What’s Your Superpower? A Reflection on Personal and Team Branding

Like many people, my life changed significantly overnight in mid-March. Suddenly I was working from home – exclusively. Among the many changes from this, my commute went from 60 minutes a day to approximately 60 seconds a day to the “office” (including grabbing a coffee on the way). With this excess capacity and time, after a few sleep-ins (comparatively 08:00 a.m.), I decided to use this time productively for mental health (reflection, planning, introspection and improvement).  After a few days of listening to iTunes and Amazon music, I decided that I should re-discover audio books and podcasts to exercise the mind as well as body. The first three business podcasts that I listened to at some point spoke about branding – our “personal brand”, “professional brand”, and “corporate or departmental brand”.

As I reflected on this, I had to think about my own brand. What is my personal brand? What is my team’s brand? I really liked the way that one of the consultants referred to your brand as synonymous with your “superpower”. I gave this some thought for a day or two… what do I think that my “superpower” is? Would others agree? What would others say about my brand or our team’s brand?

Shortly after the COVID-19 work from home initiatives started, we had decided to have a bi-weekly team call not related to any work updates or initiatives, but just to check in, chat, j and see how everyone was doing. On the next call I decided to bring up this topic, ask everyone on the team: what is your brand? What is your superpower? This ended up to be a great discussion – perhaps a bit uncomfortable for some – but thought provoking and very affirming. These declared superpowers elicited positive feedback from others with respect to how they have certainly seen these attributes, or have always thought this about their colleague. One very quiet thoughtful colleague asked me if she could get back to me on this. I felt a bit bad for putting her on the spot and said of course no pressure or response required either way. She called me a few days later and proudly stated that her superpower was empathy. We then had a great discussion on the critical importance of that quality as an HR professional. Three or four of the eight colleagues on this “mental health” call, later called or emailed me to say how they really liked the exercise, and that it was a great affirming exercise for them and the team.

Does Your Video Match Your Audio?

One thing that has become clear to me is that we all have a brand. If you have not thought of what your personal or team’s brand is, chances are the people that you interact with regularly (your internal and external customers) have a clear perception of your brand. Is the brand that you are attempting to live in alignment with the one that others are experiencing?  Does your “video match your audio” in this regard?

In my discussion with my team there were at least two people’s superpowers that did not at all align with how I, and perhaps other members of the team saw them. (i.e. “I am extremely organized” – he is not well organized and has missed deadlines consistently.)

This is an important idea for personal and team development, particularly as HR/LR professionals. Reflect on how you or your team present themselves, your service model or support for your organization. Does your performance align with your intended “brand”?  This is a valuable question to ask on a regular basis. Does the way that we present ourselves, or our team, align with how we actually come across to others? What does your organization think that your brand is? Is your personal superpower clear to all those you interact with personally and professionally? Does your video match your audio?

Building Your Brand

How do you ensure that you are delivering on your brand?  Are you hitting the target that you are aiming at?  We also have to be realistic in our thinking when it comes to branding. Can we actually deliver the brand that we envision? For example, my brand is “I am extremely talented singer” – reality – my local karaoke club has asked me not to return on “Amateur Talent Night.”

How do we build a personal or team brand?

  1. Define your brand – what are your core values? What do you want to resonate, or how do you want to be perceived by others?
  2. Ensure that your behaviours, initiatives and outputs are consistently in alignment with your core values.
  3. Develop feedback mechanisms so that you can determine if your brand is having its intended impact on all those that you influence.

How do we maintain our brand or superpower?

  1. Always do what we say we are going to do – integrity around this is critical.
  2. Be clear in all our expectations – never settle for anything less than what will build or enhance our reputation.
  3. Always be consistent – “be consistent at being consistent”.

Can we improve/strengthen our brand?

  1. Where does our feedback tell us that we could improve? Having a feedback mechanism and requesting this regularly is extremely important to this analysis.
  2. How can we measure improvement?  If we achieve the following (X or Y) we will reach our goal.
  3. What is the next goal once we have achieved that measurement? We need to be continuously striving to improve upon the improvement.

Unfortunately, as soon as we lose focus, or fail to recognize emerging issues, we can hurt the brand that we have built and have worked so hard to maintain. We can we diminish our brand or superpower by:

  1. Not delivering on commitments or initiatives, essentially not “doing what we said that we would do”.
  2. Providing outputs that are not consistent or in alignment with our stated values and goals.
  3. “Over promising and under producing” – taking on too much or embarking on initiatives outside of our core competencies.

You are the Author of Your Own Story

Our brand, whether personal superpower, professional brand, or team brand, is something that should be extremely important to us. It takes time to build, effort to maintain, and can be diminished far too quickly. I would encourage any practitioner or professional to ask themselves: what is my brand?  Would others agree that this brand is in alignment with what I am putting out there for those that I interact and collaborate with on a daily basis?

Your brand can (and should) change and evolve as you change roles or rise within your organization. My brand was much different as a young Naval Officer than it was as an operations manager many years later. My brand evolved again as I took on leadership roles within continuous improvement teams, and again as a leadership coach. As I later transitioned and grew within the human resources field and as an employee relations professional, I evolved and refined my brand yet again. This is an ongoing process or evolution; ideally, you take the best of the previous brands and attributes, and form a new brand, improved for your situation or role.

After much reflection on my personal brand, the conclusion that I came to was that, as with most things in life, “I am the author of my own story”. I can invent, build, maintain and enhance my own brand (superpowers). One way that I have personally found to enhance my brand is through training and development, constantly trying to learn and improve my professional skill sets. Queen’s IRC has been instrumental in this journey. I have taken several courses to date, participated in the Community of Practice webinars, and I intend to continue in this, building my HR/LR breadth and depth of knowledge. Queen’s IRC is an excellent example of a brand that has been carefully built, maintained, continuously enhanced and improved to be a clear leader in developing human resources and labour relations professionals.


About the Author

Michael Goulet

Michael Goulet has had a wealth of experience in operations management and leadership roles prior to his current human resource/employee relations role. Michael regularly facilitates training in respect in the workplace, diversity and inclusion and workplace investigations in his current capacity within his organization. Michael Goulet is an Employee Relations Advisor with Canadian Pacific Railway. He has recently completed an Advanced Human Resources Certificate with Queen’s IRC, and continues to take courses in labour relations pursuant to a Labour Relations Certificate.

Human Rights and Human Wrongs: Our Continuing Need to Teach

Francine had been disciplined before. She had been suspended for 3 days, for an angry outburst that she had in the shipping department. But this time was worse.

Francine was in the cafeteria, finishing her break. Three co-workers sat down at the same table, and within minutes she began yelling and swearing at them. One of them began talking to her, trying to quiet her down. She threw her cup of tea in his face, and then left the room.

Francine was terminated. The letter of termination cited the company anti-violence and harassment policies.

The most interesting piece of the story arose during mediation, when the grievor told the mediator that she didn’t have a problem with anger – she had a problem with the Filipino employees who were working in the plant. “They are all so tight, always together, and they are taking all the jobs in the plant. None of my nephews, and none of my friends’ kids are getting the new jobs…”

This is not just a problem with anger management. This is a problem with racism. Canadian workplaces are full of it.

Mark was new to the parks department. He was thrilled with his new job, and wanted nothing more than to work outside. He was fond of his co-workers, with whom he enjoyed regular Twitter banter about just about anything that came to mind. He commented on the breast size of the girls in the park, and on his view that the non-white cohort of the workforce worked at a slower pace than he and his buddies.

He laughed when one of his co-workers, a black female, replied to one of his tweets by calling him a major jerk. He laughed when she filed a grievance, asserting that he was poisoning the workplace with his offensive Twitter activity, and demanding that management take steps to prohibit the behaviour.

He didn’t laugh when he was suspended from work, pending investigation of the grievance.

This is not just a case of “boys will be boys.” This is discrimination on the grounds of sex and race. Canadian workplaces are full of it.

