Sustaining a strong coaching culture during a pandemic

VP Operations, Proaction International

Over the past few months, I've been checking in with many organizations I've worked with to develop a strong leadership culture through coaching front-line managers. One of my main curiosities was precisely to understand which elements of our work together withstood the extreme turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic, and which aspects had fallen off.

In many cases, I was amazed by the responses I had received. Seeing, feeling, and knowing that real sustainable change has occurred tends to be one of the most fulfilling things we experience in the business. Some mentioned that they are now relying on coaching within their organization more than ever to ensure their people are supported and, in some cases doubling down on the quantity provided!

As I listened in awe, I collected some of the common themes that allowed these organizations to maintain and solidify sustainability in their coaching approach in the midst of a pandemic.


Coaching Programs Designed for Sustainability

From day one, we focus our clients on two main elements: mindset (how we approach each activity throughout the day), and identification of the people within the organization who will become the future internal coaches of the company. As our coaches invest the energy directly into the leaders themselves, we are also bringing the new internal coaches along for the ride. This allows for a knowledge transfer during the implementation.

Furthermore, we develop a coaching management system to structure and organize the coaching activity so that it is executed strategically. This system includes tools and communication points that allow the coaching teams to forecast, plan, execute, report out, and continuously improve their approach.

Providing the internal coaching team with the tools and communication structure they need to perform is essential to their success, as it is for any other team. As the implementation progresses, so does the focus and energy invested on the internal team until eventually, they are in the driver’s seat.


The Usual Challenges

As with any other team, the sustainability of the internal team’s hard work is constantly challenged. Considering a team that is focused on what could be deemed “nice to have” in the business, the risk for turbulence is even greater.

These challenges include, among others, coach time commitments and capacity, management buy-in, competing priorities or projects, financial priorities, bad days, bad moods, employee buy-in, and the list goes on.

The sooner these teams are up and running, the sooner we can highlight the fact that the aforementioned challenges can and will come in order to develop their resilience and put all the chances of success on their side. “Flavour of the month” projects occur when this resilience is not developed in a proactive way. It is a mindset that must be cultivated through awareness and practice.


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A Mindset of Resilience

Just when we thought we had all the practice we needed, March 2020 rolls around. Now we have a real challenge to face. A challenge for which we did not have the luxury of practicing. You may notice that a global pandemic was not on my initial list above. Budgets are slashed, emotions are high, priorities are drastically shifted, and the concept of having people coaching others in a production environment seems unfeasible.

You can now understand my level of astonishment when I heard my clients tell me that they have not missed a beat and have in some cases ramped up their coaching efforts. It was their turn to teach me. A few key themes stood out as I was schooled in my own craft:

Focus and Ability to Adapt

All coaching focuses on a full 360-degree view of performance, including Safety, Quality, Productivity, Customer Service/Delivery, and Team Mobilization. Depending on the business’ operational priorities, the focus on each may vary. As COVID entered the picture, it was clear to these teams that leaders needed to be bulletproof to ensure that their employees felt safe, comfortable, and supported.

The importance of daily start-up meetings

One of the first critical communication points that we coach on is the initial meeting between the front-line leader and their employees to set the tone of the day. You can call it a shift kick-off meeting, T1, or start of shift… The point is that in a crisis environment, having company leaders able to clearly communicate the current situation to all employees in an effective and engaging way ensured that the lines of communication were stronger than ever when the employee most needed it.

Remote Coaching Logistics & Technology

Employee coaching in an operational setting is traditionally always face-to-face and “in action” where the challenges and pressure of real-life are very much present. Understanding this, our clients have taken some unique approaches to ensure this connection remains intact while abiding by local regulation around physical distancing. They have employed cellphones, video chat, and even body work cameras to capture this real-time footage and conduct coaching sessions on real-time events.

Leadership Commitment & Mindset

Knowing this would be a great challenge, the coaching teams quickly put together pitches on why the organization needed more than ever to coach and support their leaders. The coaching team made their efforts a priority and took the necessary steps to ensure that the project sponsors saw it in the same way.

Valuable Coaching to Boost Teams Energy

At the end of the day, we gravitate towards the things we like to spend our time on. Ideally, these things align with our goals in life but that’s no guarantee. Every team we have worked with has taken steps to make the coaching process enjoyable, exciting, and fun for the coaching team and the leaders being coached. In what quickly became a very stressful work environment, the leaders were able to maintain some quiet moments to reflect with the coaches and focus.


Why Teams Commit Themselves to Coaching Programs

We know that investing in the performance of your supervision and management team has always been one of the most effective methods of achieving a sustainable ROI while also generating a strategic return for the organization.

Better managed companies attract better people and perform better. Knowing this is how we deliver on our commitments with confidence. We bring our clients to make this investment through coaching their leaders at all levels and by creating a culture in which this level of support is built into every key ritual.

Coaching being what it is and objectives being what they are, we find there is always a “next goal line” to reach regardless of the maturity of the organization or the team. It is therefore critical for any coaching approach implemented, to design a system that can sustain the activity and continue to achieve the next goal well beyond the implementation itself.


I would like to specifically recognize some of the organizations and leaders who contributed to this publication by sharing with us what it really takes to make a coaching culture stand the test of time:

  • Panasonic Avionics Catalyst Coaching Team led by Tim Russell
  • Flynn Companies Coaching Teams coordinated through El Nasser Amin
  • DHL Supply Chain Operations Excellence Team and Stephanie Duhau



A strong and resilient organizational culture makes all the difference. Proaction International's team of leadership development experts can help you implement sustainable management initiatives that will support your long-term performance, even when times are tough.


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Jacob Rivers
VP operations
Topics: Leadership Development