Voices of Experience: Tina Hallett, Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers UK

tina_photo_1_.JPGby Elizabeth Harrin (London)

This afternoon, Tina Hallett is going to the culmination event of one of her coaching sets. Hallett is a Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers UK and she knows how to make connections.

Hallett works in PwC’s Change Consulting business, specialising in government departments. She started her career as a chartered accountant, then moved into tax, before joining the People & Change practice.

Now her day job focuses on getting the best out of people, not numbers. She set up Coaching Squared, an initiative that brings together top middle managers from public and private sector organisations and places them in co-coaching partnerships for nine months.

“I met with the Ministry of Justice [formerly the Department of Constitutional Affairs],” Hallett explains. “They were setting up a women’s network.” At the time, Hallett chaired PwCWomen, and the government department wanted to learn how it was done. “Gus O’Donnell, the then Cabinet Secretary, was very keen on cross-private/public sector initiatives.” As the discussion progressed, it became clear that it was in both organisations’ interest to do something together. Twelve women from each organisation met at a half-day event on co-coaching and paired up.

Since then, Coaching Squared has “grown and grown from those early roots,” Hallett says. “There were six organisations involved the first time; now we have about 30 and cover four strands: women, the disabled, minorities and gay and lesbians.”

Partly, the organizations self-select and, in the private sector it’s often word of mouth that leads to the first approach. The actual coaching programme doesn’t take up a lot of time, as the women taking part manage it themselves. “I go to the first event to kick it off, see them again half way through, and at the end, to stay engaged,” she says. The women then take responsibility for their own development and set their own activities. One, for example, work-shadowed a human rights expert in the Ministry of Justice. “It’s a new buddy in a work context,” Hallet says. “Often at work you only meet people from your own organisation.” The Coaching Squared programme allows participants to broaden their horizons in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

Coachees tend to be women at the top end of middle management who are looking to make the jump to senior management, and each participant organisation has different ways of selecting the candidates to take part. “I started off with a blanket note to the PwC women’s network, which didn’t work that well,” Hallett explains. The idea behind this broad brush approach was to ensure that the opportunity was open to everyone. Allowing organisations to pick their high performers can mean that the chances aren’t available equally. “The problem with that is that the women in the talent pool are already selected for the best courses,” Hallett says. There’s a balance to be found between developing people who have already been highlighted as high fliers and enabling other women to progress to their next level when they aren’t already on senior management’s radar.

The results are surprising: while it’s difficult to quantify the benefits of pairing up women and allowing them to manage their own development over nine months, there have been some very tangible outcomes. One participant was shortlisted for an Asian women’s award, another had the opportunity to work with Harvard Business School. And for every headline grabbing result, there are many more smaller, subtler, improvements that participants make to their performance at work.

Hallett has to balance running the Coaching Squared programme with her job as a senior consultant managing change and running the relationships with large government accounts. “Consultancy does have some career challenges,” she says. “Long hours away from the home base during the week can be difficult if you are trying to manage a family. There are peaks and troughs.” However, she enjoys her job. “I get to meet some fascinating people and the opportunities it gives me are fantastic. It’s challenging and exciting change work, with a great team.” She also provides personal, individual coaching for senior executives.

“Coaching is part of change,” she explains. “If you are going to embed change then coaching is an intervention to help that.” Becoming a coach seemed like a natural step. PwC is keen to support professional development and Hallett was trained on coaching skills, including the GROW model and John Heron’s facilitation framework. She had years of experience, and had been coached herself which gave her the experiential learning to take forward and help others.

Ninety per cent of the coachees that work with Hallett are striving to get the next management grade. “In a lot of organisations it’s the natural course of events, there is a ladder of grades,” she says. “You need to constantly challenge yourself and do better. You need to realise that you own your own career and no one will do it for you. Get some support from a coach or mentor and work out how you are going to get what you want.” Her top tip? “All organisations are political, get into the political game but play it with integrity,” she says. “I learned that at Cranfield.”

After speaking to Hallett and getting a sense of how passionate she is to help others achieve their personal best, I can’t help feeling that anyone would be very lucky to have her experience and drive behind them in the quest for career enhancement.