Angel had twenty years’ service with the company, and was pleased to see the posting for dispatcher. He applied immediately, confident that after all those years, he was going to see a less physical, more predictable, and slightly more prestigious position. When he learned that his competition for the job was the new kid – the one who limps – he lost it. His rant included comments about the “rookie cripple” and the “lousy gimp.”

Angel not only lost his bid for the dispatcher job; he was disciplined for violation of the company human rights policy.

This is not just a case of conflict between seniority and human rights principles, it is discrimination against those with disabilities. Canadian workplaces are full of it.

Consider the implications

A workplace in which there are human rights issues and conflicts can expect the following problems:

  • Individuals experience pain and genuinely suffer
  • Employees who are victims of discrimination work poorly and eventually get sick
  • Employer reputation is threatened or impaired
  • When workplace poisoning occurs over social media, the image of that workplace is immediately broadcast widely, without geographic boundaries. Global efforts become global embarrassments.
  • There are hostile feelings among employees
  • Groups and cliques of employees form
  • Individuals and groups become marginalized
  • Hostilities flare up from time to time, raising threats of and actual violence
  • Union executive become burdened
  • Time and effort are invested in individual conflicts
  • The relationship between the union and management suffers
  • Money is spent on external resources – investigators, lawyers, mediators, arbitrators

Individual conflicts might be resolved, but systemic discrimination often remains as a fertile ground for the next individual conflict.

We Have the Resources

Human rights legislation is not new to Canadian workplaces in any jurisdiction. We have a rich history of meaningful anti-discrimination legislation. We have huge bodies of jurisprudence breathing vigour into the statutes. Our collective agreements have come to recognize, respect and embrace human rights principles. We have proactive human rights commissions that provide accessible and practical resources to individuals, unions and employers. We have human rights and anti-discrimination policies by the truckload in every workplace in the land. There is no shortage of educational programming, of policy reviewing, of posters in lunchrooms.

But the Problem Remains

Yet there remains, I respectfully argue, a continuing cloud of discrimination in Canadian workplaces. Discrimination continues to poison the lives of individual employees, burden our unions, bog down our management teams, and over-employ our lawyers, mediators and arbitrators.

It continually surprises me, in the course of practising mediation and arbitration, how frequently these issues arise in our workplaces. How pervasive the problem is.

Part of the difficulty, of course, is that although some of us have invested our entire professional lives learning, teaching and fighting human rights issues, every time a workplace welcomes a new employee, that workplace opens its doors to a new influence. That new influence is not likely to have had the benefit of all of that learning, any of that teaching, or any of that fighting.

The challenge of fighting discrimination arises anew every time we hire a new employee.

The task of teaching what human rights are, what discrimination is, and what is and is not permitted in the workplace is a critical task that must be brought alive with every new hire. It is a task that requires vigilant attention. It is a task that is worth repeating and refreshing.

It is Our Responsibility to Teach

With few exceptions, high schools do not teach fundamental human rights concepts. With few exceptions, and unless students pursue specific training, undergraduate university curricula do not include the teaching of fundamental human rights concepts. With few exceptions, career programs and professional schools such as nursing and teaching, do not teach fundamental human rights concepts.

The ultimate responsibility to teach human rights concepts, to explain what discrimination is and why it is prohibited by law, falls upon the employer and the union.

At the risk of repeating a point – when the employer takes on a new hire, when the union welcomes a new member, the likelihood is that although this person has heard of a “human rights code”, they have absolutely no familiarity with it. They are not familiar with its principles. More importantly, they are not familiar with what behaviour is and is not allowed in the workplace. Even with those who have some fundamental training in human rights concepts, there is often a “disconnect” between their appreciation of the concept, and their ability to see what behaviours are and are not discriminatory.

I will go so far as to say that with some frequency, even those have been engaged in management roles or union responsibilities require fundamental education in human rights concepts and practical application of those concepts. In teaching human rights principles at Queen’s IRC, we are constantly impressed with the light bulbs appearing over the heads of those who have been familiar with human rights lingo for years, but have never quite appreciated how the words apply.

In the classroom, seasoned managers are still seen rolling their eyes over the challenge and cost of, for example, accommodating the employee disabled by alcoholism, addressing the needs of a parent whose disabled kid contributes to attendance issues, or coping with the conflicts caused by the gender-shift surgery. Our instructors remind them that human rights protections reflect the deeply held values of Canadian society, delivered as a result of democratic legislative process.

Human rights codes are not stable or one-off enactments. They change from time to time, as the norms and values of the community shift. Forty years ago we did not consider gender a characteristic worthy of workplace respect. Thirty years ago we did not consider alcoholism or drug addiction to be a disability. Twenty years ago we did not consider sexual orientation worthy of protection, family status an issue of workplace concern, or transgendered identity a choice worthy of dignity. As the norms and values of our culture shift, so do our human rights codes and their requirements.

Human rights codes, at their core, reflect the reasons that most of our ancestors came to Canada. They continue to be part of the reason that those from less peaceful parts of the world still make that journey.

So What is the Answer?

It is critical that employers and unions continue to embrace their responsibilities to learn and teach fundamental human rights concepts. It is critical that we continue to teach managers and supervisors what the principles are and how they apply to day to day behaviours. It is critical that each new hire receives a meaningful education about what discrimination means and how the rules apply in their workplace.

No, it is not sufficient to hand a new hire a copy of the human rights policy, and ask them to initial it. That is not teaching – that is mere administration.

No, it is not enough to call employees or members together once every few years to hear someone talk about human rights ideals. That is not teaching either.

No, it is not enough to post the results of the latest arbitration award or court decision that affected your workplace, and have employees learn from the mistakes of others. That may be teaching, but it is very expensive teaching.

How to Teach?

Adults learn from reading, listening, discussing, and then practicing. We have to have an opportunity to absorb the information, and then to apply it. We need the lessons, but then we need to learn how to implement them. We have to practice the lessons. We need to translate the human rights lingo into every day words and actions.

Classrooms, seminars, workshops, on-site sessions, and role play opportunities are essential pieces of in-house training systems for all employees. Adult students must be required to feed the information back to the instructor, in order to break the learning barrier. Human rights training in any environment must be interactive. Examples of behaviours that are and are not appropriate must be provided – again and again.

Managers, supervisors and union executive require clear opportunities to learn what is and is not permissible behaviour. Although front line workers require a degree of human rights training, a workplace culture will not be affected and improved unless managers, supervisors and union executive have a firm grip on the concepts, and are ready to model behaviour appropriately.

We have to teach employees, managers and supervisors appropriate intervention and behavioural correction when others commit acts of discrimination.  Counselling must accompany progressive discipline in this area. (Discipline alone is a poor teacher, as perpetrators become defensive and denying.) This is a tough area to teach in-house. It should include some awareness of “difficult conversations” and skillful feedback.

Just as workplaces assess the risk of workplace violence by surveying their employees, the practice of repeated surveying for discriminatory behaviours and workplace poisoning is advised. Regular scrutiny will track shifting sensibilities, enabling policies and practices to shift as well.

Finally, an acute awareness of human rights in the workplace will translate into a practice of never missing an opportunity. Any time employees gather in one place is a good time to remind them that this workplace, and this union, reflect certain values, and that their behaviour, day in and day out, is a reflection of those values.

There is no downside to getting passionate about human rights in your workplace. It is individuals who affect change, and the small steps that influence the larger shifts.  Train and empower one person to be the advocate for the human rights high ground. It is a valuable investment, and one that will return human rewards.

About the Author

Elaine Newman, Arbitrator and Mediator, Queen's IRC Facilitator

Elaine Newman, Ba, LL.B., LL.M., was called to the bar in Ontario in 1979. Elaine is a very experienced full-time arbitrator and mediator, specializing in labour relations, employment, and human rights matters. She is a teacher, an author, and frequent speaker on labour, employment and human rights issues. Elaine served as Associate Director of the LLM program in Labour Relations and Employment Law at Osgoode Hall Law School 2002 to 2008. She was lead instructor for the Advanced Dispute Resolution Course at Atkinson Faculty, York University for ten years, where she taught the Ethics of Mediation course, and the Advanced Practicum course. She is a frequent guest speaker at Queen’s IRC programs, and is lead instructor of the Strategic Grievance Handling program. Elaine is the author of the online course, “Practical Ethics for Working Mediators”, offered by the ADR Institute of Ontario.  Her textbook, Preventing Violence in the Workplace, is published by Lancaster House, Toronto.

