Coaching underpins L&D at Diabetes UK

Coaching is an accepted part of leadership and management at Diabetes UK, weaving through development programmes and one to ones. For the last three years, coaching has been an integral part of working at the organisation, using a mix of internal and external coaches, to enable staff to be their best self. 

  • To meet clear objectives, line managers can access up to 12 hours of coaching per year with an external coach
  • Coaching is integrated into two new development programmes – one for leaders, the other for more junior staff 
  • Coaching conversations are encouraged as part of one to ones
  • Two in-house coaching training programmes – for managers and non managers – are seen as integral to supporting a coaching culture
  • The L&D team offer one-to-one and group coaching themselves, when appropriate. During coronavirus they’ve been doing this virtually, using MS Teams 

Using external coaches
When faced with change – perhaps moving into a more senior role, returning to work after an absence or leading change within the organisation – line managers are encouraged to ask for one-to-one coaching. They submit an application, with clear objectives, supported by their line manager. Six hours of coaching is available within a 12 month period, with an additional six hours if new objectives build upon previous coaching. 

Chloe Ogunrombi, Senior Learning and Development Advisor, manages the coaching programme at Diabetes UK. She suggests that everyone has an initial ‘chemistry call’ with up to three people from her diverse list of recommended coaches. “It’s really important to get the chemistry right,” she says.

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Until recently, the evaluation process was complex and formal, with an in-depth written assessment with the coach, coachee and sponsor midway through the coaching. That proved too intrusive. Instead, Chloe now checks in to make sure that everything is going ok while the coaching partnership is ongoing. At the end, she speaks to everyone again and asks them to fill in a simple form to say how the coaching went and whether they felt objectives were met. She’s also implementing a new six month checkup to see how coaching has made an impact longer term. Out of 400 staff, approximately six coaching partnerships are ongoing at any one time.

“Coaching is just one L&D intervention that we offer to managers but it’s the most tailored and personal,” Chloe explains. “We want staff to be the most effective leader and manager they can be. The whole aim of coaching is to enable them to be their best self.”

“It’s not about underperforming, it’s an opportunity to look at specific goals and objectives with someone who isn’t involved with Diabetes UK. Coaching offers a safe space to reflect on how they’re approaching a goal or situation, and explore other ways of doing things they might not have thought of or tried before.

“The key thing that people say is that coaching has given them clarity and confidence.” 

Coaching integrated into development programmes
Coaching also forms an integral part of ongoing annual development programmes. 

Explore Discover Lead is a new training programme launched in 2020 at Diabetes UK. It’s designed for leaders who have recently joined, or perhaps have stepped into, a role managing a lot of change. This has been particularly appropriate this year.

Another new programme, Explore Discover Choose, is aimed at more junior staff, to help them become their authentic self at work. It’s a programme of discovery, for people to explore how they approach situations at work and in life. It’s designed to help them: 

  • Recognise and appreciate what they’re good at
  • Discover what might hold them back
  • Find new ways of doing things 
  • Reveal what they don’t know about themselves 
  • Choose how to move forward with their learning

Both programmes include a residential training course (on hold during coronavirus) as well as six hours of one-to-one coaching with an external coach. 

All training is evaluated at Diabetes UK, and participants are asked what action they will take next. Feedback from staff using external coaches illustrates its value:

“Coaching has really helped develop my confidence and made me realise I do have skills that are valuable to the organisation. I am now thinking about how I build on that confidence and how I can use my skill set more.”

 “My coaching has had an impact on the charity as it has given me the confidence to step outside of my role and add value in other places in the organisation.”

 Feedback from the line managers, of staff being coached, confirms it’s having an impact:

“Since the coaching, she has a clear focus on where she can make the biggest difference. She is using her time and expertise really well and is clear about where she can add best value with her limited time. She is also contributing very strongly to development of the charity’s new organisational strategy.”

“She is a real asset to Diabetes UK already, but the coaching is bringing additional benefit to us as it’s enabling her to think about how best to maximise her input and where to focus her energies and limited time to best effect.”


In-house coaching training
Managers are encouraged to have coaching-style conversations with their staff. This approach to coaching conversations is an integral part of training managers to carry out one to ones. Diabetes UK colleagues also coach healthcare professionals working on various projects, as part of the Healthcare Professionals Discovering Leadership programme. And an in-house Coaching Skills training course also prepares people to coach one another. This peer-to-peer coaching is seen as an important part of creating a coaching culture across the charity.

Ruth Szotten, Senior Learning and Development Advisor at Diabetes UK, runs the two internal coaching courses, one for managers and one for non managers.

The bite-sized courses run for three to five hours, depending on whether they’re virtual (shorter) or in person (longer). Created by Ruth, they’re a mix of eLearning and other resources, including a coaching scenario delivered via a podcast. The courses run several times a year and around 50 people have participated so far. 

“Our in-house coaching training is a great opportunity to empower managers and non managers alike,” explains Ruth. “We all ‘coach’ others – whether it’s in formal one to ones as a line manager or informal chats with our peers. Asking insightful questions, actively listening, and encouraging others to find solutions not only builds confidence but better relationships across the charity.”

Coaching from the L&D team
The L&D team also offers informal coaching, both one to one and in groups, for specific, work-related challenges. For example, they might coach managers individually, to help them keep their teams focused throughout coronavirus. Group coaching has also been helpful for managers juggling the diverse needs of their staff: with some people running out of steam, having taken on extra work throughout the pandemic, others are returning from furlough feeling very uncertain. Coaching can really help managers in these situations, and can be done virtually using MS Teams. Chloe has kept these virtual groups intentionally small and personal, and is currently working with a group of four people.

She sees coaching as a natural extension of her work as a learning professional:

“There are numerous times when we end up coaching, but we don’t necessarily give it that label. We’re constantly having coaching-style conversations. It’s just part and parcel of what we do.”

Whether it’s using external or internal coaches, coaching weaves throughout learning and development at Diabetes UK. But as Chloe points out, “one size doesn’t fit all, you have to tailor your approach to the different needs of your people.”

    Chloe’s top tips for coaching

    • Be clear about coaching objectives. Less is definitely more: ask staff to focus on just a few objectives, not arrive with a list of 10.
    • When it comes to evaluation, don’t be too intrusive. It’s a very delicate balance, because we’re investing money in coaching and we have to know that it’s working. But it’s also very personal and people need to trust the process, to have the freedom to explore things in confidence. This can be a very tricky balance to get right. 
    • Be choosy! It’s vital to get the coaching relationship right. Have three ‘chemistry calls’ with potential external coaches. A coach that has been recommended by someone else may not be the right coach for you. It’s a very personal choice, and you have to get that relationship right to be open and vulnerable.

    About Chloe Ogunrombi

    Chloe Ogunrombi is the Senior Learning and Development Advisor at Diabetes UK

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