Building a coaching culture (Executive Series)

Why Rogers decided to revamp its culture
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/18/2016

Building a coaching culture 

Why Rogers decided to revamp its culture 

By Liz Bernier

As the winner of the 2015 Prism award from the International Coach Federation (ICF), it’s safe to say Rogers knows a thing or two about coaching. 

But that wasn’t always the case, according to Jim Reid, CHRO at Rogers in Toronto. The organization has undergone massive changes over the past decade or two, and is currently undertaking an ambitious transformation plan.  

“We’ve completely rebuilt our executive team. Eight out of the 12 people on the team are brand new so I get to work alongside incredible, talented people,” said Reid at a Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto.

But it’s not just the brand recognition or talented leadership team that make Reid relish his role and opportunity with the company — it’s the potential for transformational culture change. 

“It’s a great honour for me to be at Rogers, not just because I’m at Rogers, a company that’s branded and well-recognized in Canada, but it’s being at Rogers at this moment in time,” he said.

“After our founder died, we lost our focus, we drifted, we gave up the lead position in the marketplace, and what we want to do now is get it back.”

Five years ago, when he got the call to have a dinner about the CHRO job, Reid had mixed feelings about Rogers, he said. 

His mentor even advised him against taking the job — having worked at Rogers himself, he felt it was a culture that couldn’t change. 

“But, of course, over the past few years, I found out that that’s not the case. We are changing Rogers, and for the better. We’re not done yet, we’ve got a lot more work to do,” said Reid. 

“We all know in this room that if you want to be successful in life, you have to play to your strengths and your passion. And part of my passion is I love messy, complicated change. Turnaround type of change.”

And there’s a lot of potential. Currently, Rogers is the largest diversified communications and media company in the country, said Reid. 

It has about 30,000 employees and revenues of just over $13 billion, he said — and now, it has an overarching change strategy to recapture the top spot in the market. 

“We call our strategy ‘Rogers 3.0.’ It’s kind of a play on words in some ways. Guy (Laurence) is the third CEO in the history of the company — we’re 56 years old this year — and it’s a three-year plan to get back into a lead position in the marketplace,” he said. 

“A big part of what Guy’s legacy will be is reinvigorating the people and the culture of the company. Our goal is simple: To win and also to make Rogers one of the best places to work in Canada.”

One of the most important things about transformational change is to realize it’s not all about slashing and burning — people have to recognize what elements are working and what practices are worth preserving, said Reid. 

“One of the things we learned in kind of architect-ing the journey that we’re on is that when you think about change, the first question we needed to answer was not what to change — it was, rather, what not to change,” he said. 

 “We’re very focused on making more explicit and driving into the foundation of the company the kinds of things that we think are going to help us win longer-term.”

But the people plan underpins the entire strategy, he said. 

“It has five work streams and 20 initiatives — it’s a very ambitious plan, it’s a multi-year plan. And everything that we’re doing in this place is really trying to shape up a winning culture,” said Reid. 

“Everything we do is grounded in three tenets that we think will help build a more grounded company, a more competitive company, a more customer-focused company.”

Rogers has a strong focus on talent, and on teams, engagement and culture, and it is also focusing on a coaching culture.

“Leaders set the tone in terms of performance in the company. And I think we also recognize… that as leaders, we get the culture we deserve. So when we thought about the magnitude of the culture change we’re driving, and the things we’re trying to do on the customer side, and the fact that it’s going to take us years to get from good to great, we saw very quickly that to be successful, our leaders needed to lead differently,” he said. 

“So rather than go a mile wide and an inch deep to build skills, we made a decision to go narrow and very deep on one skill set, and that was coaching.”

Rogers hired a company called Essential Impact to learn more, then identified within the organization which employees already had an aptitude for coaching, with the intention of moving the people who were the best and had the strongest aptitude right through to ICF certification. 

“We focused on three areas. First, we equipped our HR business partners — who are a young, talented team, but we weren’t when I first joined driving high-impact HR into the business. We took all of our HR business partners and we gave them the first 60 hours required to become an ICF-certified coach,” said Reid. 

“We then took our best ones on to ICF certification to give them the confidence and to lean into the business in terms of talent and our teams and engagement agenda. We then took our director-level leaders, and there are 650 of them, and gave them all coaching skills. We’re now driving that down into the management level.”

Coaching for call centres

The other thing they’ve worked hard on is introducing coaching to the call centres, said Reid. 

With call centre agents who are dealing directly with customers all day, every day, there is a huge opportunity to influence the way customers perceive the brand, said Andres Piderit, vice-president of consumer care at Rogers in Toronto. 

