Meet the Boss: Jenifer Richmond, HR Director of National Express, UK Coach

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Jenifer Richmond – HR Director National Express,UK Coach has been succesfully fostering and developing an effective coaching culture in her business for some time now. Kim MacNamara – HR Recruitment Director Ashley Kate HR was keen to explore this theme further, when she recently questioned Jenifer about the challenges around this project, and how effective her coaching strategies have been on enhancing employee engagement.

Ashley Kate - Jenifer RichmondTell me about you and your role/firm?

I am currently HR Director for National Express, UK Coach. National Express is the UK’s largest scheduled coach operator, with 500 vehicles serving over 1,000 towns and cities every day – including connecting services to all the major UK airports, offering great value and accessible travel to all. Established for 40 years, National Express is the partner in the Eurolines network and also operates The Kings Ferry coach commuting network and luxury vehicles.

As part of Executive board for National Express UK Coach, I am responsible for developing and deploying the people strategy for the business whilst supporting overall business strategy development and executive team development.

I have worked in senior HR and change management roles for over 15 years in manufacturing, retail and service industries. I graduated many years ago with a 1st Class honours degree in Chemistry, completed my MBA in 2006 and am now a qualified executive coach and certified NLP practitioner.

What key HR initiatives are you working on?

Talent Management and Leadership and Management development are two of our key areas of focus and we have been actively developing a coaching culture in the business over the last two years. We have set up an internal coaching practice, where six of our senior leaders have been trained as accredited coaches, some of whom have gone on to qualify at ILM level 7. These coaches are undertaking 1:1 business coaching with middle and senior managers across the organisation in addition to their day jobs and the results have been excellent. It has been a very cost effective way of offering very focused development support to our high potential managers.

In addition we have rolled out a ‘Manager as Coach’ coaching skills programme, partnering with Notion Business Coaching Ltd. Starting at Executive level, 170 Managers have attended the programme with a further 60 to attend this year. It is a two-day workshop programme with pre-work and post-programme coaching circles. We have been able to measure the impact and have demonstrated a 4.8 times ROI in year one of the programme. I believe the impact has been even greater than that as there are numerous less tangible benefits which are more difficult to measure. Our employee engagement results are improving year on year and I’m sure that the coaching programme is having a significant impact on this important area for us.

What are the challenges?

Maintaining momentum is probably the biggest challenge. We need to ensure that managers continue to use the skills in the workplace and the coaching circles which are part of the programme really help the initial transfer of learning.

Encouraging individuals to take up 1:1 coaching is also a key challenge as often managers won’t be clear enough about the potential benefits for them and they typically have a ‘fear of the unknown’, even when they have had their own coaching skills programme. Also, when an individual manager takes up the offer of 1:1 coaching, they sometimes don’t realise how hard the process is going to be for them and can back out in the early stages.

How have you overcome them?

To maintain momentum we have used lots of opportunities to communicate the benefits of coaching and as the roll out of the programme has progressed, coaching has become more and more the language of the business. For example, when we hold Talent forums, we discuss who would benefit most from our internal coach resource, and we have had one of our internal coachees write an article on his experience for our quarterly magazine. We have also taken the opportunity at leadership conferences, of using coaching circles in a workshop session to drive creativity and ownership for some challenging issues such as our Safety agenda and our Community agenda. This has reinforced the benefits of coaching and has delivered some outstanding results.

To encourage individuals to take up 1:1 coaching, we have positioned it as a privilege and prioritised our high potentials. When we have promoted someone internally or have expanded their role, we automatically offer them a coach, however we still need them to engage themselves, otherwise it just won’t work. Currently our coaches are almost at full capacity.

Why is it important that firms focus on your topic?

I think the benefits to be realised are enormous; not just in a better style and increased engagement, this is about really delivering better bottom line results and developing our people to perform at their absolute best. It’s about empowering teams in the organisation and giving managers headroom to manage and lead rather than getting stuck in the detail of too much ‘doing’. It effectively helps to lift everyone’s sights and promotes growth and creativity.

As a qualified Executive coach myself, I can’t imagine not having this skill set. I just can’t see how a manager can lead and manage effectively without it.

What have your learnt from your role?

My learning throughout this programme has been huge. I had undertaken many coaching training sessions over many years and thought I was a reasonably skilled coach. The truth is, until I was trained by Notion, I really didn’t fully get it – so my own personal development has been amazing.

In terms of what I have learned in the implementation of this programme, there are few key things:

·         Having buy in from your Executive team is critical – I was lucky enough to have some key advocates which made all the difference

·         Maintaining momentum is not easy, but it is possible if you work hard at it. Using opportunities to weave it into the fabric of ‘business as usual’ is important

·         Don’t get overly hung up on measuring ROI – it is a good thing to do, but if people can feel the benefits personally, that’s worth more. Sharing positive stories and anecdotes is really powerful.

·         Be ambitious - just touching a few managers won’t impact the organisation. We planned our roll out over two financial years to make it affordable and to involve all management levels including supervisors. We front ended the training each year to maximise the benefits delivered each year rather than spreading it out over 12 months.

Future plans

Our roll out to managers and supervisors will be complete in May 2015 and we will continue to train new managers and supervisors using Notion Business Coaching ongoing. This is not the sort of training you can bring in house; it is the experience and skill of the external trainers who all have many years experience as executive coaches that makes the difference.

Our internal coaching practice is expanding by one as a further senior manager has requested to complete their accreditation; we will continue to promote internal 1:1 business coaching with our internal managers.

In addition, once the initial roll out is complete; we will have a special award as part of our annual values awards for the best ‘Manager as Coach’. This will be promoted across the business and all employees have the opportunity to nominate who they think should win.

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