We are often called upon by our colleagues to justify our efforts: how much time/money will something take and what will the return on the investment (ROI) be? By analyzing the ROI, we decide where to place our valuable and often scarce resources. In certain industries, e.g. manufacturing, the math is simple— buying machine X will increase production by Y, saving the company Z. In human resources, the math is more complicated due to the large number of variables associated with living, breathing human beings. For math like that, it pays to have a coach in the corner.
In this article, we’ll explore a local HR team’s journey to integrate coaching into their corporate culture, in this case the Automotive Fuel Cell Corporation (AFCC). We’ll pay particularly close attention to the investment of time and money into their coaching program and the return on this investment. Sources for the article include metrics published in an AFCC case study, as well as an interview with AFCC’s head of HR and executive and leadership coach, Glenn St. Onge.
AFCC was started in 2008 as a joint venture by Daimler AG and the Ford Motor Company. Employing upwards of 150 people primarily in science, technology, engineering and math roles (STEM), AFCC’s main purpose was to develop fuel cells for vehicles. In 2012, although turnover, engagement and retention were all within acceptable levels, St. Onge saw the potential to improve the culture at AFCC by providing every employee with access to coaching support.
From our interview, it was clear that the number one investment made into fortifying AFCC’s corporate culture was initially time, St. Onge’s own and eventually the time of his coaches. To get the program started, he spent a considerable amount of time coaching AFCC staffers, as well as taking care of his day-to-day HR duties which led to a number of 11+ hours days.
While at AFCC, St. Onge had also invested time and energy convincing senior leaders (including three separate CEOs) that coaching was important. This proved difficult not only due to different leadership styles of the executives and lack of knowledge about coaching, but also the lack of case studies and quantitative evidence to support his program. However, over time, he was able to secure support for and build a team of 23 internal coaches.
The Return on Investment
By the numbers, the returns on AFCC’s coaching program were impressive, with AFCC directly attributing the following quantitative benefits to the coaching program:
- Decrease in employee turnover by 48 per cent, saving $700,000 USD annually;
- Reduction of employee relationship issues by 50 per cent, saving $160,000 USD annually;
- Significant improvement in leadership culture (161 per cent), with greatest improvements being noted in authenticity, relating to others and self-awareness respectively
- 80 per cent company-wide participation.
From a qualitative perspective, the HR team at AFCC was proud of the way people used coaching to identify strengths and gaps, resolve conflicts, shape their careers and show up in a different way. At AFCC, this meant better listening, more conversations about what was happening in the moment and improved employee accountability; countless testimonials serve as evidence of this. St. Onge’s efforts were also recognized by the International Coaching Federation with the 2017 International Prism Award.
Lessons Learned and Advice for HR Practitioners
As outlined above, there were considerable returns that resulted from the thoughtful, strategic embedding of coaching into AFCC’s corporate culture. However, the discernible and measurable positive impacts came at a cost; St. Onge has some advice for those thinking about imbedding coaching into a company culture:
Start Small and be Patient: Know that it will take some time to build momentum and that it won’t be an overnight success. Start by winning fans and creating a following of people who appreciate having access to coaching. Do this by coaching people at different levels, which may mean initially using external coaches for senior leaders so they understand the value firsthand. Utilizing a train-the-trainer model makes sense financially, but will take more time to grow and develop internal resources.
Secure Funding: All HR leaders have a budget they can use, so consider using it in a different way because traditional training by itself may not be good enough. Be creative with your budget and be resourceful in finding other sources into which to tap (St. Onge was able to secure additional resources from a B.C. job grant). In most companies, the CEO isn’t asking for a coaching program, so you need to build a critical mass that is making the request. You also need to have data that shows people are interested and that it is making a difference.
Prepare for (Self) Doubt: St. Onge shared that doubt often knocked on his door and took many forms. Because the program took a long time to get going, there were plenty of opportunities for him, and others, to question the ROI of the program. Winning supporters and creating a following of people who appreciated coaching supported St. Onge through these tough times; a corner was turned when he secured approval and funding for his internal senior HR generalist Reza Rahamani to complete the CTI coach training and certification program. As the second certified coach in house, this helped to erase the doubts and to grow and sustain the program.
A Worthy Commitment
It can be challenging as an HR leader to commit to and decide upon a course of action to change corporate culture—and justifying the cost by providing concrete metrics is just one of the challenges. However, what we have seen with AFCC is just a local example of a grander understanding of how coaching can have a positive, measurable impact on a company. Let the work of St. Onge and his team at AFCC serve as a lever to help bring a coach into your company’s culture corner.
Originally printed in CPHR’s PeopleTalk magazine, Fall, 2018
Edited and polished by Jason McRobbie