A simple approach to coaching makes a difference at Britvic

by Tim Sweet (copyright holder)


Background to the case study

Britvic have been working for several years to improve the quality of their leadership, in particular through the use of coaching. One major focus is within Customer Operations, as part of their change programme. In order to achieve this, Britvic are working with CoachingIndex360.

This case study tells the story of this experience, using the words of managers who have participated in the process. This is their story of developing coaching and a new leadership style in Britvic, which is making a difference in a highly commercial sales environment. It describes the clear direction, leadership and a strategy for change, all requiring significant new behaviour from managers and staff. This new behaviour is being introduced through skills training supported by extensive feedback and on-the-job coaching as a key way of embedding change. This involves not just a series of development activities, but a whole new approach to coaching and management.

Who are Britvic

The British Vitamin Products Company - from which Britvic takes its name - was founded in the mid-nineteenth century in Chelmsford. It was then little more than a home business run from a chemist's shop, not unusual for a soft drinks' producer of the time.

After 1945 Britvic grew rapidly, building a modern factory in Chelmsford. In 1986 Canada Dry Rawlings - a company formed by the merger of Bass and Whitbread's soft drinks interests - came together with Britvic to form Britvic Soft Drinks. The company bought the soft drinks business of Beechams, and acquired the U.K. franchises of Pepsi and 7UP. In 1995 Britvic added Robinsons, and in 2000 acquired Orchid Drinks, famous for its Amé, Aqua Libra and Purdey's brands. Its other brands include Tango, J20 and Fruit Shoot. Britvic is one of Europe's leading soft drink manufacturers. Annually, Britvic sells over 1.1 billion litres of ready-to-drink soft drinks in almost 400 different flavours, shapes and sizes, and supplies more than 250,000 retailers.

New customer operations team

Nearly three years ago a new 'Customer Operations' Division was formed within Britvic – from several disparate groups, managed by people with differing management styles. It has over 500 direct employees in its field sales force – plus 200 to 300 supporting in field merchandising. It is responsible for selling product, putting equipment in place to hold these products (e.g. cold drinks' dispensers in leisure and retail outlets), and maintaining this equipment. For example, Iceblast was set up five years ago to sell frozen carbonated beverages. There are now 800 Iceblast dispensers in the UK, supported by ten sales staff, with other technical and marketing resources.

Tim Roberts, the new Director of Customer Operations, set its objectives as:

  • Delivering continual revenue growth and profit;
  • Becoming a role model in the business for leadership and coaching;
  • Providing a seedbed for future managers in the business.

For Tim, a key aspect of achieving those objectives is to set the direction for the 120 managers, with a particular focus on teamworking and leadership. His aims are: "to develop an 'enabling', more 'enlightened' management style – to get managers involved in less detail. To do this, managers have to understand their role, and have a belief in coaching. In this way, people they manage can take more risks and make decisions." He believes that this is the best way of delivering the continual revenue growth and profit. Inevitably, this requires a lot of change from the 120 managers used to a different, more traditional, management style.


A plan for change

It is striking talking to the managers and staff in Customer Operations that there is a consistently held view on how the change to a more 'enabling' management style is being brought about. All the managers talked about a clear chronology, following a pattern of events and processes:

  1. Clear direction from the top of the division;
  2. 'Steps to Selling Solutions': a sales approach and training course for all staff;
  3. Leadership Development Course for all managers, focusing on coaching;
  4. CoachingIndex360: a 360 degree feedback questionnaire and process, to gather feedback for managers on their coaching;
  5. On-the-job coaching provided by managers to their teams, primarily during sales visits to customers;
  6. Further use of CoachingIndex360 to measure managers' progress on coaching; and
  7. Two annual conferences, as major events to review progress, including sharing CoachingIndex360 scores, understanding management issues, and producing plans of action.

John Padwick, Business Development Manager, Frozen Drinks, who has worked for Britvic for twenty years, described it in this way: "In October 2001 Tim Roberts put together the 'Steps to Selling Solutions' philosophy. This is an in-house training course on sales – to move people from 'manager to coach'. Years ago people who 'couldn't sell' carried out coaching. The company had a history of lots of selling solutions, with limited impact. This new approach gives the same training to all sales people. I joined other colleagues in putting the course together, which was better than using an outside company. It sets a simple structure, covering:

  • Empowerment;
  • Knowledge;
  • Planning and Preparation;
  • Building confidence of the salesperson;
  • Effective questioning.

