Jobs: Creating a coaching culture boosts bottom line

For the AJC

In 2005, things were far from sunny at the Sunny Delight Beverage Co. plant in Atlanta. The company had been divested by Procter & Gamble and acquired by a private equity firm. “Our results were the worst in the company. Trust in our leadership had eroded, and morale was at an all-time low,” said Amir Ghannad, the Atlanta plant's manager.

He knew he had to do something. “Our managers had a mastery of the processes, but they were working in silos instead of together," Ghannad said. "No one felt empowered to bring his best self to work.”

Believing that the workplace should be a place of inspiration as well as employment, Ghannad established the vision that his plant would become “The Showcase of Excellence and Cradle of Prosperity.” He used one-on-one and group coaching sessions to make his vision a reality.

“In order to solve problems at work, people need the right tools,” he said. As he began listening and talking to his managers, Ghannad approached them as whole persons, not just employees. He heard about financial and personal situations.

Ghannad offered a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University course for interested employees. About a third of the employees took it. “People said that the same principles that helped them balance their budget carried over to other aspects of their lives,” Ghannad said. The company also offered "lunch and learn" sessions on fitness and wellness.

He saw two benefits from coaching, first that people got help for specific situations, and second, that they got the message that leadership cared about them. “It built a base of camaraderie and trust,” Ghannad said.

Ghannad began coaching by drawing on his 25 years in manufacturing, but 18 months ago, he decided to hone his skills by becoming a registered corporate coach, a designation of the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches. He trained with Nancy Allen, a business/life coach, veteran corporate trainer and co-founder of IMPACT Training and Development Inc.

“She gave me new ideas and assessments, which helped my people understand themselves and each other better,” Ghannad said. “It was refreshing for me to be able to bounce ideas off someone else. I learned that every coach needs a coach.”

Allen sees coaching as a core leadership quality and defines it as “a partnership to support willing individuals to achieve goals, produce results, enhance performance and increase accountability.” Her seminars help managers move beyond the old authoritative model of demanding and telling employees to inspiring and motivating their teams.

Through coaching, Sunny Delight’s supervisors quit looking to the plant manager to make all the decisions. They were empowered to talk to each other to find solutions. “People now take the attitude that they want to be on the court, not in the stands,” Ghannad said.

“When you motivate, you generate positive feelings, and those feelings drive behavior. When people feel good, they are more productive,” Allen said. “Organizations who want buy-in from their employees, increased productivity and morale, more success at new ventures, and greater employee engagement and retention should aspire to create a coaching culture.”

A coaching culture, she said, is one that relies on coaching to facilitate the development and performance of others as a key aspect of doing the job. “That kind of environment is a benefit to both the coaches and the coachees. It gives them greater job satisfaction and success -- not to mention measurable bottom-line results,” she said.

In looking at data from a six-month period in 2007 and one in 2009, Ghannad saw measurable improvements. The two operating lines improved their process reliability by about 14 percent. Breakdowns decreased by 47 percent and process failures by 68 percent. Quality incidents went from four to zero. Productivity (in terms of 1,000 cases per person) went up by 7.4 percent.

The company was recently named Member of the Year by the Atlanta chapter of the Association for Operations Management. It also received special recognition at the Georgia Coach Association 2010 Southeast Prism Award & Conference, which honors companies that have used coaching to make positive changes.

“We’ll never be at the finish line. There will always be challenges, but what has been so rewarding is seeing the impact our journey has had on the people at the plant,” Ghannad said. “We have a level of trust and this is a really good place to work.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.