August 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 4 
Main Feature

Coaching for a difference

Wichita team creates environment for success

Coaching for a differenceFuturist and business speaker Joel Barker has said, “Without diversity, there can be no innovation. Without innovation, there can be no wealth.” Joseph Onijala would add: “Diversity creates the environment for success.”

Onijala, Cultural Diversity Lead for Boeing’s Central Region, believes employee coaches and the Diversity Council members in Wichita, Kan., with their level of understanding of diversity, truly are “diversity change agents.” And he has no doubt they are creating an environment of success at Boeing in Wichita.

In January 2003, Suzanne Scott, as new director of Human Resources Support Services, initiated an organization that provides coaching for 8,500 of the 12,500 Wichita employees. The coaches go out on the factory floor daily to get to know the diverse individuals and teams at work—along with their needs and strengths. The coaches are giving information employees need, said Employee Coach Shelvy Brown. And employees are discovering the unique assets each person brings to the business based on his or her personal background. For example, Brown said, one employee with a minority background revealed in a coaching meeting, “In my family and culture, when we come to work, we come to work.” Afterwards, his teammates reexamined their own work ethic.

A major focus, said coach Doug Stover, is building relationships. As people get past cultural and other differences and get to know each other personally, they recognize assets and skills they had not been able to see at first. Employee Coach Nancy Gossett said as managers she works with open up to employees they had formerly stereotyped, the employees start expressing fresh views based on all kinds of differences, such as education level, gender, or farm or non-farm backgrounds—and these ideas can lead to process improvements.

Leadership is about diversity, because each and every person is different, with a unique personal and ethnic history, Gossett said. “And we’ve got to learn how to handle each differently.”

Greg Chaney, a Facilities project administrator, said employees clearly feel valued and supported when coaches are visible and approachable: “It tells the employees, ‘Hey, you are important. We’re here.’ Employees can ask questions right away.” Diversity and even conflict are important for business: Brown said teams need to hear the unique perspective each member brings from his or her own past experience.

And differences exist. “With 12,000 people together,” Stover said, “you’re going to have all kinds of issues.” In their first year and a half, the 17 coaches on Scott’s team have handled more than 13,000 employee issues.

Coaching for a differenceAt Wichita, diversity is “embedded” with Employee Involvement. Employees are thinking and acting like business owners, Brown said—owners who together are finding new business value coming out of their different personal and cultural histories.

As employees utilize coaches, they begin to understand each other’s unique perspectives based on where they come from and how they got here—and that prevents problems down the line. Scott said complaint levels were down considerably the last time they were reported, and the trend seems to be continuing. The local employee survey showed the overall employee satisfaction index up 5 percent and the diversity index up 8 percent from mid-2002 to mid-2003. Human Resources now has more of a coaching and advocacy role, she explained.

The coaches participate in sitewide diversity councils and affinity groups, and attend the Diversity Change Agent Program at the Leadership Center in St. Louis. The coaches encourage managers and employees to set aside time to attend diversity training and other events in the factory—so the employees come to understand the value of a many-sided company culture.

Even after learning Boeing is considering selling the Wichita site, Don “Buk” Buchanan, who builds 767 struts, said morale is up: “We’re together as a big team.” Chaney said this approach beats his first 18 years in Wichita. “We would never want to go back,” he said.

Meanwhile the coaches are honing their skills to provide consultation services to other business units and companies. “We’re a cost center now,” Stover said. “We want to become a profit center.”

—Walter Polt


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