Building a Coaching Culture: Developing Next Generation Leaders

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August 2008

Building a Coaching Culture: Developing Next Generation Leaders

CIDMIconNewsletterRosanne Scriffignano, Automatic Data Processing, Inc..


When you think of coaching, what comes to mind? Perhaps the term evokes memories of little league, homecomings, or Super Bowl Sunday. In sports, a plethora of coaches focus solely on helping players to excel in their game.

In the business arena, a very different genre of coaching has emerged. Known as executive or business coaches, these coaches partner with leaders who aspire to make significant inroads—not to the beat of marching bands or the sound of cheering crowds, but to the ever-changing demands of the corporate workplace.

Developing next generation leaders requires looking at leadership development in a whole new way. Several years ago, Automatic Data Processing, Inc. (ADP) did just that. Recognizing the inherent value of coaching, ADP introduced a coaching program that is cultivating leaders to become more effective, self-reliant, and focused. In this article, I describe the ADP program, as well as opportunities for coaching within other organizations.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a confidential and customized alliance between a client and coach. Clients can benefit from coaching during various stages in their careers, including organizational changes, on-boarding, and career transitions such as promotions and retirement. Coaching clients are, in effect, next generation leaders: individuals empowered by the coaching experience to reach new levels of effectiveness in the workplace.

While partnering with their coaches, leaders work on a myriad of focus areas including communications, strategic planning, goal setting, and succession planning. Within the context of the coaching relationship, the benefits to leaders are numerous. For example, coaching can help leaders to become proficient at

  • developing insight and focus
  • applying new behaviors
  • setting and reaching goals
  • demonstrating accountability for their actions

ADP offers its leaders a variety of specialized coaching opportunities including

  • Leadership Coaching—Developmental coaching for leaders at the manager level and above. Depending on the nature of focus, leaders work with internal or external coaches.
  • First 90 Days Coaching—Tailored specifically for senior leaders selected for rotational assignments. The program is based on Michael Watkins’ model and book: The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels.
  • Sales Coaching—Performance-based coaching for sales executives and leaders. The program is geared toward achieving measurable outcomes.

As part of their coaching engagements, leaders set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART) goals that are formally documented in a customized Coaching Plan. Leaders also sign an agreement before the coaching engagement begins, which serves to lend a sense of formal commitment to the relationship. This approach clearly sets expectations and provides a mechanism by which the leader and coach can monitor and demonstrate progress. Half-way through the coaching engagement, leaders compare progress against the original goals. At the end of the coaching engagement, they assess their progress using both qualitative and quantitative methods.

In Search of the “Perfect” Coach

Initially, ADP hired external coaches to work with its leaders. As the demand for coaching increased, ADP introduced an innovative program to train and certify leadership coaches. Known as the Internal Coach Certification Program (ICCP), this rigorous, one-year program prepares participants to become certified internal coaches at ADP. To be accepted into the ICCP, prospective participants must complete a comprehensive application process, including providing letters of recommendation and interviewing with an experienced ADP leadership coach. All stages of the application process are evaluated against a set of subjective and objective criteria. This process serves to provide a balanced opportunity for all prospective participants, while identifying those applicants most suited for the coaching role. Decisions are made by a Coach Advisory Board to allow for a consensus-based opinion on the evaluation of the applicants.

The ICCP curriculum includes a variety of components, including classroom training, telesessions with mentor coaches, and self-study. All coach trainees must complete ten sessions of individual coaching to better understand the needs of their future clients. They also must try out their newly acquired coaching skills with several practice clients before they can graduate from the program.

What makes the coaching program particularly special is that the internal coaches are volunteers who balance their coaching duties with their full-time work. (Many organizations have programs that employ full-time, paid internal coaches.) To date, there are 35 ADP-certified leadership coaches with an additional 22 individuals who are currently working through the ICCP curriculum. Graduates of the program typically work with at least two clients per year. This approach guarantees that the leadership coaches remain current in their coaching skills and also provides an opportunity for the program to deliver tangible benefits to ADP.

