Media, Communication & Publishing

Executive Coaching for Values-based Leadership,
Pearson (UK)

SG - Case Study - Pearson


Pearson is an international media company with market-leading businesses in education, business information & consumer publishing. They have more than 40,000 staff in over 70 countries, focusing on making the reading & learning experience as enjoyable & as beneficial as it can possibly be. In 2014/15 they had sales of £4,9bn & an adjusted operating profit of £720m. Our work with Pearson began in 2000 & we have completed several projects for them over the years. We have worked with senior managers across each of their 3 main businesses: Pearson in Education; Financial Times Group; & Penguin Group.


Pearson asked Synergy to conduct a pilot study for executive coaching at their UK HQ in London. We therefore took a sample of senior managers from different areas across the UK business Groups.


Everyone received a diagnostic session using a variety of psychometric tools including a values-clarification exercise, along with a two-hour confidential coaching session once a month, for a period of four months. The diagnostic assessment helped participants to link their learning directly to the challenges of their role. Participants also had full coaching notes to help them reflect on specific issues & continue to tailor the program to meet their needs.

‘Virtual Coaching’ was also available via the phone & email between face-to-face sessions. Every session was values-based & focused around the key objectives that each client had chosen after their diagnostic assessment. Part of the power of this leadership development lies in the very nature of the confidential contract between the executive coach & the client. In a ‘safe environment’ people are often able to take risks & be more creative with problem solving – they open themselves up to challenging questions & gain different perspectives from role-play.


The coach’s facilitation skills created a climate, which encouraged people to critically review their own leadership & communication style, to identify further areas for development. Participants also had ‘homework’ between sessions – this self-directed learning model was particularly helpful for building momentum. The Pearson managers were all committed to honest feedback & life-long-learning.
They also allowed themselves to become quite vulnerable, as they dug deep into guided self-analysis.

They were also very honest about their problems & development needs, gaining a greater self-awareness & ability to gain confidence in their competence as a result. Everyone was encouraged to share the skills learnt with their direct reports & to review their coaching notes between sessions to stay on track – which they did. The coaching proved to be very successful & was well evaluated by participants of the pilot program with one caveat – that they wanted more! Unfortunately, due to the cost restraints of the pilot, the coaching program was short (only 4 x 2 hr sessions for each manager) & we do recommend that clients have at least 6 sessions to maximise the impact & truly embed learning for sustainable behavioural change. After every session, participants were asked to briefly highlight the key benefits & any concerns that they may have experienced – the ‘sound bite’ responses showing main themes were then submitted to the client. In summary, participants outlined the early benefits of building trust for challenging questions from a values base; the central benefits of energising motivation – helping people to manage change more effectively; & the lasting benefits of practical coaching exercises rooted in the reality of the business. One participant also put it “excellent values-based leadership development designed to respond to our specific needs”.

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