Public Service Management Wales is the leadership development arm of the Welsh Assembly Government, working with the full range of public services across Wales.

In August 2008 I joined to establish a coaching and mentoring service as a practising coach. My remit was to increase internal coaching capacity, to improve quality and offer 1:1 coaching for senior leaders. My previous role as a chief executive in one of Walescommissioning and primary care organisations has proved invaluable in my new role.    

PSMW embarked on a programme of training new coaches and supporting those already in the system. We established our Coaching Collaborative in August 2008 – an affiliation of internal coaches who meet quarterly for networking and professional skills development.    

My next step was to provide coach supervision, strongly advocated by all bodies involved in coaching including the International Coach Federation and European Mentoring and Coaching Council who set professional standards and accrediting bodies such as the Association of Executive Coaches and the Institute of Leadership and Management.  

Coach supervision is not cheap however, and with the pressure on public service budgets, no internal coaches would be likely to secure coach supervision from their cash-strapped employers. So, a cost effective and sustainable approach was needed.  

We piloted a peer group supervision model using an action learning approach, led by myself and two colleagues, all executive level coaches and trained action learning set (ALS) facilitators.  

What we did

Fourteen coaches signed up and we ran three sets across Wales to address access. Twelve coaches remained to the end of the pilot – December 2009. Of the 14 coaches who initially participated, nine were internal NHS coaches; three were Assembly staff and two from local government. 

Although all the indicators were positive, we wanted to properly evaluate the pilot to determine if it had achieved our stated objectives of:

  • providing a cost effective and sustainable approach to coach supervision and
  • increasing the confidence of coaches and helping them to do more coaching

An external consultant (an experienced coach, supervisor and facilitator) was appointed to undertake the evaluation.    

The Action Learning Sets met quarterly (four times in total). The initial session took a day and a half, (to cover the theory, logistics and to settle people in), subsequent meetings took a day. The tightly structured sessions didn’t meet with the approval of all participants at the start, although they could see the positives after the first day and more readily signed up to the process thereafter. 

The evaluation process consisted of each coach logging their coaching numbers so that we could track their coaching activity and a “happy sheet” at the end of each session. These were made available to the evaluator at the end of the pilot who then designed detailed questionnaires and held focus groups to explore the perceived benefits.

We emphasised that we were not formally trained supervisors, our role being to facilitate the learning of all set members by working through challenges in their coaching, thereby improving their coaching practice and levels of confidence.  

Key Findings

  • The coaches now have higher levels of confidence in their coaching practice. They are growing in assertiveness and the confidence to challenge
  • They demonstrated increased capacity for self development through use of the supervision time as well as making time for, and organising, their practice
  • There was an increase in the amount of coaching undertaken with a 26% increase in the rate of coachee recruitment across the participants
  • A questionnaire sent to 13 coachees working with the ALSet participants, highlighted that the coaching was focused on personal and organisational performance and there was a high level of response to indicate that coachees felt more confident in their ability to achieve their goals and in their resilience in striving for them; the quality of the coaching relationships was high and two thirds felt their organisation had benefited from their being coached.
  • A key weakness was the extent to which the coachees’ organisations assisted in building on progress made during coaching. This suggests that coach and coachee need to work more openly in engaging the organisation (line manager, sponsor eg HR) in agreeing the objectives at the outset of coaching 
  • Value for money: for a total cost of £6853, 12 people received four day-long sessions of peer group coach supervision over a period of 10 months. This works out at a cost of £571 per person, or £142 per person per day session, considerably cheaper than more traditional coach supervision. The cost per head would have been less had all 18 places been taken up (£380 per person for the year, £95 per person per session). Roll-out costs will be reduced as only internal facilitators will be required (albeit, there will be a cost for training them) and there will be less need to hire accommodation

What next?

We plan to roll out the approach to a further 50 participants. We have recruited six executive level coaches to be trained as ALS facilitators who will work with PSMW to create a community of practice. They will gain new skills to use within their own organisation and each is receiving professional external coach supervision resourced by PSMW.

This has proved to be an innovative and highly effective form of peer group supervision, providing an appropriate level of support to a group of internal public service coaches. While more traditional supervision is the gold standard, it is unfordable for the coaches in question; this approach is both cost-effective and sustainable.