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Create a Coaching Culture by Following Through

A group of people sitting in a meeting room.

Last May, I wrote a column about a general manager (GM) who received executive coaching and whose experience led to a scaling of the coaching program for his division.

Phillips 66 hired Chris Coffey, a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach, to work with the GM in its marketing division in Houston. Employees viewed the GM as an intense, difficult-to-approach, results-oriented person; a highly knowledgeable but impatient individual; and someone who was resistant to sharing his knowledge to help others perform more effectively.

Through the coaching process, the GM committed to "improving collaboration to enhance business performance" and "sharing knowledge and expertise with others."

His action plan focused on specific behaviors such as asking good questions and being open-minded, listen authentically and fully to other people's ideas," "build off of others' ideas before giving your own or rebutting their suggestions" and "be a thinking partner instead of a critic."

The process was so successful the GM, with HR support, launched a pilot project for his division of 205 marketing employees. Coffey redesigned the coaching process to have a group-based focus instead of an individual one.

Twenty-nine marketing managers (two GMs, nine of their direct reports and 18 managers) had two goals: "Become a better coach and mentor to direct reports," and "Help the managers below them become better coaches and managers to their direct reports."

The results were extraordinary. After six months, a survey of division employees revealed that 86 percent felt their managers had become better coaches and mentors. After another six months, a second survey was conducted to determine if progress had been sustained. Nearly all employees surveyed said "yes." And this was despite major organizational changes in the division during this time.

According to a Phillips 66 HR business partner, "Although this wasn't an HR idea, we agreed to support it provided there were good metrics to measure its effectiveness."

The metrics included using an anonymous survey to ask employees, "How satisfied are you with your manager as a coach and mentor?"

Overall satisfaction went up from 86 percent in the first survey to 97 percent in the second. Employee ratings of their manager went up from 46 percent highly satisfied to 53 percent highly satisfied.

The survey asked, "Did your manager discuss and share with you his or her stated goal?" 93 percent of direct reports said yes on the first survey and 94 percent said yes on second.

The survey also asked, "To what extent has your manager followed up with you?" On the first survey, 36 percent of direct reports said their manager had consistently and periodically followed up. In the second survey, this number increased to 58 percent. Another 23 percent said there'd been some follow-up.

According to Coffey, a key to this project's success was managers communicating their goal, asking for employees' help in achieving it, and following up. "In order not only to change management behavior but to change employee perception of behavior, the manager must have the humility and the courage to share the goal and solicit candid feedback and feedforward [improvement suggestions]. These managers had that humility and courage. They also demonstrated discipline in the follow-up and follow-through process."

The GM added, "From the coaching, I learned that not only did I have plenty of room to grow and improve as a leader, so did everyone else. I'm grateful for HR's support since we've now be able to scale these benefits throughout the division."

This account shows the value of HR and management partnering on leadership initiatives. Although this initiative did not come from HR, it didn't prevent it from being developed, supported and evaluated by HR.

The lesson is simple and straightforward: Look for ways to collaborate with management to create better leaders. In my experience, including as a former employment law litigator, it achieves the ultimate win-win-win: great culture, desirable business results, and staying out of court.


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