Coaching Skills: Post-Program Perspectives

In December 2014, Queen’s IRC introduced a new two-day Coaching Skills program. With long-time Queen’s IRC facilitator Françoise Morissette at the helm, the program promises to deliver essential coaching skills, tools and models to help participants master the coaching process and improve performance at the individual and organizational level.

“Coaching is popular because it’s very portable and can be used formally or informally,” said Françoise, the lead facilitator for the program. She said coaching is a good opportunity to turn knowledge into know-how.  For organizations to compete, people development is becoming essential and employers are looking for opportunities to develop and manage talent. Training employees in coaching is one way to do that.

Talent is an organization’s biggest asset, and Françoise said she has heard over and over again that it’s not being managed well. “The program participants were very aware of the huge shifts happening in the world of work and how things will have to be different in the future of work.” Coaching is part of a larger set of vital skills that include talent management and talent development.

The inaugural program was very well received by participants. In fact, our post-program evaluations revealed that 100% of respondents found the programming to be directly relevant to their work. All respondents indicated that they agree or strongly agree that the IRC’s programming met their expectations and learning objectives. The evaluations indicated that all of the tools and modules were applicable to the participants’ work, with the “GROW Coaching Model” topping the list.

Raymond Wubs, an HR Business Advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, said he found the GROW coaching model the most valuable part of the course.  He was pleased with all the extras that were provided, including the database of coaching questions to help find different ways of asking questions when you’re coaching.

“I am the lead for talent management and performance management at the Ministry of Transportation, so this has a direct link to my role,” Raymond said. “I was pleasantly surprised with how closely it linked to what I was hoping to get out of it.”

Raymond said he intends to take a more intentional role in developing their top talent, and the tools he received in the Coaching Skills program will help him do that.

Brittany Francis, an HR Business Partner at High Liner Foods, said she was looking for some skills to help her in her role, where she works with front line supervisors on a regular basis. She found the tools in the program extremely applicable. “I can use these tools every day, both at work, and at home.”

“I went in with an open mind, and my expectations were exceeded,” Brittany said.  She found the most value in practicing new skills as they went along, and in the takeaways, such as the question banks.

All of the participants interviewed had glowing reviews about facilitator Françoise Morissette. Brittany describes Françoise as knowledgeable, passionate, and humorous. Raymond says she is an excellent and knowledgeable facilitator. “She’s really engaging and she keeps the energy up in the classroom.”

Denise Miedzinski, Human Resources Manager at The Foray Group, agrees that Françoise is an excellent facilitator, and she enjoyed all of the extra pieces that were included. Denise also really liked the GROW model – she says it’s simple in a good way.  Denise plans to teach the other leaders in her organization how to use the model.

Denise brought along a colleague to the Coaching Skills program. She says it was beneficial because now they are both talking the same way about coaching. Denise saw value in how the program puts coaching in context, talks about facilitating and performance coaching, uses role plays, and allowed her to work with people from other organizations.

“I’ve done a lot of coaching, and I wanted to see if there was any additional skills I could pick-up.” She said that the Coaching Skills program tied in nicely with the Queen’s IRC Talent Management program, which Denise also completed in the fall of 2014.

Françoise said the Coaching Skills program is useful for managers and HR professionals, because whether they realize it or not, they spend a lot of their time coaching. But the potential use for coaching extends far beyond the traditional top down coaching methods.  Françoise noted that we are seeing more peer coaching, and bottom up coaching, where perhaps a younger person might be coaching an executive on new technology.

Please visit our website for more information on the Queen’s IRC Coaching Skills program.

Inside HR at the Ontario Public Service

In April 2014, as Lori Aselstine began her retirement from the Government of Ontario, she sat down with Queen’s IRC to talk about her career, the HR profession and practising HR in an environment that is 85% unionized.

Lori talks candidly about her experience rising through the ranks in the Government of Ontario, as well as the challenges and opportunities that come from working in labour relations for the government, which often plays the role of the employer and legislator. Lori shares which skills and knowledge she wishes she had acquired earlier in her career, and her thoughts on how HR can play an integral role in the development of corporate strategy and performance. Lori notes that in the next decade, we are going to see a push towards alternate work strategies, and this will present a host of challenges and questions, particularly with a unionized workforce.

Lori has over 33 years of experience with the Government of Ontario, most of which was in the human resources field. She has held positions such as director of Ontario Public Service labour relations, director of Broader Public Sector labour relations and director of strategic human resources business.

Download PDF: Inside HR at the Ontario Public Service

Why Coaching Must Play an Integral Role in Leading and Managing in Today’s Workplace

In my consulting work over the last 25 years, I’ve seen a significant shift in the role of coaching in the workplace. During this time, coaching could not remain static. It had to evolve to accommodate the many changes and disruptions we have seen in the business world, such as new technologies, the globalization of markets and competition, the rapidly increasing pace of change, and new demands on employees to work faster, smarter and be more productive more efficient and effective. These forces have impacted how we, as coaches, coach corporate leaders (i.e., managers, leaders, and C-suite executives). In a more complex workplace, today’s leaders must master as never before the dance of leading, engaging others, and delivering results. You can’t pick up a business magazine, listen to a podcast, or read a blog that doesn’t talk about today’s new world of critical leadership challenges:

  • How can leaders manage their companies through transformational culture change?
  • How can they engage their employees to participate in leading, managing and implementing these changes?
  • How can they be more creative and innovative?
  • How can they make their companies more competitive in a global marketplace?
  • How can social media help leaders grow their business?
  • How can they leverage and honor the diversity of today’s workforce?
  • How can they develop their talent to best address their business needs?

It’s obvious that the old model of command and control leadership and rewarding individual performance is not working in this new world. Contemporary leaders must learn to lead more with informal authority and influence. They must understand how to build strong organizational cultures that foster and reward knowledge transfer across the entire organization, promote cross-company team collaboration, cultivate employee engagement, and lead to success. Effective leaders must especially recognize that they achieve results through people, often creating networks that work at multiple levels within the organization and even in partnership with external stakeholders and key resources. Leaders must be able to ensure that managers and employees at all levels know their line of sight and play their part to contribute to achieving the strategic goals of the organization. To accomplish this, leaders need to learn for themselves how to coach and be coached, focus on their own development, and contribute to the professional development of other team members. These challenges exist globally, in all industries and sectors.

In this article, I will explore the following questions, as they pertain to the new roles that coaches must play in helping today’s leaders:

  • Why must coaching play an integral role in leading and managing in today’s workplace?
  • What are the current trends in the field of coaching?
  • What are the implications for our coaching work going forward?
  • What role might technology and social media play in coaching?
  • How can you create coaching cultures in your workplace?

Coaching: An Integral Competency to Leading and Managing in Today’s Workplace

In the late 1990s, coaching was just starting to surface as a support for leadership development. Working with my mentor and colleague, Edith Whitfield Seashore, we developed a coaching model that we called Triple Impact Coaching: Use of Self in the Coaching Process (2006). Our model was originally designed for project and product support managers in high-tech companies, but it has since been used globally with leaders and managers in all types of businesses and industries in public, private, government, military, academic and not-for-profit organizations.

Triple Impact Coaching focused on the Use of Self as a leader’s best instrument of change. Dr. Charles Seashore—renowned professor author, scholar-practitioner in applied behavioral sciences, a grandfather of the field of organizational development, and my teacher in the Masters of Human Systems Intervention Program at Concordia University—defined Use of Self in his article, Doing Good By Knowing Who You Are. The Instrumental Self as an Agent of Change (Seashore, Sawver, Thompson, & Mattare, 2004):

“Use of Self is a link between our personal potential and the world of change. It starts with our understanding of who we are, our conscious perception of our Self, commonly called the ego, and the unconscious or out of awareness part of our Self that is always along for the ride, and on many occasions is actually the driver. This understanding of Self is then linked with our perceptions of what is needed in the world around us and our choice of a strategy, and a role in which to use our energy to create change. Our focus here is on the potential for changing one’s own world – the world as we perceive it, and to act on it and leave our mark and legacy for others to appreciate. “

At the time, Triple Impact Coaching was a unique approach to developing coaching as a competency for leaders and managers because it moved beyond coaching as a separate activity conducted mostly one-on-one, or in teams. Instead, we focused on the Use of Self to help leaders and managers understand the impact they had, or could have, on their entire team as well as on the organization as a whole.

