Personal Coaching 101

Some years back, shopping center owner and developer Regency Centers found itself faced with an internal dilemma. A series of mergers and newly combined management styles had left the Jacksonville, Fla.-based company without a singular cultural compass. The newly minted human resources chief knew it was imperative for Regency to create one face—both internally and externally—for the company and its employees.

Senior editor Katherine Field talked with Brian Fraser, senior VP people services for Regency, about the HR challenges he faced and the programs the company developed to build leadership, foster teamwork and improve communication. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced after joining Regency in late 2000? 

First, the company had recently grown through a series of mergers and, as a result, there were two or three separate cultures and distinct leadership styles within the newly combined management team.

Additionally, HR was viewed from a small-company perspective, with focus on basic administrative- and compliance-related tasks. We had to shift the HR mandate from policy administration toward talent management practices that improve competencies and entrepreneurial team behaviors that drive performance.

Our third challenge was digitizing and streamlining all HR administrative processes, so associates could concentrate energy on relationship-building that creates value, rather than processing forms and extensive meeting time about policy and costs.

About how many employees were on board at the time? 

When I joined Regency in late 2000, we had 390 employees, which later grew to over 600, and we are now operating with a team of about 405 people, after adjusting for the recent economic downturn.

What programs did you introduce to meet the HR challenges you faced? 

We first introduced “new leader assimilation” sessions to get local teams off on a stronger footing during a new manager’s first month leading the team. In every department that has hosted a new leader session, we have seen stronger dialogue develop much sooner.

What other programs have proved successful? 

While Regency provides multiple developmental processes for our managers, coaching and the individual development plan (IDP) are the cornerstone of our management development.

When we compared the advantages and challenges of personal coaching versus group training, online learning and informal mentoring, we recognized that each approach could be helpful, but our culture really needed emphasis on personal and objective developmental discussions.

Detail the coaching process, including what it encompasses and how it works. 

Our coaching process focuses on Regency’s managers and top producers who show high potential for successfully leading larger groups of associates and more complex processes.

The over-arching goal is to help great real estate technicians and deal-makers become stronger leaders with the skills needed to manage successfully in a publicly traded environment.

Each individual coaching assignment is introduced with a discussion between the learner, his/her boss and the assigned coach. During this meeting, priorities and commitment to the process are affirmed, and the assessment(s) that will be used are introduced. Regency uses a 360 assessment that allows multiple co-workers to comment anonymously on specific leadership behaviors that the learner is known for. Additional assessments are administered where needed, with each designed to give the learner a clear and objective perspective on his/her strengths and developmental needs that impact the team and performance. Typically this introductory assessment phase lasts three to five weeks.

The second phase lasts about a year, during which the IDP is implemented. It begins by identifying a few developmental needs that the learner and boss deem most important for success. The coach helps them outline an action plan to address those needs, including other team members and mentors where appropriate. Regular progress check meetings are held at least quarterly, but more often if needed.

Finally, during the look-back assessment phase, another 360 assessment is administered, using the same process from the first phase with many of the same people rating the learner. The assessment data from the first and final phases is compared to gauge individual growth.