Suhendra Cheng, originally from Indonesia arrived in China in 2006, he worked in restaurants because he couldn’t get a job in training initially. He moved into operational roles, then joined one of the luxury coffee retail to open their boutiques and found opportunities to go back to training. He studied coaching with Academy of Leadership Coaching & NLP with a dream of introducing coaching to his company. Suhendra went on to be part of the roll out of coaching in one of the top 5 Food & Beverage (FMCG) companies in China.
Coaching as part of the organizational strategy – a global initiative
Coaching was first rolled out in the company in 2009 as part of a global initiative. It was introduced as part of continuous excellence program and considered one of the important tools within the initiative. A colleague of his was involved in the roll out which started in the manufacturing division and Suhendra joined in the later part of the journey.
Coaching implemented into a department/division
Coaching started as a mandatory program for factory management and since then they have rolled out to supervisory level. Over 3,000 people, from the Head of Departments to all those people with a technical background, all of the managers needed to learn coaching skills.
Coaching was launched not as separate ‘coach training program’, but as part of the Continuous Excellence Program (CEP), therefore it has better acceptance from the target audience. The message was simple, ‘if you want to be successful in this program, coaching has to be part of your everyday activities.’
Suhendra and his colleagues trained the managers in a two-day coach training program which included basic skills, listening, questioning, giving feedback and challenging skills (4 core skills of coaching) and then teach how to use the GROW model. After the training the managers were required to be demonstrating coaching with their staff.
Coaching built into the performance system
Importantly, coaching has been built into the way managers are assessed or measured. The model of implementation has different levels that the managers are required to pass. Coaching is one of the criteria in order to move through different stages of Continuous Excellence Program (CEP).
The managers were continuously practicing coaching. For different stages of the Continuous Excellence Program, there were different requirements for how coaching was done. For example, how much coaching has been done and recorded; and one of the criteria for highest score of implementation is ‘Coaching is seen by managers as a key way to achieve results.’
Coaching as part of ‘everyday activities’
Suhendra was the only certified coach within the company. It was not part of the plan to have people become certified coaches, rather the plan was for them to use coaching skills as part of their daily work. Suhendra says clearly, ‘Coaching was to be an “every day activity” – it is the culture.’
Changing the mindset from ‘telling’ to ‘coaching’
When thinking about the challenges in implementation, Suhendra says ‘In the rollout, we faced different challenges, because it was something new being introduced to the culture. People were asking, ‘why should I learn it?’ We heard about the managing and telling approach in management, this has been successful for years, and they asked ‘why should I change?’
And it was common to hear ‘It takes a long time for me to do coaching, it is faster to tell him, why should I not just tell him?’
Suhendra says ‘This shift of mindset really is quite difficult and takes time. When a factory has a turnover of people, and new people join the factory, it’s not unusual to see the resistance come back. Building coaching capability into the Continuous Excellence Program ensured, over time, that coaching continued to be considered part of the culture.’
Measuring and the feedback loop
Tracking the results of the coaching has been important. Suhendra shares that ‘In the recent one to two years, “refresher training” was implemented and this was designed to bring back those who have been trained to refresh their knowledge, and to share their action plan (this is the plan that they completed at the end of the first training program, and it was designed to be completed within three-six months). They were asked to bring back their action plans to share what they have done – whether there were successes or failures.’
‘This is where they get to know if the managers have been using it or not.’ Suhendra received feedback from the managers, about the change in the way that their staff talk to them now. ‘The staff are more open; they are willing give their ideas;they are becoming more proactive. These are just a few of the noticeable changes.’
‘The key is to let them feel proud if they have been successful and if they have not been successful, let them know that we cared and they are supported.’
Coaching the coaches
Another initiative introduced is ‘coaching the coaches’ which is aimed at heads of departments, because they are the role models for coaching in the organization. As part of this program, Suhendra, as the certified coach, was observing the managers coaching. This was a six month program, where he goes into the factory to observe them doing live coaching and gives them feedback on what have they done well, what could be improved and they designed an action plan around the feedback.
There were three observations (every two months) during the program and in between the managers are encouraged to do peer coaching. They would get their peers to coach them on real business issues that’s one benefit. While at the same time, when they coach their peer they get the opportunity to improve by receiving feedback from others.
Coaching introduced at the executive levels
Suhendra was also involved in the supervision of the rollout of executive coaching. Executive coaching is being introduced for senior people with an external coach. The external coaches need to hold Master Credentialed Coach (MCC) credentials, the gold standard internationally through the International Coach Federation (ICF). That way the company knows that all external coaches align to international standards in the coaching field.
He reflects that “It is easier to build a coaching culture if you start from the top, by using an external coach to design the program, getting top management involved and then rolling it down. This happened in headquarters, but not in China. The impact would have been bigger; the buy-in would have been bigger if they had started with the executives. This does not take away however, from the brilliant work they we achieved.’
Coaching is safe in the hands of future leaders
Suhendra is confident that future leaders will champion the culture of coaching. He says ‘They appreciate the coaching because it allows them to give a voice to what is in their heads- rather than telling them what to do; especially they like something that is meaningful; so coaching will play a motivating and empowering role for them.’
Since creating a coaching culture in his organization in his company in China, Suhendra has moved his family back to Indonesia, is building a home there, taking a gap year scuba diving in the islands and creating a more balanced life for himself and his family.
Suhendra’s interview of how he created change in this organization was a chapter in the book “Bringing Out Their Best, inspiring a coaching culture in your workplace” written by Natalie Ashdown & Mel Leow. I highly recommend this book for more tips on building a Coaching Culture.