African Challenge: Coaching and Leadership Development in Angola

During the year 2007-2008 i-coach academy worked closely with BP Angola to design and deliver a coaching programme to work alongside a leadership development initiative aimed to support Angolan Leaders.

A politically significant project, as the Angolan government had set targets that company’s operating in a ‘skilled’ industry must have a workforce that are at least 70% indigenous. In a country racked by a 27-year long civil war that ended only in 2002, the local talent pool was limited and demand outstripped supply. BP Angola had to establish its own development programme and started the Angolan Leadership Development Programme (ALDP) in 1999.

By 2007 graduates of the initial programmes were transitioning into more senior positions. With the critical “first oil” date (the start of production) fast approaching after years of investment, i-coach academy were brought in to support the ALDP in a key phase to boost the confidence of the leadership and support those leaders transitioning into roles crucial to the projects future.

Key Objectives of ALDP Coaching Programme

BP wanted to use coaching as part of the ALDP to support Angolan leaders, particularly:

  • to increase their awareness of their existing leadership style and its connection to the leadership behaviours which reflect the wider organisation’s core values & leadership competency framework
  • to explore their current strengths and development needs as leaders and also enhance their motivation and confidence.
  • to develop and/or enhance their capabilities to perform as part of diverse teams and to deliver results through others
  • to develop skills to manage stress and balance personal and professional life
  • to support existing team leaders to evolve their coaching leadership style and gain insight into leadership development challenges across the organisation.

The Coaching Programme

A total of twenty-six participants were selected for the coaching programme: the majority being based in Luanda. i-coach academy put forward eight coaches from South Africa and two from London who all participated in a face-to-face selection interview with the BP team to be considered for inclusion in the programme. Tana Holness the BP Angola L&D Manager leading on the programme was keen to ensure a good “fit” between coach and coachee particularly in understanding the Angolan and African context. The large number of coaches selected was intentional in order to offer a diversity of style and approach so that each participant could be matched with the most appropriate coach. Tana led the matching process given her unique position of understanding the individual’s challenges as well as knowledge of each coach and their strengths.

Coachees were allocated a coach, and i-coach academy provided an induction module where participants were introduced to the differences between coaching and mentoring, the role of learning in coaching and the impact of their individual learning preferences in coaching. Participants were also supported to consider how they wanted to use the programme including the opportunity available to develop a learning community within their cohort which would offer peer support and challenge during the programme and beyond. This three day induction process worked to establish clear expectations between all key stakeholders in the programme (participants, team leaders, coaches) and established a foundation relationship for the forthcoming interactions. It involved group sessions, 1:1 sessions with team leaders and coaches, 1:1 sessions with coaches and participants and 3-way conversations to establish clear roles, responsibilities and boundaries.

Each participant was offered face to face coaching during four modules over the years’ programme and telephone coaching throughout the year. Group sessions on themes arising from the participants’ development plans; for example stakeholder management or delegation, were also included as the programme evolved. I-coach academy worked flexibly with participants and Tana Holness to ensure each face to face opportunity made best use of the time available given the organisational pressures of the moment.

Context was critical to this project and separate sessions for the coaches to familiarise them with BP from a corporate perspective, the local BP Angola, and the Angolan environment itself were provided.

The role of the team leaders in supporting an individual’s development was essential. This was a challenging aspect of the programme as all participants but particularly their team leaders were under extreme pressure preparing for “first oil“ Recognising that their buy-in was critical to success of the initiative and that they understood their role in partnering with the coach and the participant in offering feedback against development plan objectives and performance; Tana Holness (BP) and her team along with Caroline Horner (i-coach academy) spent time individually and collectively with team leaders explaining the elements of the programme and the importance of their role in the programme. Individual coaching was also offered to team leaders from a coach different to those working with their team members.

Programme Outcomes

The intervention required a flexible approach from i-coach academy, as new issues emerged during the process. For example additional learning interventions to fulfill the needs for effective transition into more senior leadership positions including stakeholder management, influencing skills, performance management, and feedback skills, were included in the group sessions and were well received. The introduction of the coaching process into a culture with limited experience of coaching meant there was a continued conflict between the pressures to perform in the day to day and the pressures of the leadership programme of which coaching was one element. The three way review sessions between the Team Leader, Coach and Participant were found to be so helpful that an additional session was added to the programme. While there were considerable logistical challenges in operating in Angola, participants reported that they gained more value from the face-to-face coaching in Luanda than the telephone coaching.

The participants were very positive about the programme as evidenced by the high overall participation from most participants, especially with face-to-face coaching. On average the group reported a shift from a score of two to three upwards to a score of seven or eight on a scale of ten in how their rated their confidence as a leader.

There was greater recognition of the reality of taking ownership and personal responsibility as well as emotional growth. The programme afforded an opportunity for their assumptions to be challenged, enabling them to see others (and their worlds) from a different perspective and yet still hold a personal view; in turn they reported that this developed their confidence to challenge and influence whilst acknowledging and respecting difference.

One participant commented:

I expected that the coaching sessions would give me some professional guidance and advice around my personal development and particularly on my leadership skills. The coaching sessions certainly helped me to enhance my listening skills as a way of ensuring effective communication between colleagues. Now, I feel better equipped to coach junior colleagues as well as connecting more effectively with more senior colleagues when I am running my production performance meetings. For me, it was all about improving my interaction with other team members to help achieve the best team decision. my coach helped me to achieve that.

Early 2007 I was transitioning to a new role, which was in a completely different area of the business, with very different challenges compared to my previous role. The ALDP coaching programme really helped me to quickly go through the steep learning curve of the new role, and improve my personal effectiveness and self confidence. I was assigned a coach to work with, who had a lot of experience and was passionate at coaching. His simple, but structured approach to coaching was enjoyable and really helped me to find the right direction, make the right decisions, and become confident to challenge and communicate effectively

From an organisational perspective feedback from BP Angola was overwhelmingly positive and participants expressed their desire to see increased coaching activity, not only for aspiring leaders but also team leaders. As well as striking oil, BP Angola discovered a new resource that will help the people they rely on for continued production in what is an exciting time for Angola’s future.