“We’ve been focused very hard on making sure we’re setting up those agents for success,” he said. 

Rogers rolled out coaching to several of the call centres after having identified coaching as an enabler. 

They trained 400 team managers across the country around facilitating these changes, he said. And the positive impact was almost immediate. 

“Coaching is a non-negotiable,” he said. “Coaching enables the trust.”


Coaching a powerful leadership dimension

By Trish Maguire

Rogers, one of the largest diversified telecommunications companies in Canada, made a strategic commitment in 2013 to introduce coaching as a distinguishing leadership approach. Not only has each national call centre exceeded its performance targets year over year from that point, it has also been awarded the 2015 International Coach Federation’s Prism Award. Congratulations. 

Having rebuilt the executive team with a new CEO, CHRO Jim Reid revealed Rogers is on a mission to regain a lead position in the telecommunications marketplace and, “to turn this oil tanker around, they would need to go deep and narrow.”  

The challenge was in shifting the inherent culture from a compliant culture to a behavioural one. Changing a culture from catching people doing something wrong to catching people doing something right is a stretch goal for any organization. 

Making the strategic choice to go from good to great convinced the executive team to focus on strengthening the culture shift with the coaching model, starting with the communications call centre leaders.

With tight and measurable metrics, Rogers is proving to be a highly credible example of how leaders can drive accountability and ownership by building and reinforcing an “I can and I will culture.” Rogers is in actual fact creating teams of skillful coaching leaders. 

The results to date speak for themselves. The call centre coaching leaders are already seeing the benefits of how building a positive workplace environment significantly improves customer satisfaction and, at the same time, appreciably impacts the bottom line.  

With this reliable example, it does beg the question as to “What it is it that continues to prevent or deter leaders, particularly HR leaders, from embracing and developing coaching as a key leadership dimension for their own organization?” What reason could any leader offer for not wanting to positively influence the workplace environment and exceed overall performance goals?  

Show me any executive leadership team that is not interested in increasing revenue and improving employee engagement, alignment and retention.

My own experience with this phenomenon is that too many managers and leaders argue they do not have the time and don’t believe it to be a learned skill or effective art of communication. Some believe coaching is too soft an approach and they have no patience or interest in seeking input or suggestions from others. Others simply do not see the need or believe coaching is a worthwhile leadership dimension. 

It’s hard to understand why any leader would choose not to adopt this powerful skill as an additional leadership dimension and accelerate his personal effectiveness. Becoming proficient with a coaching leadership style is not easy, never-ending and is certainly not a soft skill.   

We can all appreciate that not everybody is receptive to coaching; it involves difficult, sensitive and tough conversations. We have all experienced people who plainly resist change, have no interest in learning new skills or taking on greater responsibilities. Then there are those who have no problem being perfectly content in doing what they have always been doing and have no intention of doing anything different.

Primarily, though, many people are interested in personal growth, improving their performance, and they appreciate recognition and helpful feedback. People like and want to know that their manager believes in their skills and is genuinely committed to investing time in their growth and development.   

Interestingly, I find that once managers or leaders begin to develop and practise their coaching skills, they find it takes up far less time than they thought and, more importantly, they welcome it becoming a principal habit.  

The reality is that taking an interest in helping people advance their abilities, expand their bench strength and know what is expected of their own and their team’s performance in relationship to how they align with the overall business plan can only help increase any organization’s results.   

Rogers is proving that coaching is a powerful leadership dimension that helps drive bottom-line results. I so look forward to hearing its amazing sequel story. It will be interesting to see the company validate coaching as a strategic leadership competency and reclaim a lead position in the telecommunications space. 

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions in Nobleton, Ont., focused on high-potential leadership development coaching. She has held senior leadership roles in HR and OD in education, manufacturing and entrepreneurial firms. She can be reached at synergyx@sympatico.ca.


Diving deep for organizational effectiveness

By Michael Clark

Rogers’ coaching initiative, breathlessly presented to SCN by a trio of Rogers executives, was most interesting for revealing how a dive into a single competency can be so deep it becomes an enabler of organizational culture and driver of organizational effectiveness. 

Kudos to Rogers for having the courage to experiment with coaching as a means of redirecting organizational culture to facilitate its three-year strategy to lead the market. At first glance, the focus on a single managerial accountability versus “going a mile wide and an inch deep” is risky. 

But not as risky as it could be. If you take “coaching” beyond its narrowest definition — a performance conversation between a manager and a direct report — you have managers and directs having conversations, period. 

One presenter confessed his customer care function previously had a “compliance culture.” This may mean few conversations of any nature were being had by managers and their people. 

Could the Rogers’ coaching initiative be mostly a “Sit down and talk to each other, already” initiative?