The Triple Impact Coaching model is based on the belief that coaching must be an integral part of the responsibility of every manager and leader in the company and not a separate activity conducted by an external coach to correct behaviour. As such, it was, and continues to be, used proactively to enhance performance at all levels.

Triple Impact Coaching caught on and opened up some new perspectives in the organizational development field. In his book Managing (2009), Henry Mintzberg redefined the complex role of the manager in today’s workplace. He describes leadership as departing from the top-down command and control model to one where the manager sits in the middle of his unit (and the rest of the organization), managing on three planes: Information, People, and Action. These planes require managers to think systemically and understand the context of their work as it affects those beyond their direct teams. As a result, the manager must lead, do, link, communicate, and control in order to achieve their objectives. Managers need to help the people in their units do what they need to do to be successful, and at the same time, communicate across the organization and externally to achieve their desired results.

For Mintzberg, coaching plays a critical role in the development and effectiveness of leaders and managers. They must learn how to be coached and how to coach others for success. Accordingly, it is impossible to look at leadership without coaching and vice-versa. Therefore, coaching is an integral role of leading and managing in the workplace and is an essential skill for everyone in the organization.

Current Trends in the Field of Coaching

We’ve all heard that over 70% of change efforts fail because they don’t pay attention to the people side of change (Maurer, 2010). This is beginning to change, as leaders and managers have become more savvy and skilled at helping their organizations engage people at all levels of the organization in the change process.

Here is an example. Between 2008 and 2011, I worked with the City of Ottawa to develop an internal change team and cross-company service excellence leads network to help the City lead, coach, and manage employees through a city-wide change effort to foster a culture of service excellence in every branch and department. This project involved creating a multi-facetted coaching model that was instrumental in supporting the city’s leaders and managers to achieve the culture shifts required to create a shared mindset of service excellence and implement it across the 18 branches of the City. The model succeeded by focusing on leadership development, project management, strategy, and behaviour change. They also developed an internal change team who coached leaders on how to coach their employees by providing them with tools and supports to lead, manage and implement the changes throughout the journey (Patwell, Kanellakos, & Gray, 2012 a,b).

Current research reveals some critical thinking on why people are becoming more successful at leading and managing change and how coaching is playing a key role in the process. For instance, Prosci Inc. publishes the Best Practices in Change Management, a benchmarking report representing one of the largest bodies of knowledge on change management in the world. Their research provides valuable information on the current trends and practices in change management around the globe. Recently, they surveyed 650 organizations from 62 countries to produce their 2012 Best Practices in Change Management. In it, they described some significant trends in organizations in the last five years that highlight the need for coaching in change leadership and change management. Below, I outline some of the report’s key findings.

First, survey participants reported that creating a collaborative working environment was the most effective step to engage a project team. Collaboration had to be bi-directional. This finding creates a compelling case for the value of integrating change management and project management skills in the formation of the team and as key areas of priority that must be included in the planning and implementation of the change strategy.

Second, the greatest contributors to success were active and visible executive sponsorship, as well as frequent and open communications about the change. Survey participants indicated that during a change process, managers must communicate the change to their direct reports and act as advocates for the change. Lack of visible support and involvement was the biggest mistake made by managers and supervisors. Communication skills, change management knowledge, and coaching skills were the three biggest gaps for managers and supervisors in failed change efforts.

As for assessing the return on investment, survey participants highly acknowledged the people factor in the success of their change efforts. There was a direct correlation between change management effectiveness and performance through the speed of adoption, ultimate utilization, and proficiency factors. Generally, around 10% of participants reported exceeding expectations and around 50% reported results in line with expectations (p. 130).

Again, these results reinforce the need for leaders and managers to be more collaborative and develop more participative processes that will engage employees. In addition to their technical skill sets, leaders need to know how to coach, engage, and develop others.

In other research, the 2012 Executive Coaching Survey is the fourth edition of a biennial survey conducted by Lui, and Nair of The Conference Board. This survey explains the increased role of coaching in the workplace and focuses on how executive coaching is managed within organizations, by examining external and internal coaching practices of 162 for-profit, not-for-profit, and government organizations, representing 11 countries and a wide range of industries and global firms that vary in size from very small to very large in terms of both revenue and number of employees. The survey was conducted between late 2011 and early 2012. The report compares the results of the most recent survey with the 2010 findings to determine changing trends in the use of coaching.

The Conference Board’s research revealed that executive coaching continues to grow, with an increased emphasis on internal coaching and standardization (p. 4). The top three drivers that will determine the use of internal coaching are: 1) the need to develop more leaders lower in the organizational hierarchy; 2) increased demand for coaching; and, 3) internal coaches that better understand the business and culture (p. 20). Interestingly, the need to cut costs was not the top consideration when companies decide to use internal coaches.

The most common types of internal coaching include 360-degree feedback debriefs, development-focused coaching, other assessment-tool debriefs, and performance-focused coaching (p. 25). Meanwhile, the most important criteria for selecting external executive coaches are business knowledge and executive credibility, reputation for coaching skill or specialty, and prior experience in specific type(s) of industries (p. 7).

While there is a push for certification, only 19% of respondents said formal coaching certifications and academic degrees are critical considerations when selecting external coaches (p. 7).

Unlike the past, when external coaching was used largely as a means to correct poor behaviour, organizations are now employing coaches for many positive purposes—e.g., to retain high potentials, improve performance and productivity, help leaders transition into new roles and business environments, provide career guidance, address leadership and succession planning needs, and promote employee and team engagement.

The Future of Coaching

Based on the research and my experience in this field, the fact that the practice of coaching is growing is a very good sign about the future of coaching. It means that more organizations are investing in their people. However, I believe organizations will need to go beyond building a dependency on internal and external coaches to support leaders and managers. In this new world, they will increasingly need to incorporate coaching as a key leadership and management practice within their own leadership cultures. This shift will build accountability at all levels of the organization and have a positive impact on how leaders and managers engage, develop, lead and manage their people.

As I have emphasized, coaching must be recognized as an integral role in leading and managing. It needs to be integrated in the leadership development strategy and the performance evaluation process for all employee levels. We must also begin evaluating the effectiveness of coaching on helping leaders and managers realize their business objectives by assessing its impact on the individual, team, organization and community.

The Conference Board’s (2012) research confirmed that the coaching process needs to be supported within organizations in order to be successful. To do this, organizations need to develop and establish a coaching strategy, provide funding, monitor and evaluate coaching engagements, vendor contracting, the selection of external coaches, and the matching of coaches with coachees (p. 6.). Indeed, providing funding for the coaching process is the only category that 70% of respondents said is overseen by the business unit (p. 6.); in every other category, over 60% of respondents said accountability rested at the enterprise level (p. 6).

In most companies, funding is at the business unit level while management is at the enterprise level. When we separate the responsibility of coaching from the leader and manager, it is all the more challenging to build organizational cultures where employees feel valued and equipped to do their work with leaders who engage and coach them. In this new world, leaders and managers have a responsibility to coach their people to develop their skills and abilities to perform. In many, if not most workplaces, coaching is overlooked, due to the lack of time available and the pressures to get results. It is sometimes handed off to human resources (HR) to deal with the problem and deliver results. This is an impossible task, since HR professionals are accountable for reporting on their client’s performance and they are not experts in their client’s business or operations and in some cases technical and or functional expertise. For this reason, it is crucial for some leaders who are having difficulty coaching their employees to work in partnership with HR to develop the best possible development plans for their employees. HR can coach the coach/manager on how to coach their employees and teams for higher performance.

