was also the most effective way we knew to sustain something in a business. We therefore:

  • Implemented the coaching program top-down cascade, and also did it with specific groups of managers to speed up the implementation. This meant the executive directors and senior managers going through it first. A planned cascade, followed with enough flexibility to put specific targeted groups of managers through whilst this was happening, to get the best possible results.

  • Identified and trained a large group of internal tutors, who then went on to implement the programme. Our role then became one of review, feedback and ongoing development of this tutor 'community'.

  • Used a specific version of coaching (the Inner Game) that defines coaching as getting someone to focus attention to unlock their potential.

  • Used upward feedback as part of the roll-out, to give individuals specific feedback from their subordinates, to identify the pressure to change. This was completely confidential to start with, and was then repeated annually and included in their performance review.

  • Changed the management structure to support the roll-out.

  • Ran our bi-annual stores conferences in a consistent style to the rollout, i.e. used a coaching approach rather than theatre-style tell sessions.

  • Introduced Operations Excellence as a program following it, which built on the style change and got ownership for basic retail standards.

What were the Challenges?

  • Giving it enough time to become embedded as a changed behaviour - 'sticking at it!'

  • Protecting people whilst they were changing - removing the threat, making it safe to change, 'nurturing'.

  • Keeping stakeholders on-side during the inevitable 'hockey stick' of performance, as people experimented with a new or enhanced skill.

  • The reward culture recognized old behaviours and couldn't be changed fast enough.

  • Changing the focus of the business from head office to stores, when this meant the people sponsoring the program lost power/control of things themselves.

  • Tutors took some time to come on board and we needed to manage the resistance more quickly and effectively.

What were the Benefits?

The 'hard' benefits will always be difficult to quantify as they are influenced by other factors. However, there was a dramatic increase in customer satisfaction results from those stores where the management team had been through coaching. There was a significant improvement when we re-measured staff satisfaction and upward feedback. The other benefits that were achieved were:

  • Personal development for the tutors.

  • Extra life skills for all involved.

  • Implementation of huge subsequent change with minimal HR support - the business became more self-sufficient.

  • Meeting effectiveness improved dramatically, becoming focused more quickly and getting clearer action at the end.

  • A major restructure, including numerous redundancies, was handled with greater dignity, empathy and all-round listening, resulting in the change program being held up as an exemplar within the Boots group.

What Advice Would You Give to Others?

  • Coaching isn't just a skill - it is a belief about how humans operate at their best and therefore works best as a larger culture change programme.

  • You need a senior-level sponsor for the work, who is prepared to fight the corner when impatience for quick results happens.

  • Coaching isn't a quick fix - it takes time to change behaviours.

  • Ensure you get enough investment in time and money agreed before starting the programme.

  • It is harder to get results when the required change is a 180-degree shift in management style.

  • You need to take a whole systems approach to coaching and look at the other elements that will affect its success, e.g. management structures, reward mechanisms, career progression etc.

  • Don't underestimate how much time and money it will take to maintain the skills for new and existing people.

  • Build opportunities to apply the skills into the programme.

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