A growing number of organisations are cultivating in-house coaching programs to achieve their talent-development goals. According to the 2012 International Coach Federation Global Coaching Study, 14 percent of professional coaches self-identify as internal coaches; i.e., professional coaches who are employed within an organisation and who have specific coaching responsibilities identified in their job description. (This does not account for the percentage of professional coaches in private practice who are contracted to provide coaching services to one or more organisations.) Whether your priorities include engaging and retaining top talent, developing leadership from within, or boosting productivity and financial outcomes, a coaching program designed with the unique and specific needs of your organisation in mind can yield significant benefits.
The 152,000 military and civilian professionals engaged in the United States’ defense-acquisition workforce are experiencing the benefits of coaching firsthand through an innovative coaching program developed and administered by the Defense Acquisition University. As the corporate university for the United States’ defense acquisition workforce, the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) is charged with providing learning opportunities and leadership development to the workforce associated with the largest buying enterprise in the world.
Establishing Coaching at DAU
In late 2007, the DAU began to explore the possibility of adding coaching to its portfolio of offerings in order to improve acquisition outcomes and enhance the leadership capacity of key defense acquisition leaders. After extensive research and benchmarking efforts, in December 2008, the DAU piloted a rigorous coach-training program oriented around the International Coach Federation’s (ICF) Code of Ethics and Core Competencies and adapted to the unique needs of the acquisition profession’s operating environment.
The DAU’s coaching program impacts leaders in all functional areas of the defense-acquisition workforce, including governance and oversight, program management, contracting, systems engineering, business and financial management, production and quality management, testing and evalution, and life cycle logistics. To date, more than 49 DAU faculty members have completed the university’s training program and deployed their services to meet the needs of nearly 60 major buying organisations. Through one-on-one and team coaching engagements, these coaches—all of whom are senior faculty members and seasoned defense acquisition professionals themselves—have reached more than 220 key leaders at the strategic and organisational levels. Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 supervisors and mid- and senior-grade leaders have benefitted from a portfolio of targeted leadership-development courses designed to extend the understanding and use of coaching skills throughout the defense acquisition workforce.
In recognition of the DAU’s outstanding use of coaching, ICF Global awarded the organisation an honorable mention through the 2013 ICF International Prism Award program. The International Prism Award program honors organisations that have achieved a standard of excellence in the implementation of coaching programs fulfilling rigorous professional standards, addressing key strategic goals, shaping organisational culture, and yielding discernible and measureable positive impacts.
In June 2013, the DAU was also recognised in Washington, D.C., USA at the 10th-anniversary Capital Coaches Conference as the recipient of ICF Metro DC’s Chapter-level Prism Award.
ICF research has shown that organisational coaching decision-makers place a high premium on ethical practice. The 2013 ICF Organisational Coaching Study revealed that maintaining confidentiality was a top priority for organisations considering or using coaching. This is certainly the case in the defense acquisition operating environment, where security is a must.
With the ICF Code of Ethics as its cornerstone, the DAU’s coaching program is designed to ensure 100-percent confidentiality around coaching conversations. A policy that prevents leaders and their subordinates from working with the same coach creates an additional layer of protection.
Although DAU coaching clients say they value the program’s confidentiality provisions, the growth of a coaching culture in the DAU means that most coaching recipients are open about their decision to receive coaching. There is no stigma, no sense that coaching is remedial. Instead, coaching is seen as a powerful tool that empowers leaders and, in turn, organisations, to achieve their goals. As key military and civilian leaders have touted the individual and business impacts of partnering with a DAU coach, the demand for coaching in the defense acquisition workforce has multiplied, with the percentage of key leaders who express an interest in coaching during their executive management courses climbing from 10 percent to between 20 and 35 percent. At the same time, a growing number of coaching clients are inviting their direct supervisors to participate in a conversation around the coaching engagement in order to boost accountability and maintain open lines of communication.