Although coaching is now only available to associates at the Manager level and above, the goal is to offer coaching services eventually to all interested ADP associates worldwide. With the addition of new internal coaches each year, ADP is moving closer to achieving this goal. In the meantime, ADP leadership is encouraging managers to learn how to incorporate coaching behaviors and techniques as part of daily interactions with their teams. To date, over 1000 leaders have completed ADP’s “manager as coach” training program.

Why Internal Coaches?

There are several benefits to cultivating a practice of internal coaches. One significant benefit is that coaches have an opportunity to partner with other members of the ADP organization as part of the coaching relationship. This partnership provides a mutual broadening of perspective and often leads to extension of professional networks and increased understanding of the organization as a whole. It is not unusual for a coach from one business unit to work with a leader in a completely different area of ADP. This approach is particularly effective because the coaches understand the corporate culture, as well as the overall organizational milieu. Another benefit is cost savings. By grooming internal coaches, ADP can provide coaching opportunities to a greater number of associates for minimal operating costs.

Although ADP’s internal leadership coaches are expected to perform their coaching duties without impact to their normal workload, many coaches report feeling energized by the experience and enriched by the additional activity. There is also a more reflective benefit to individual coaches, as they experience a deeper sense of being part of something worthwhile and long-lasting. Their influence is, indeed, far-reaching. To date, ADP-certified coaches have had an impact on the careers of over 260 leaders in the United States, Canada, Brazil, China, and Australia!

Getting out of the Dugout

ADP’s Internal Coach Certification Program (ICCP) has also been recognized by the greater external coaching community. In 2006, this program received the Prism Award from the Georgia Coach Association, which is affiliated with the International Coach Federation (ICF), a world-renowned coach certification and knowledge-sharing organization. This award recognizes organizations for their continued commitment to corporate coaching.

Several ADP internal coaches have pursued rigorous external coach training and have earned credentials from the ICF. These coaches also are making significant contributions to the coaching community by serving on ICF committees, delivering teleclasses, and participating in educational and community events, such as International Coaching Week.

Coaching: A Home Run!

According to a recent study by Manchester, Inc. of 1000 executives from Fortune 1000 companies, organizations reported a return on their coaching investment of almost six times the cost. Executives reported that the benefits included improved productivity, profitability, and customer service, as well as reduced costs. Clearly, it is difficult to monetize all of the benefits of such relationships, but the Manchester study highlights the very real impact that coaching has on organizations.

The value of coaching is often associated with the area in which executives are coached. Studies conducted by MetrixGlobal, LLC found that 58 percent of the executives who worked on tactical issues reported that their coaching experience made an important impact to their businesses. Even more significant, 100 percent of the executives who worked on more strategic issues reported that coaching helped them to make a positive impact.

Qualitative benefits in organizations are often not published due to confidentiality concerns and thus are difficult to research. In 2005, ADP completed an in-house survey of leaders who had participated in coaching. As part of this feedback, several leaders shared that they were energized by their coaching experience. They also attributed coaching to accelerating their readiness for new challenges. Based on the results of this survey, a significant return-on-investment was documented.

As an ADP Leadership coach involved in the program since its inception, I can attest to the many benefits of effective coaching. Leaders have revealed that the coaching experience has helped them to prepare for new responsibilities. One leader reflected on her coaching experience as follows: “Coaching has proven to be an invaluable experience. It has helped me to define my goals, resolve issues at work, as well as personally, and makes me feel better about myself and my accomplishments.” By focusing on specific goals, this leader gained confidence and exceeded performance expectations as early as the first sixty days in a new role within the organization.

Sometimes, benefits to coaching can be seen in conjunction with other developmental efforts. Coaching, when combined with training, can also help leaders accelerate performance improvements. For example, one leader wanted to become more proficient at giving executive-level presentations. During coaching, this individual worked on identifying, quantifying, and then overcoming fears of presenting to senior executives. To support performance goals, this individual also attended a public speaking course. By combining coaching with public speaking instruction, this leader made great strides to meet aggressive performance goals. Today, this leader confidently gives presentations within all levels of the organization.