It provides a consistent approach for all sales staff, and so the team feel more confident."

David Noble, Equipment Supply Controller, explained how the various activities supported each other: "Coaching provides the right foundation to achieve the improved business performance. People went through the CoachingIndex360 process twice: in May 2001, and autumn 2002. We then shared the results at the October 2002 conference. This provided a benchmark and comparisons of scores. The conferences help keep it visible and in peoples' minds. The leadership-coaching courses were essential to improve skills and embed the change."

Role of coaching and leadership

While the 'Steps to Selling Solutions' training course provides the basic building block of selling skills development, Britvic is keen to keep this alive in the workplace through effective coaching support. What is unusual about the Britvic approach is the extensive use of coaching as a way of transferring skills from the training room to the workplace. This requires significant development for the 120 managers, which is being achieved primarily through a Leadership Course and the use of CoachingIndex360.

Although the new direction for Customer Operations had been well articulated in 2001, and set the scene for coaching, some felt that the role of coaching was not sufficiently well positioned at that time. John Padwick said "neither I nor my direct reports were aware at the time that it was going to be such an important part of the job."

Leadership course

Getting the message across was the next step, and a tailor-made leadership course was developed to do just that. 'Enabling Leadership: Coaching Skills Workshop' is a two-day course to provide development for managers. Tim Roberts said: "the whole management team has been put through this course – 70 per cent is coaching, although it is called 'leadership'."

CoachingIndex360 is used as an integral part of this course. It provides feedback to managers on their performance, and forms the basis for a facilitated discussion for managers to identify their own strengths and weaknesses, and draw up their own action plans. It is a new experience for managers to receive confidential, quantified feedback from their direct reports, and most of them value it greatly. For example, Allison Fincham, Regional Sales Manager, commented: "you get very valuable feedback from CoachingIndex360 that you wouldn't otherwise get. The 360 model enables people to do that without being victimised."

Using CoachingIndex360 as an element of the Coaching Skills Workshop seems to help make most effective use of the analysis and feedback.


All too often in organisations there is no structured, tangible approach to measuring and improving coaching skills. The common cry is: 'we're too busy'. "Coaching meetings take time - both for those being coached and those doing the coaching. Above all else, you need to answer the question, 'how do I know if this is working?'" explained Valerie Heritage, Managing Director of The Communication Challenge, the company Britvic turned to for help – and which operates CoachingIndex360. She continued: "Feedback is the lubricant that makes coaching work. If you can't measure how well you are doing, then coaching is very hard for both the giver and the receiver of it. Moreover, many coaching initiatives fail because they have trouble transferring the initial enthusiasm out of the 'classroom' into the day-to-day work of the manager, with the tendency to lose momentum over time".

Allison Fincham commented: "CoachingIndex360 gives people an opportunity to have a say. We use it to get a more open environment, looking at feedback, problems, and solutions, rather than a gossip type culture. It makes it possible for people to give feedback. We get lots of positive working practices out of that."

Diane Corcoran provided a different perspective: "some feedback is accurate; some is based on only one or two incidents. When staff haven't seen the behaviour, people can make assumptions; this is a risk area, and it is important to get the context through discussion."

Valerie Heritage explored this issue further: "Measuring coaching performance does not have to be a matter of gut instinct. Objective standards can be set that allow real comparisons to be drawn between individuals, teams and workplaces. This feedback questionnaire enables managers to test their coaching skills". CoachingIndex360covers:

  • Attitude - for example, whether the manager has a commitment to learning and development, and are using coaching to achieve those goals;
  • Planning - whether the coaching sessions are being planned and then followed up by the manager;
  • Process - whether the manager is skilled in running the actual coaching sessions;
  • Relationships - whether the manager is open to using coaching to build stronger working relationships

It is surprisingly simple. Respondees go online to view a set of positive statements about coaching, and score the degree to which they agree with them. Valerie explained: "using practical, unambiguous language, these statements get to the heart of the matter - sometimes using quite direct language. All too often 'management speak' and jargon can alienate the very people who are being asked for their opinions. These statements need to be easily understood - so that people at all levels of an organisation can and do respond easily to them."