By its nature, coaching puts a manager in conversation with her direct report. Conversation provides the opportunity to consciously or unconsciously manifest other managerial accountabilities such as context setting, task assignment and adjustment, monitoring, effectiveness appraisal and continuous improvement. That covers most of, say, the Gallup Q12. 

And, as we know, feedback is a big “tick box” for millennials who make up, on average, 40 per cent of call centre staff. I would be very interested to find out how much ICF-trained Socratic dialogue is being deployed and how much is actually “Hey, we work together.” 

The presenters indicated Rogers considers coaching an accountability: 30 minutes per week per direct is “non-negotiable.” Recall that the only foundation for sustainable behaviour change is to hold employees to account for using the new behaviour. 

Until such time as effective coaching is connected to a paycheque at Rogers, coaching will never “stick.” Rather, its use will depend on each manager’s sense of responsibility: Something subjective and varying wildly from manager to manager and from day to day.

It has to be asked whether an organization can drive sustainable effectiveness by a deep dive into a single competency. My concern is other vital managerial accountabilities are being ignored or at least downplayed. Are other drivers of effectiveness — such as role clarity, proper organizational levelling and effective strategy articulation and cascade — also being neglected?

Nonetheless, a tip of the organizational effectiveness hat to Rogers. Diving deep into coaching will, at the very least, create a culture of dialogue (whether Socratic or not) and trust. That will go a long way toward organizational effectiveness.

Michael Clark is director of business development at Forrest & Company. Forrest is an organizational transformation firm, with over 25 years experience in developing the organizational and leadership capacity in organizations.


Can Rogers’ leaders turn ‘oil tanker’ around?

By Karen Gorsline

After the death of its founder, Rogers lost focus, lost its position as the market leader, and some customers had a mixed view of Rogers service.  

While not on the brink, it was clear this very large company required a turnaround. There is a saying: “Leaders get the culture they deserve.” It was no secret there was skepticism in some quarters that it was possible to affect change at Rogers.  

Culture is something that can grow, change and adapt  — but this doesn’t happen overnight and not by leaders telling people to change. The new leaders at Rogers decided a focus on coaching would be their approach to creating cultural changes. 

Reframing coaching support and time as investment: There is another saying: “The soft stuff is the hard stuff.” The difficulty of the challenge was no surprise for the leadership as they developed a three-year plan to reinvigorate the people and culture at Rogers to regain its market leader position. Coaching became a process, a way of working. It was something to be embedded into operations. 

After working with the director level in the company, they started the work of coaching change.

Starting someplace: The call centre leader saw coaching’s potential to make a difference as the centres offered an opportunity to influence customer opinion. To set agents up for success, they needed to instill an appreciation of the impact of language, listening and framing. 

These were performance areas most easily acquired through experience or on-the-job training. Coaching would be a key component because the changes involved impacting customer relationships. At the same time as focusing on the “soft stuff,” there were clear areas they also hoped to impact: customer satisfaction, revenue through profitable relationships, operating costs, and employee engagement. 

Along with incremental on-the-job exposure to coaching concepts and high involvement of team managers, a behaviour framework was developed as a foundation. It involved: connecting and empathy with the customer, understanding needs and providing value-based solutions, being authentic, inspiring confidence and setting up a relationship that could grow with Rogers. 

Clarifying what coaching is: HR worked with the call centres from the very beginning. It became clear “coaching” as a term was being used to characterize many conversations. So they helped team leaders distinguish their different conversations: coaching with an open agenda, coaching with a set agenda, coaching followup, teaching, directive conversations and performance management. 

Coaching would require knowing the people in the team, leveraging agent self-discovery, providing positive reinforcement, and driving accountably and ownership.

Measuring the impact of the investment: Since introducing the focus on coaching, there have been dramatic improvements: a customer satisfaction increase of 500 per cent, customer escalation decrease of 59 per cent, Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) complaints decrease of 52 per cent, and revenue increase in double digits. 

What is more exciting is it has been possible to directly link performance increases in call centres specifically to coaching efforts. During one of a periodic “blitz days” where individual call centres  compete on performance, one centre decided to incorporate specific coaching time into operations that day and it showed a clear increase in performance. 

When the next blitz day came, other call centres did the same and they too saw an increase in performance, even though they were investing time during the day in coaching.  

It looks like the investment in coaching is paying off at Rogers. It is demonstrating simple ways to illustrate payback on investment in the soft stuff, which has always been a challenge. 

True, it is early days and Rogers is a large, complex company on a change journey. But here is wishing it success.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, a consulting practice focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. Toronto-based, she has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at gorslin@pathcom.com.

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