One large retail organization that I worked with did not shy away from their coaching responsibilities. Their leaders created a coaching culture by making it an expectation for all managers and supervisors, regardless of rank, to coach their employees in real time, as issues or opportunities emerged. They did not have the luxury of scheduling time away from work to conduct workshops, retreats, and seminars in which coaching is often scheduled to happen. They transitioned people regularly through various jobs so that the employees could learn all the aspects of providing the total customer experience, along with learning about other specific retail business service areas, obtaining product knowledge, and developing skills. This approach helped the organization with its overall talent management strategy, as it fostered more people to be ready for promotion and reduced turnover. This policy also became a real differentiator for the company among its competitors because people wanted to work there, since the company was known for providing excellent training and development to their employees and was considered one of the best places to work. To support employees’ personal development as a coach, the organization posted tools, resources, and learning activities that could be pursued in one’s own time and in self-directed teams for all employees to access regardless of rank.

The coaching mindset and practice must be incorporated in the disciplines of leading and managing. To be effective in the long-term, organizations need to conduct ongoing training and development to extend the role of coach from a select few to the critical masses. Coaching needs to be an integral part of management and leadership development strategies that support the master change plan and strategic priorities of the organization. In this way, coaching becomes a way of working, not an additional activity or add-on to work.

The Role of Technology and Social Media in Coaching

We’ve established that coaching plays a key role in the speed of adoption of new skills and competencies and the sustainability of change. But it is also important to recognize that today’s coaching approach must be multifaceted, utilizing the tools and responding to the learning styles of various generations in the workplace.

There is increased use of web technology and video conferencing for coaching. For example, I recently conducted a Triple Impact Coaching workshop for participants who were working at their own sites in small teams of six to eight participants, connecting in with their colleagues doing the same workshop in 16 countries, using video conferencing technology. The approach worked well, as this group was very experienced in using the technology and the process of breaking into their workgroups for application and then sharing their experiences with their colleagues using the videoconferencing technology. The face-to-face interactions with the onsite colleagues helped to make this type of coaching forum a success.

More of these types of coaching and teaching programs are occurring in university classrooms, as well as in publically available forums, such as webinars and teleseminars. While these mediums give us access to many people at the same time, the field of coaching is still in the testing phase of figuring out what works best and in what contexts.

When it comes to understanding the role of social media in coaching, let me explain my new position with a story. I recently had a discussion with a high potential leader in a health care system. She was a millennial who is “plugged in” to technology all the time. Her preferred method of learning is not in the classroom, as she is always learning—listening to her iPod, using her iPad, downloading podcasts, and reading e-books and Tweeting She was plugged in all time—learning on the go, all the time, while jogging, commuting to work traveling on a business trip, or even brushing her teeth in the morning.

This woman had taken my Triple Impact Coaching Program and, after the workshop, she approached me, curious about why I did not use or talk about social media as part of my program. She did not find me on Twitter, Facebook, or producing podcasts. She asked me how I got my information and research on what was new in my field and how could she “follow” me? I proudly told her I read newspapers and business magazines, am involved in various professional networks and associations, have some key resources that I admire who are my “go-to” people, and that I watched TV. She tested my hypothesis of being informed by going into her Twitter account and searched a few key people that I had identified as my “coaches and key resources.” We discovered that they, too, are not out there using social media. I was enlightened that I was not alone. However, she pointed out the contrary, that their voices aren’t being heard by the next generation—and neither was mine. This was a real “aha” moment for me, and from my coachee to boot.

She pointed out a big difference between our generations—I go after information, while her generation gets information sent to them and they have it at their fingertips 24/7. When I thought about this distinction, she was right. She was extremely well-informed about new leaders, influencers, movers, and shakers that I hadn’t heard of and she was able to teach me a thing or two.

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on what she said and began observing myself even as I wrote this article. I realized that I too—even as an experienced coach—need to change and adopt the new technologies, so that I can be current and able to relate to the next generation of leaders. In my view, today’s generations of “digital immigrants” (baby boomers like me) and “digital natives” (Gen Xers and GenYers like her) have a lot of coaching to do back and forth to benefit from each others’ experiences. On the other hand, I also believe that there will always be a need for “high-touch, low-tech” coaching to develop, in real time, the critical interpersonal and group dynamic skills that everyone needs to master.

My biggest learning from this interaction was recognizing that we as coaches, need to reframe social media from being just a self-promotional tactic to seeing it as a powerful new tool for teaching, coaching, and learning. This experience has opened up more ideas in me on what could be next for the field of coaching—as I am sure there is even more innovation to come.

Creating a Coaching Culture in Your Workplace

Throughout this article, I have emphasized that the key to creating a coaching culture is to get people involved right from the start. Most of the coaching cultures that I have helped to develop were designed to lead and manage change by including people at all levels of the organization. In today’s world, this is especially true when it comes to developing high quality, thoughtful, and engaged leaders who are willing to accept their coaching role.

When setting up an internal coaching program to develop such leaders, I recommend that an organization identify someone within the firm who can take the lead role in creating and implementing the initiative. This person must inspire and lead the program development. The initiative can then be aligned with human resources and existing change strategies, supported by the person or group responsible for organizational development. This creates a multi-disciplinary team that is essential to ensure coaching is embedded in the real work of leaders and managers, and monitored for impact and progress so individual and organizational development can be sustained over time.

I now summarize the various roles that an organization may want to establish when setting up an internal coaching program. I focus on the internal lead coach, senior management teams, cross company and task force teams, coach for the coaches and the role of the employee.

Internal Lead Coach

This person should have a strong coaching background and be responsible for the following functions:

  1. Coach, develop, lead, and support the senior leaders and leadership teams to successfully implement their plans.
  2. Be accountable for the design, facilitation, communication, and coordination of the organizational change plan and activities that support the organization’s strategy.
  3. Develop and design coaching processes, tools, and methods to assess, diagnose, design, and implement change.
  4. Provide coaching on best practice research, methods, tools, and resources to support leadership, management, and coaching practices
  5. Coach and provide hands-on, tactical organizational development and change support for initiatives to promote a healthy and productive workplace, to communicate the need for culture change, to diagnose and resolve specific issues that are interfering with productivity and the delivery of service.
Senior Management Teams

It is critical that management—both middle and top management—also be involved in the change process, as champions of change. In this role, they are responsible for coaching their direct reports through the changes, resulting in a ripple effect throughout the organization. Employees look up to role models to ensure they “walk the talk,” and demonstrate the desired behaviours at the top.

In coaching programs, it is also important to involve the senior managers in critical check-point meetings, where they purposely reflect on the change strategy as a team. They must involve their task force teams to keep their finger on the pulse of what is happening throughout the organization, so they can learn about what challenges are emerging or what issues need focus. This creates a much deeper connection at various levels of the organization, and allows for a richer dialogue among the various levels of the company. In doing this, people tend to relate to each other as people and not as objects to achieve a means to an end. Power dynamics begin to take on a much lower profile in the change process.

Cross-Company and Task Force Teams

These teams usually wear two hats, if not more. First, they play a role as managers, leading the change from their function, area of expertise or discipline, and business unit. But they also play the role of change agent in a project or initiative. This structure facilitates a deeper sharing of common experiences, interdependencies, and possibilities to work together as one organization to achieve the desired goals and objectives. Often, cross-company teams also become trusted advisors to senior management. Senior leaders begin to see how coaching upwards can become valuable as an intervention and informational process that can help with the next phases of the change process.

Here are a few guiding principles to keep in mind when selecting the cross company and task force teams. Ensure that participants:

  1. Represent all areas of the organization’s business and the key disciplines required to implement the organization’s strategy.
  2. Have a leadership responsibility in the implementation of the department or company plan and are required to report on its progress.
  3. Have credibility in their area of expertise and can tap into their formal and informal network to influence and provide the voice and pulse of the employees.
  4. Are encouraged to translate and align the company’s direction and priorities into concrete actions and work plans.
  5. Are supported to communicate and share their experiences, results, and recommendations with other parts of the organization to create a learning community.
Coach for the Coaches

“Coach’s coach” also has the objectivity to have a critical eye in evaluating the coaching approach because they usually don’t have any emotional ties to the internal players or the organization. They can be far more effective in asking the difficult questions that can help the internal coaches test their assumptions, reflect on their behaviours, and make better choices, thus resulting in enhanced performance and more intentional impacts. However, the external coach must invest in understanding the organizational context and dynamics to be relevant and have impact.

