Can internal coaching be used as a cost effective and strategic tool to steer an organisation through lean times? Absa believes so and has just been nominated for an ICF Prism Award for its innovative internal coaching strategy.
To navigate its way through challenging times, Absa is investing in talent. Throughout Absa, internal coaching has become a key strategic part of business as usual. According to Specialist, Coaching, Mentoring and Talent Development, Maria Cussell Humphries, this approach is saving the organisation money, whilst bolstering its in-house human resource capabilities.
“Coaching isn’t new in Absa and we realise that it is a powerful tool for unlocking talent and is a core skill to have internally,” says Cussell Humphries.
“So far we have found it extremely beneficial in terms of talent retention and leadership development,” she said. “In fact, we are seeing that not only are our HR professionals coming to do the programme, but so are some of our senior leadership.”
The programme in question was designed by the Centre for Coaching, situated at the UCT Graduate School of Business, and piloted in the organisation in 2010. The idea, according to Cussell Humphries, enabled Absa to offer leadership coaching and develop talent in a more cost effective way.
The Centre for Coaching programme makes use of a unique approach, Coaching Circles, which allows coaches to build trust amongst their peers, to receive immediate feedback about their approach and to understand fully, through practical experience, the role of a coach.
“Adults learn better under certain conditions,” says Janine Everson, co-director of the Centre for Coaching. “Being observed and being given feedback is pivotal to adult learning. And this needs to take place in an environment in which they feel safe enough to explore issues, to ask in-depth questions about their circumstances.”
Real time coaching
According to Everson, Coaching Circles, a relatively new technique for coaching in South Africa, creates a platform that supports development in real time and allows the individual to assess their long term performance and develop competencies in required areas of their lives.
Since 2010, Absa has fostered a core of 40 internal coaches, who undergo ongoing coaching supervision and master classes to maintain high coaching standards. They in turn spread the coaching philosophy throughout their teams and units.
“We used to have only external coaches to provide leadership coaching to develop our talent. It proved expensive,” says Cussell Humphries.
According to Cussell Humphries, the costs of providing external coaching to fifty individuals is estimated to be R3,5 million, and to send qualified coaches to other countries becomes exponentially more expensive.
“There are very few coaches in Africa, outside of South Africa, that are International Coach Federation (ICF) credentialed to Professional Level. So by creating a coaching culture throughout the Africa Region, by using an accredited organisation such as the Centre for Coaching, we can continue to offer coaching even when budgets are tight,” she says.
Over the next few months Cussell Humphries will be travelling to a number of countries such as Botswana,Uganda and Ghana to assess the levels of interest in coaching.
“Already I’ve seen a great willingness around the continent to utilise internal coaching as a strategic tool in the organisation,” she says.
“There used to be a stigma around coaching, a belief that if you were nominated for coaching it meant that there was something wrong with your performance that needed to be rectified.
“But at Absa, our focus is on growing and nurturing our internal talent. Talented individuals with great potential are considered for coaching, from young talent and graduates coming into the organisation for the first time, to those in more senior leadership positions.
“If you are nominated for coaching, it means you have been seen to have potential to grow exponentially,” she says. “Coaching is a great way to fast track someone with potential, through gaining insights about themselves and their work environment and through the process contributing to their readiness to move into their next role in the organisation.”