Reaping the Rewards
DAU coaching clients have reported a high return on expectations in areas including organisational change, networking, strategic thought and leadership, leadership confidence, teamwork, communication, and time management. This is consistent with ICF research around the benefits of coaching. According to the 2009 ICF Global Coaching Client Study, coaching clients have cited positive impacts on self-confidence (80 percent), communication skills (72 percent), interpersonal skills (71 percent), overall work performance (70 percent) and team effectiveness (51 percent)
A Kirkpatrick assessment conducted by DAU pointed to positive training and development impacts at all four levels as a result of coaching: reaction (positive 92.5 percent value), learning (a positive 90 percent value), application (top four impacts: improved strategic communication, better change implementation, enhanced stakeholder relationships, enriched leadership/people interactions) and business impact (top four impacts: increased self/group productivity, increased customer satisfaction, increased resources, reduced cycle time).
The DAU has also cited numerous success stories illustrative of coaching’s value to the defense acquisition workforce. In the university’s International Prism Award application, ICF Associate Certified Coach and DAU Director of Leadership Programs and Coaching Richard D. Hansen, Jr., wrote about an admiral who spoke at a recent Wounded Warriors banquet about the key role Executive Coaching played in helping her achieve her rank.
‘People say that culture trumps strategy’, Hansen reflected. ‘Our coaching initiative is realising a synergy between strategy and culture as our leaders embrace the positive impact of coaching’.
An aircraft program manager who was initially skeptical of coaching reported ‘immediate and astonishing’ results from his engagement with a DAU coach. In a testimonial, he wrote that coaching helped him turn a well-run program into a benchmark program where people knew their value and were empowered to ‘accelerate through change and land on top’.
With an annual acquisition budget of $350 billion, the defense acquisition operating environment demands a high return on every investment of time, manpower and money. The DAU’s initiative has met this demand, with measurable results throughout the coaching program’s 60 client organisations. One high-tech program manager who regularly oversaw projects with annual budgets of more than $5 million USD reported that coaching was instrumental in yielding millions of dollars in cost savings and efficiencies. Meanwhile, the DAU has tracked workforce-wide impacts of its coaching program and calculated a non-financial ROI of 330 percent and an impressive reported financial ROI of 743 percent.
Taking the Next Steps
As Hansen and his coaching colleagues at the DAU look to the future and plan their next steps, they are doing so with an eye toward developing and modelling coach-training programs and best practices that can be used by or adapted to government coaching programs of all types and all sizes.
Meanwhile, if you are considering coaching as the next step for your organisation’s talent-development program, the ICF offers a wealth of resources to prepare you for the journey:
• The ICF Research Portal (Coachfederation.org/portal) hosts coaching-research articles, case studies, journal articles, and more. The ICF also invests each year into industry research to demonstrate the highly effective nature of coaching. Access executive summaries or purchase full reports at Coachfederation.org/research.
• ICF’s “Need Coaching?” booklet (Coachfederation.org/need) will help make the case for coaching to decision-makers in your organisation with a concise explanation of what coaching is (and what it isn’t), and a host of compelling data showing that, in organisations of all sizes and across all sectors, coaching works.
• The stories of past ICF Prism Award honorees (Coachfederation.org/prism) will provide inspiration and insight into what the best coaching programs around the world are doing to maintain high standards; achieve key organisational objectives; cultivate sustainability; and yield exceptional ROI, ROE and organisational impacts.
• If developing an in-house training program for internal coaches is not in your plans, the ICF’s Training Program Search Service (Coachfederation.org/tpss) will help you find ICF-approved coach training that meets your organisation’s needs.
• According to the 2010 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study, 84 percent of adult consumers who had experienced a coaching relationship reported they thought it was important for coaches to hold a credential. ICF research also shows that clients of Credentialed coaches are more likely to be satisfied with the experience and recommend coaching to others. The ICF’s Coach Referral Service (Coachfederation.org/crs) can help you connect with an external coach who meets the stringent education and experience requirements set forth for ICF Credential-holders.
About the Author
The International Coach Federation is the leading global organisation for coaches, with more than 20,000 members and 10,000 credentialed coaches in more than 100 countries worldwide. ICF is dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high ethical standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of credentialed coaches. Coaching is a distinct service and differs greatly from therapy, consulting, mentoring or training. ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. For more information, please visit our website at www.coachfederation.org.