The Role of Employees

Just as coaches need to understand the client’s context, so do the employees. In order for them to be engaged and contribute, employees need to understand the context of their work, their roles and responsibilities, their line of sight on the design, development, and sales of a product or service, and their impact on the customer. Employees can’t learn all this in just one day of orientation; they must be coached and developed consistently to be successful.

I often hear that leaders and managers don’t have time to coach their people. This responsibility is frequently lobbed over to the HR department or an external resource. I disagree with this approach. It must be the responsibility of the organization’s leaders and managers to coach their employees to be successful at all levels of the organization. In times of complex change, coaching must go up and down the organization and in real-time as we are often ALL learning and doing at the same time. So much of our work and learning is done through on the job experience and is dependent on working with and through others. Given this context, how can we not coach?

Further, there is often the added tension between how much work is done at the senior level that is strategic versus operational. In the middle level, there is a tension around the extent to which the middle manager can influence strategy and manage operations, while at the front-line, the tension is on how to eliminate red tape so the focus can be on providing service to the client or producing the best product. In my view, at each level, there is a need to coach so the whole organization can be effective. This is why I’ve always believed that coaching is an integral part of leading and managing.

Coaching Tools and Support for Large-Scale Change

What tools and approaches should organizations use to develop an integrated coaching program, such as the one I am recommending? These are a few of my suggestions:

  1. Individual Coaching: I believe strongly in one-on-one coaching designed to support an executive or other individual leaders/managers for skill development, behaviour change, and/or to develop participative management processes and techniques. Such coaching may also include developing change leadership skills and the ability to think strategically, align, plan, direct, monitor, and communicate change.
  2. Team Coaching: I am also a strong proponent of coaching the whole team, whether this be functional groups, project teams, or the people leading strategic initiatives to improve performance and achieve objectives. This type of coaching may include orientation and support for change management strategies, plans, and initiatives. It focuses on facilitating how others can adopt a new way of working, improve the transfer of knowledge to support and deepen the context and understanding of work, enhance project teamwork and performance, create stronger team alignment, and streamline process improvements and service delivery.
  3. Cross-Company Task Force Teams: This is similar to team coaching; however, these teams are responsible for working on projects that cross over the organization, requiring high levels of collaboration, knowledge transfer, and cross-fertilization of ideas and results. These managers and leaders need to achieve results through influence without formal authority and power. They must learn how to be effective despite multiple layers of accountability and to work through others to achieve results.
  4. Organizational Networks, Learning Clusters, and Communities: These are self-directed learning groups, ideally formed from cross-company teams to learn about the relevant theories of management and leadership as they relate their specific and company-wide leadership projects and challenges. By exploring their own issues through the lens of theory and their own experiences and practices, they quickly develop both a formal and an informal network and support system that helps facilitate change and results in increased performance at individual, team, organizational and community levels.

One example of tools that can be used to foster such cross-company and large organizational networks are the products from a company called CoachingOurselves (CO). CO is a Montreal-based management development company founded by Phil LeNir and Professor Henry Mintzberg, Professor of Management Studies at the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University. CoachingOurselves publishes a library of management “discussion topics” that are intended to be used as a focused self-study conversational tool among managers to develop their management thinking and skills.

The company is founded on the principle that (middle) managers are the key to the success of organizations and that dialogue and self-learning occurs in the context of expert information learned amidst meaningful exchanges of ideas among a small group of managers. The CO courses are designed for self-directed teams and support the development of strong internal networks and communities of managers within organizations. In a Harvard Business Review article, Rebuilding Companies as Communities (2009), Henry Mintzberg wrote: “We need to rebuild our organizations as communities. Companies must remake themselves into places of engagement, where people are committed to one another and their enterprise.” (p. 1)

CoachingOurselves offers more than 70 topics, each one focused and self-contained. The CO modules are designed to be used without a coach, self-led by members of a learning cluster, which is usually composed of six to eight middle managers. Each module is intended to be completed within 90 minutes. The course discussion format is simple, yet rich, offering a natural way to develop and coach others. There is no pre-work before the group meets to discuss a topic. Their meetings are based around a print-out of a short PowerPoint presentation on a specific management topic that the group selects. The sequence of slides usually follows a prescribed formula:

  1. Management Happenings. The session begins with a warm-up exercise in which participants are asked to share with each other what has happened in their work since their last session. They may highlight how they have used the concepts they already covered, what actions they took since the group last met, and what they learned through the process.
  2. Main Topic and Discussion. This is the primary content and process portion of the meeting, focused on the specific content designed to help the group learn about the management topic they selected. The process invites participants to discuss questions and issues they face in their work. This presentation and discussion period represents about 80% of the 90-minute session.
  3. Resources for Further Learning. Each topic includes some additional information where managers can get other related ideas, such as books, video clips, blogs, and so on.
  4. Reflections. Since CoachingOurselves involves working as a self-directed group, a final self-reflection exercise wraps up the topic and helps participants reflect on the group’s own development process and their individual learning.

In my work with the City of Ottawa, we used CoachingOurselves to help participants anchor their learning about best practices and issues that affected other managers and change agents across the City. We found that the CO topics enabled participants to talk about and share their own experiences through valuable conversations that normally would not take place in a team meeting or typical training session. Participants learned about their own personal influence and strengths in coaching, influencing and leading others. They gained insight that affirmed their strengths, helped reframe their challenges, and developed their own learning plan.

Recommendations for Implementing a Formalized Coaching Program

Coaching is a mindset and needs to be valued in an organization. In order to make this shift happen, organizations need to create a culture of coaching, incorporate it in training and development programs and performance review processes at all levels of the organization. In this way, the role of coaching and its importance as a management and leadership practice will be valued. If an organization is going to develop and implement a coaching program, the first task is to understand the context. That is, the organization needs to articulate why coaching and mentoring are important for both the development of people and the organization’s success in the short-term and long-term. The organization must evaluate the capacity and support for coaching in the workplace. People need to understand why coaching is important, what the return on investment is for themselves, as leaders, and for the accomplishment of their work on a team or department, and ultimately for their clients and community. If these questions cannot be answered, then I wouldn’t consider a formalized coaching program. If you are ready to proceed, I would invest in conducting a needs assessment to determine what specific focus the coaching will take. Next, you must also be sure how you will measure the program’s success. To ensure the program is viable, here are some recommendations:

  1. Build in check-points to gain feedback from participants on their experience and the extent to which the program meets their individual needs and goals throughout the coaching process.
  2. Design feedback and dialogue processes with your participants and your senior leaders who should be actively championing this shift in culture. This will mirror the culture that you are striving to achieve and also provide opportunity for learning on all levels. Measure what you strive to achieve.
  3. Track the impact of the program and the return on investment against your stated goals. This means tracking more than just how many people participated in the program; you need to go beyond to find out what difference the program made on their management and leadership responsibilities and actions, the organizational objectives and ultimately, their lives inside and outside the organization and within their community.

Coaching, at an executive level, is really critical to help leaders transition into their new roles, and to take on stretch assignments. It encourages people to become more aware of their Use of Self and the choices they are making so that they can keep advancing in their work, and achieve their goals more consciously, quickly, and at a deeper level. This means leading change in a collaborative, participatory way that achieves buy-in across the organization.


Coaching is increasingly becoming part of our everyday life and work. Parents, teachers, and front-line service providers, and individuals at all levels within the organization, have to learn how to coach on some level. Frankly, it is a critical and essential skill for everyone to develop. Some people will embrace coaching naturally and realize the impact and difference it can have on every aspect of their life; others will need coaching to become coaches.