Watch Out for Foul Balls

Some skeptics do not believe that coaching is worth the investment. For example, Allenbaugh and Waitley suggest that coaching is not appropriate for everyone and could result in a waste of time and money.

The coaching process…requires that the individual has the fundamental aptitude or talent to perform effectively in a given assignment. If the job requires the ability to swim and fly, a duck fits the innate talent requirement. If the job requires climbing trees, a squirrel fits the job well. Coaching a duck to climb trees or coaching a squirrel to swim and fly, however, results in a costly, unproductive experience….Far greater productivity and fulfillment results from directing coaching efforts to your most talented people.

It is up to coaches to set realistic expectations with their clients concerning what can and cannot be accomplished with coaching.

There are also ethical and social considerations to the coaching relationship. Above all, coaches must earn their clients’ trust and respect. It would be unfair (and unwise) to encourage anyone to seek goals that are clearly unrealistic or unattainable. To address this concern, ADP coaches are trained to recognize issues that may require behavioral or therapeutic intervention. As part of the coaching agreement, leaders are also aware that all conversations are confidential unless they divulge behavior that is illegal, unethical, or could cause harm to themselves or others.

Is Coaching in Your Future?

If your organization does not offer coaching or you are interested in learning how to develop a coaching culture in your organization, consider the following options:

  • Hire A Coach—To locate a reputable and experienced coach, check out the “Find a Coach” service offered by the International Coach Federation <>. Be sure to confirm that the coach you hire has completed appropriate training or has credentials for the area in which you want to be coached.
  • Take a Coaching Class—Many organizations offer coach skills training specifically for managers. Check out what is available at the American Management Association <> and The Ken Blanchard Companies <>.
  • Read More about Coaching—There are many excellent books on how to introduce coaching into organizations. Two particularly valuable resources are The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work, by Zeus and Skiffington, and Masterful Coaching, by Robert Hargrove.
  • Become a Coaching Advocate—If you believe that coaching could benefit your team or organization, contact your human resources or training department. Representatives from these departments can help you to understand corporate requirements and strictures. They also can help you research options for bringing coach training in-house without developing your own program.

Post Game Wrap-Up

The coaching industry, along with its cadre of dedicated internal and external coaches, is poised to grow with the expanding needs of its clients. As long as the industry can continue to demonstrate a positive impact to the organizations it serves, its involvement in the corporate arena will continue to grow.

In an ideal world, the coaching relationship offers a sanctuary of trust where individuals can envision their goals, discover a path to meaningful change, and then realize their aspirations through focused improvements. The coach/client bond brings together a delicate mix of hope and realism, planning and action, and finally change and celebration. Often, the successful client seeks to re-enter the coaching relationship with a new set of aspirations that are broader and even more meaningful as the cycle continues. It is through this cycle of change that coaching weaves its magic and leaves its indelible mark on leaders and their organizations. CIDMIconNewsletter

Roseanne ScriffignanoRosanne Scriffignano

Automatic Data Processing, Inc.

Rosanne Scriffignano is a Project Leader and an ADP Leadership Coach. A founding member of the ADP Coach Advisory Board, she has helped to select and train leaders to become ADP-certified leadership coaches. Rosanne has earned the Associate Certified Coach (ACC) credential from the International Coach Federation and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Business Administration with a concentration in Organizational Leadership.


Eric Allenbaugh and Denis Waitley

Deliberate Success: Realize your Vision with Purpose, Passion, and Performance

2002, Franklin Lakes, NJ

Career Press, Incorporated

ISBN: 9781564146175

Robert Hargrove

Masterful Coaching

2002, San Francisco, CA

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

ISBN: 9780787960841

Perry Zeus and Suzanne Skiffington

The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work

2000, North Ryde BC

McGraw-Hill Australia

ISBN: 9780074708422

Michael Watkins

The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for New Leaders at All Levels

2003, Boston, MA

Harvard Business School Press

ISBN: 9781591391104