How to Build a Coaching Certification Program

Developing leaders—especially new leaders—is crucial for your company’s success. Not only will the leaders attending your learning and development programs thank you, but their direct reports will too. Coaching is one of the most effective skills any leader can have in their wheelhouse, and it is the building-block upon which more advanced leadership development can be built.

As a leader, the quick fix of “okay, let me tell you exactly how to do this” isn’t sustainable. Leaders will quickly burn out from the constant delegations and explanations that drag them away from important tasks and strategy. That’s where coaching comes in—and harnessing the power of questions to reveal people’s potential.

At Namely, knowing how beneficial coaching would be to our leaders, we set a company-wide goal to certify all of our leaders in coaching. Here’s how we did it.


Set the Foundation

To plan your training program, you have to understand—and make sure your stakeholders understand—what your program isn’t. Mentoring, while a close cousin of coaching, involves longer-term relationships that often focus on career goals. Mentoring programs are important, albeit, separate programs from coaching initiatives. So when planning your program, you do need to think about the difference: coaching vs. mentoring.

While coaching is an informal method for performance improvement, find a way to give your coaches-in-training a model to follow. At Namely, we decided on the GROW coaching model and reinforced it during training and certification.


Plan the Program

With support from senior leadership, we required attendance in the program for all people leaders. But your leaders, like ours, will be busy. Coaching training probably won’t fall high on their list of priorities, so you’ll need to work with their schedules. We decided on a three-week program that gave us the flexibility to cover as much content as we could using the smallest amount of “classroom time” as possible.

We launched the program with a kick-off lunch for all attendees, during which they heard from our CEO and Chief People Officer on the reasons behind the program and what the program’s expectations were, such as time commitment and the certification process. Later that week, leaders attended a 2.5 hour workshop that covered key coaching skills like deep listening, using questions, and applying GROW.


Practice It

After learning coaching fundamentals, leaders attended their choice of breakout sessions where GROW was applied in a variety of common situations. Each breakout focused on a topic, like change management or career conversations. These sessions were offered throughout the week following the training, and leaders attended those sessions that aligned with their schedules.

All leaders also chose buddies, a feature of the program that was rated highest by attendees as being fundamental to their success. Buddies served two purposes: a built-in practice partner leading up to certification, and “coachee” during the certification role-play.

A library of optional resources was also made available to the coaches, including eLearning courses, recommended reading, and scenarios for practice.


Certify Them

Attendance in the program didn’t equate to certification. All leaders participated in a final certification role-play where they were graded against an observation rubric by a panel of three. The panelists included myself (Learning & Development Lead), a senior leader, and a coaching SME.

Coaches were given about 10 minutes to role-play a coaching conversation using a scenario selected at random (such as speaking with a direct report who isn't collaborating with the team, or someone looking take on more leadership responsibilities). While coaches were given practice scenarios ahead of time, certification scenarios were not known to them.

We had an initial pass rate of about 80%, and all coaches recertified on their second attempt. Word did seem to travel the office pretty quickly on certification day that not passing was actually a possibility, and our second cohort took the program much more seriously.

 Just a few of Namely's newly certified coaches! Just a few of Namely's newly certified coaches!

Make Sure It Worked (and Continues to Work)

You go through the trouble of building a program and try to make it engaging and relevant—but did it actually work? We needed to know, so we laid the groundwork before the program launched, and we have plans to continue monitoring success going forward.

Before our kick-off lunch, attendees were asked to take a pre-program self-assessment on various coaching skills, and they were asked to complete a similar assessment (included in the overall program evaluation) after successfully certifying.

Of our first two cohorts of about 50 people leaders, 60% reported improvement to their overall coaching ability, and of those who said their coaching abilities were positively impacted, they estimated they improved by 30%. Going forward, we’re monitoring relevant KPIs, and we expect it will be a few months before we see more significant changes in company culture.

When building your coaching program, take it from us: Start with senior level support, make sure you understand how coaching could impact performance at your company, and think through how it will fit in with your company culture.

With a culture of coaching, you’ll see the benefits for everyone at your company—coaches and coachees—and your program will have equipped coaches with skills they’ll take with them throughout their career.

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