I believe that we will see growth in more coaching programs, such as CoachingOurselves, as well as more organizations adopting learning clusters and self-directed and integrated coaching programs. Coaching helps to create and support a culture that is accountable, and enables organizations to build thriving organizational communities and realize their goals much faster and with deeper impact. I think that we will also see more innovative tools and processes using social media and technologies that make the coaching experience more engaging and participatory. I also estimate that our content, supports, and resources will be more diverse, have greater global reach, and even enhance the growing use of virtual workplaces.

There is no doubt that coaching has evolved as a professional practice and a discipline. In the International Coaching Federation and PricewaterhouseCoopers’ (PWC) 2012 ICF Global Coaching Study Executive Summary, based on a survey of 47,500 professional coaches worldwide, it was shown that the coaching field is growing fast, already generating close to $2 billion (USD) in annual revenue and income (p. 13). The study also revealed that three key issues for the future include: 1) dealing with untrained individuals who call themselves coaches; 2) the need for coaches to avail themselves of opportunities to increase awareness about the benefits of coaching; and, 3) answering the question of whether coaching should be regulated or not. (p. 13). With regard to the third point, more research on regulating coaching is clearly required. There are good reasons to hire skilled external coaches or hire internal coaches. However, the practice and discipline of coaching in the workplace must not be limited to a carefully trained few, but must become an integral competency of all leaders and managers in today’s workplace. Developing the skills to coach others to coach within their professional and functional roles in today’s complex workplace contexts is really the next major challenge for the field of coaching.

About the Author

Beverley Patwell

Beverley Patwell is President of Patwell Consulting, an international consulting firm specializing in organizational and leadership development, change management, and coaching. She has worked as a manager and leader inside organizations and is a senior consultant and executive coach. She is also an associate coach with the Niagara Institute and a faculty member of the University of Notre Dame in the Mendosa School of Business. Beverley is the co-author with Edith Whitfield Seashore of the book Triple Impact Coaching: Use of Self In The Coaching Process. She has also published several articles; her most recent is entitled Discovering the Magic of Culture Shifts, A Case Study of Large Scale Transformational Change.


Creasey, Tim, and Jeff Hiatt, eds. Best Practices in Change Management. 2012 Edition. Loveland, Colorado: Prosci Inc., 2012.

International Coaching Federation and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). 2012 ICF Global Coaching Study. Executive Summary. (2012). Available online, www.coachfederation.org/coachingstudy2012.

Lui, Amy with Sherlin Nair. Executive Coaching: Examining Current Trends and Best Practices. Research Report R-1508-12-RR. New York: The Conference Board, 2012.

Maurer, Rick. Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Austin, Texas: Bard Press, 2010.

Mintzberg, Henry. Managing. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2009.

Mintzberg, Henry. “Rebuilding Companies as Communities.” Harvard Business Review 89, no. 7/8 (2009): 1-6.

Patwell, Beverley, Steve Kanellakos, and Donna Gray. “An Innovative Approach to Fostering A Culture of Service Excellence in the City of Ottawa.” Kingston: Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre, 2012a.

Patwell, Beverley, Steve, Kanellakos, and Donna Gray. “Discovering The Magic of Culture Shifts. A Case Study in Large Scale Transformational Change.” The OD Practitioner 44, no. 1 (2012b): 11-17.

 Patwell, Beverley, and Edith Whitfield. Triple Impact Coaching: Use of Self in the Coaching Process. Victoria: Patwell Consulting Inc., 2007.

Seashore, Charles N., Mary Nash Shawver, Greg Thompson, and Marty Mattare. “Doing Good By Knowing Who You Are. The Instrumental Self as an Agent of Change.” OD Practitioner 36, no. 3 (2004): 55-60.

Lifelong Learning: Advocating Professional Development

Lifelong learning is a catchphrase often used by many, but a concept practiced by few. As professionals look to not only increase their skill sets, but also to keep up with trends within their industry, it is increasingly important to maintain a high level of competence by continuing to learn. In many fields, such as human resources, professional organizations have been established to maintain a minimum standard for practitioners to achieve to ensure that the profession is held to a measurable level of competence. The CHRP is one example of a professional designation in Canada.

It is human nature to always question and seek knowledge. Most of our conversations are the sharing of or the request for information. We continually seek to expand our knowledge base and learn more about what interests us. As practitioners, we know all too well that at the end of any course we take or seminar we attend, our own theories start to develop and the quest for additional knowledge grows. This is why we must embrace learning and encourage it both professionally in our various workplaces, as well as personally, and apply it to our outside interests. Professional development programs and workplace learning strategies are ways in which employees can ensure that they continue to expand their knowledge and skills, thereby contributing to their lifelong learning. In this article, I discuss the benefits of professional development from an employer and employee perspective.

Why employees benefit from professional development

For the employee, professional development programs in the workplace offer more that just a simple perk to their employment. Psychologically, this type of learning lets the employees know that they are all there for a reason and that their worth to the organization goes beyond their current skill sets. In turn, employees recognize that their organization is willing to invest in them to ensure that they are the most competent and successful members they can be. This leads to higher morale and, in theory, results in higher productivity.

Professional development helps to retain employees

Employers can never be naive and think that employees are theirs forever and that none of them would ever think of “jumping ship” to work for a competitor. Nor can employers develop their training, learning, and development plans around this type of thinking. If employees are not satisfied with their role within the organization, they will leave. I think that organizations that encourage lifelong learning attract ambitious, self-motivated employees. For example, as individuals attend various training programs and “brag” about what their employer is doing to better equip them in their careers, word will spread, and the organization’s learning programs will become known by prospective candidates.

Investing in professional development facilitates employee loyalty

Compensation is a factor in attracting employees, but we are foolish to think that it is the governing factor. As employees, we like to have a nice pay cheque every week but we also like to have our employers value what we do. As employees move through professional development programs, they often see the value behind the courses and a greater link with the organization is established. The organization becomes more than just a place of work; it enables knowledge acquisition and freethinking. This weighs heavily on employees when faced with an alternate job offer. In fact, this could be the factor that retains an employee, regardless of the improved monetary package offered. Providing opportunities for personal and professional growth creates loyalty to the employer and can contribute to building a more stable and competent workforce.

Employee loyalty contributes to workforce capacity

In addition, employee loyalty may enhance capacity within the workforce. As employees’ fundamental skill sets are increased, additional duties are assumed, and more complex tasks are picked up in-house instead of relying on external assistance. Employees start to take on roles as resident subject matter experts and guide the organization through various projects. Whether it is organization design or change management, mediation or negotiation, labour relations or strategic grievance handling, proper training improves the overall effectiveness of the team. From an employer’s perspective, increased capacity and productivity result in fewer expenses incurred. The return on investment in employees’ professional development soon becomes evident.

It is important to note that learning must be a meaningful experience. Thus, both the employer and the employee must be active participants in the programming and both parties must determine how they can benefit from each other. The employee must recognize how the new skills that are acquired can be put to practical use within the organization. Similarly, the employer must play an active role in guiding employees’ learning and ensuring that knowledge transfers to the workplace.

Employers should invest in developing learning plans

As employers or decision makers, establishing a professional development or learning plan for each employee or each department is a time consuming task. It requires needs assessments, an inventory of current skills and training, and then builds on those. Duplicating courses and random workshops that do not necessarily fit within the professional development plan should be avoided. Having all employees in the same office attend the exact same courses is not a benefit to the employer or the employee.

Instead, rounding out the staff with programs that will interest them, can be applied in their work, and are purposeful is more in tune with an effective learning strategy that will benefit everyone. It’s important to remember that encouraging employee development through workplace learning benefits both the organization and the individual. It is not a form of praise or reprimand (i.e., not allowing participation as discipline), rather it should be viewed as a part of the employment package.

Lifelong learning benefits the most competent and dedicated team members

In some cases, your star employee will have the practical experience required for the job or role they are in, but lack formal credentials or training. Professional development programs offer that employee an opportunity to demonstrate and share their knowledge and skill sets with others through collaborative learning environments. This reinforces to the employee that their skill sets are on par with their peers, and gives the credentials that document abilities. In some cases, this confirmation is just enough of a boost in the member’s confidence level to move them to a higher capacity within the organization. Learning and affirming skills usually lead to the quest for more knowledge.

