Action Based Coaching at Woodheads Brothers Abattoirs

The context

In July 2010, DevelopChange was asked to provide Action Based Coaching support for the leadership teams of three abattoirs and meat production sites in this wholly owned subsidiary of Morrisons supermarkets.

The need

The brief was to assist each site to rise to the challenges of production expansion and the implementation of various projects underpinning this ambitious growth. The approach was to work initially with each General Manager, then their immediate teams, to expand their leadership skills and capability ready for a step change in performance.

One particular emphasis was on the General Managers' own coaching skills so they could create high performing leadership teams at each site. These teams needed to be capable of sharing the leadership challenges whilst engaging the workforce through the transition to substantially higher output.

Action Based Coaching © was chosen as the approach rather than traditional coaching, for a number of reasons. One was the immediacy of coaching 'in the moment' rather than one step back from the workplace - up to 90% of the coaching took place on the shop floor and during meetings.

Secondly, was the need to develop the General Managers' own leadership presence - their 'Felt Leadership' - and this was best achieved by exploring how interactions worked in real situations, with real people.

The third reason was to help them perform Coaching on the Go as a means of improving workforce performance. Whilst being observed, they were able to seize everyday opportunities to give praise and recognition, to build rapport and trust, to explore issues and to offer development and advice.

Typically at each site, time was firstly spent with the General Manager and Coach getting to know one another, building trust and getting to understand the way the site operated. An agenda was created with the GM and a coaching 'contract' established to deal with issues of confidentiality and disclosure. The agenda would include observing current styles and approaches whilst making observations and feedback.

From this initial scene setting and observation, the coach and GM would then agree what development would take place. As an example, one GM chose to explore ways to improve engagement and accountability of his wider leadership team in their daily operational meeting. Different options were considered including the meeting agenda; what each manager needed to prepare and discuss; and how actions were to be created and followed through.

The outcomes

The outcome was a radically different type of meeting where roles and expectations were much clearer and the meeting more productive. This in turn lead to individual managers feeling more empowered, and eventually a reduced workload for the GM with less of their time being needed for chasing and following up. The GM's role also shifted to a more developmental and supportive one with time to focus on the individuals requiring help through coaching.

Other examples of development were:

  • How to have challenging conversations around performance without demotivating the individual;
  • Using conversations with frontline employees to discover how effectively the site communication processes were working;
  • Spotting minor performance, quality, hygiene or safety issues and engaging front line managers to tackle these in a way that reinforced the Site standards;
  • Spotting talented individuals and giving them tasks and responsibilities to grow and develop; and
  • Encouraging collaboration with frontline staff through dry runs of new processes and "What if?" scenarios.

The 'on the job' nature of the Action Based Coaching meant starting when the managers started, visiting all parts of the site including canteens, toilets, by- products and effluent treatment plants. This holistic view of the General Manager's world gave a deeper understanding of the complexity of their jobs and helped create genuine trust and rapport - essential ingredients of an effective coaching relationship.

Indirect coaching outcomes included:

  • A 25% uplift in one KPI through the GM engaging his leadership team in interactively problem solving of a hitherto intractable problem;
  • Operational Excellence audit scores improved through the increased visibility and accessibility of the senior leaders on each site;
  • The 'right first time, on time' start up of a new line, through the interaction and collaboration of all those involved with, and affected by the new project.