Making learning a priority

As employers attempt to attract the most qualified and talented employees to join their team, it is important to look within their own organization and find the hidden talent. Most employers do not have an inventory of what courses, programs, or seminars in which their staff members have engaged. In my view, creating a record of employee learning is essential. Failure to do so results in lost resources and may signal to the employee that their learning has no value to the organization. Utilization of a member’s newly acquired skill sets is motivating and provides the member with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Special projects assigned based on these new skills gives employees a feeling of community and creates a bond between them and the organization. Retention of skilled staff is an obvious desire for any organization. Professional development programs that promote lifelong learning should be viewed as tools for employee retention and to attract high caliber employees.

As a firm believer and participant in lifelong learning, it has been my experience that regardless of the course of study, there are always areas that can be applied to your workplace. From small lessons learned, to new processes to examine a problem. Lifelong learning constantly challenges us to adapt and explore outside of our comfort zone and apply our new skills in our workplace. Providing employees with professional development opportunities and encouraging lifelong learning has motivated and driven staff within my organization to excel and take on more complex projects and duties. This allows supervisors and management to pursue other organizational needs and challenges, knowing that their staff is better equipped to handle their day-to-day duties.

About the Author

Derik McArthurDerik McArthur began his career with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) after graduation from Confederation College with dual diplomas in Human Resources and Human Resources Management. Prior to attending college, he was an active member of the Canadian Forces Army Reserve working as a full-time infantry soldier.

His professional career began as an organizer with the union that included work throughout Canada and the United States. He progressed through the organization and was reassigned to member service where his responsibilities focused on grievance settlements and collective bargaining. In 2005, he was elected as president, RWDSU Canada, and as RWDSU International vice-president/Canadian director. The following year, he was elected to international vice-president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union – a union that represents 1.4 million members in North America. Most recently, Derik facilitated the merger of 11 local unions in Ontario into UFCW local 175. The amalgamated locals have formed the largest UFCW local union in North America with over 70,000 members.

In addition to his positions in the union, Derik sits on the Employment Insurance Board of Referees, and hears appeals from EI applicants that have been denied Employment Insurance benefits.

Derik is active in the community and is a founder of the Home for a Hero Project – an initiative that raised over $300,000 for a triple-amputee Sudbury soldier coming out of Afghanistan. He also sits on the Board of Directors for the Sudbury and District Food Bank.

Outside his professional interests, he enjoys spending time with his wife and children and continues to enjoy working as an army reservist and infantry soldier with the 2nd Battalion Irish Regiment of Canada.

Derik holds a BA in Justice Studies from Royal Roads University and has completed his Organization Development, Labour Relations, and Organizational Capacity Certificates from Queen’s IRC and currently sits on the IRC Advisory Board. Derik is a coach at the IRC’s Labour Relations Foundations program.

An Innovative Approach to Fostering a Culture of Service Excellence in the City of Ottawa

This case study describes how a team of organizational development (OD) and human resource (HR) specialists worked as partners with the City of Ottawa’s operational and shared services leaders to change the way all City employees provide service excellence. Beverley Patwell (an external OD consultant), Donna Gray (Director, ServiceOttawa Department, City of Ottawa), and Steve Kanellakos (Deputy City Manager of City Operations, City of Ottawa) led the change team. The approach taken to successfully develop and implement a large-scale, systems-wide learning and change strategy that helped to foster a culture of service excellence throughout all municipal services and operations in the City of Ottawa is outlined in this article.

The authors contend that our case study is relevant to OD, HR professionals, leaders, and managers for several reasons. First and foremost, it demonstrates how a large-scale organizational culture shift can be successfully implemented, given that more than 70% of change initiatives fail (Maurer, 2010). The change team achieved results quickly, accomplishing in three years what many organizations take five or ten years to complete. OD practitioners may develop new insights on how to successfully partner with external resources and internal business partners and leaders to successfully lead, manage, and implement a major culture change. The lessons learned throughout the process may be applied to any organization that needs to be innovative in its approach to learning and development, as well as leading change.

The case study largely covers the period from 2007 to December 2010, although ongoing initiatives have continued since then.

Download PDF: An Innovative Approach to Fostering a Culture of Service Excellence in the City of Ottawa

Spreading the Learning: The Role of Workplace Climate and Co-workers

If it takes a village to raise a child, then perhaps it takes co-workers to help trainees shine.

Management development experts have long known that organizations get the most out of their training dollars when employees are supported before, during, and after training. Few organizations, however, actually follow this advice.

Models of training effectiveness focus on program design, trainee characteristics, and workplace environment as the key factors that determine transfer of learning. By contrast, Harry J. Martin (Cleveland State University) wanted to study the context in which employees apply and transfer the knowledge and skills learned, specifically the role of workplace climate and peer support.

(Workplace climate includes factors such as adequate resources, cues that remind trainees of what they have learned, opportunities to apply skills, barriers and constraints to transfer, and consequences for using training on the job.)

Martin focused on 237 managers of a manufacturing company in the midwest U.S. who completed a comprehensive training program. He devised a global measure of workplace climate for each of the 12 divisions in which the employees worked and used performance ratings of the participants to measure the level of training transfer.

Martin found that trainees in a division with a more favorable climate and those enjoying greater peer support showed greater improvement. Even better, in terms of transferring learnings, peer support overcame or lessened the effects of a negative office environment.

“The results of this study suggest that follow-up programs should be designed to address both the immediate and general organizational environments,” Martin reports in Human Resource Development Quarterly. “Care must be taken to help ensure that peers and immediate supervisors help trainees put the skills to work. Co-workers could provide general encouragement or be involved in more structured activities such as the peer meetings employed in this study.”

FACTOID: It is estimated that only 10 to 40 percent of learning transfers to the job.


“Workplace Climate and Peer Support as Determinants of Training Transfer,” by Harry J. Martin; Human Resource Development Quarterly (Vol. 21 No. 1 Spring 2010; pp. 87-104)

Has Talent Management Weathered the Economic Storm?

Organizational development and change management more than ever before are being linked to learning and talent development, according to a report recently published by the UK-based CIPD.

“It is clear that organizational development and design will become increasingly important as organizations seek to change, innovate and to link learning to organizational goals,” according to CIPD’s 2010 Learning and Talent Development survey report. But the report also noted that “practitioners are less involved in discussing the design, delivery and impact of learning with other managers. This alignment issue is a key one as L&TD seeks to build its reputation and impact.”

The survey found that for 46 percent of respondents, the major organizational change affecting learning and talent development in the next five years will be a greater integration between coaching, organizational development, and performance management to drive change. For 37 percent, it will be greater responsibility devolved to line managers.

Other findings from the CIPD survey:

  • As a result of the economic downturn, learning and talent development is becoming more focused on value and impact; in other words, doing more with less. “It will be particularly important for professionals to ensure that their L&TD activities are even more closely aligned with business strategy and to be able to assess the return on investment generated.”
  • Almost 60 percent of organizations undertake talent management activities. Among these, half rate such activities as “effective” and only 3 percent consider them “very effective”. The three most effective activities to manage talent are coaching (39 percent), in-house development programmes (32 percent), and high-potential development schemes (31 percent).
  • The three most common ways to evaluate talent management activities are to obtain feedback from line managers (42 percent), to measure the retention of those identified as high-potential (35 percent), and the anecdotal observation of change (35 percent).
  • In terms of leadership skills, the main gaps identified by employers were performance management (setting standards for performance and dealing with underperformance) and leading and managing change.
  • Internships are growing in popularity, partly because employers want to provide a lifeline for talented young people. The results are encouraging. “The fact that a third of firms report higher productivity as a result of their internships is particularly encouraging, given that many interns are new to the workplace and are still in the process of learning new skills.”

About 86 percent of responding organizations (623) had headquarters in the UK and the remainder (101) were based outside the UK.

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