Using feedback to start the process

Iain Ogram, Learning and Resource Manager at Britvic, set the scene: "In Britvic, the start of the development process is for managers to diagnose their coaching skills and development needs, using CoachingIndex360. Each manager selects 4 to 6 staff (direct reports and peers). These staff plus the manager and his/her manager complete the CoachingIndex360 questionnaire. Experience shows there is a much higher and more productive level of participation in CoachingIndex360 if time is spent briefing the managers on the overall process, and addressing any concerns before it is launched."

David Noble reflected on his early experiences: "the CoachingIndex360 questions were difficult the first time, because people didn't recognise that coaching had been taking place, nor how to judge other people and provide feedback. So, when using it, there is a need to provide clear guidance to the coach on whom to ask for feedback; it is essential to include direct reports to provide feedback."

Allison Fincham agreed with this comment: "We need to be clear on the aims of the feedback. You need to take responsibility so that people completing it understand it – I did that the second time around with a different team. The really good thing about CoachingIndex360 is comparing your own scores with the scores your team gives you."

Putting CoachingIndex360 to work

Nearly 200 managers in Customer Operations have completed the CoachingIndex360 process. There have been two main periods of activity – in the third quarters of 2001 and of 2002. There has been a noticeable improvement in performance between these two experiences. Respondents are given 32 'positive statements', and asked whether they agree. The scores are on a scale from 1 to 7; where 1 is 'disagree' and 7 is 'agree'. Therefore, the higher the score the better the result. The overall average scores increased by 8 per cent from 5.09 to 5.49. The changes in the four areas were:

Q3 2001 Q3 2002 Per cent increase
Attitude 5.08 5.51 8.5
Planning 4.88 5.33 9.2
Process 5.10 5.48 7.5
Relationships 5.28 5.63 6.6

Iain Ogram commented: "Interestingly, the largest increases were in the two areas where the scores were lowest the first time. The effect of using CoachingIndex360 has been to provide Britvic's managers with quantified feedback about their own performance, thus giving them information on where they need to focus their performance improvement; and by making it clear that this will be measured again, it has provided a clear incentive to work on those areas. This information has been shared at the conferences, and has been motivational for them."

The biggest improvements in performance – of over 10 per cent in the space of a year – were for questions such as 'enthusiastically spends significant time coaching', 'promotes the use of coaching', 'makes time to prepare for each coaching session', 'jointly agrees challenging but achievable objectives for each session', and 'is available at a distance – has frequent reviews between sessions'. This demonstrates that the basic building blocks of good coaching are being put in place – spending time on coaching, planning and preparing, and setting good objectives.

Iain went on to say: "There is still more to do in all these areas, but especially in the skills being demonstrated during the coaching sessions." There are relatively low scores for 'plans scenarios on how to practice new skills', 'asks high quality questions which help the coachee to 'self-discover' and think more widely', and 'is a good judge about when to be directive and when not to be'. Iain again: "The advantage of using CoachingIndex360 is that it helps managers identify where they need to make further progress."

Tim Roberts' view is that managers: "get answers to questions specifically about coaching; they get personal feedback from boss, peers, subordinates, which can be a learning shock; and then the second time it is used, managers find out their progression; although some went back. It is good there is no jargon, and it is useful to have it broken down into the four specific areas."

Although the most useful aspect of CoachingIndex360 is providing feedback to individual managers, and enabling them to compare their performance with other managers in their own organisation, Britvic also found it useful to compare with other organisations.

Britvic 2002 Index360 2002
Attitude 5.51 5.80
Planning 5.33 5.60
Process 5.48 5.85
Relationships 5.63 5.91
All questions 5.49 5.79

It is clear that Britvic has some work to do to reach the scores for other managers who have used CoachingIndex360, although the gap is not large. The biggest difference is in the areas of Process, which refers to the skills managers use in their coaching sessions with their staff.

How do Britvic Managers use CoachingIndex360?

It is not just the use of CoachingIndex360 and the leadership training that is important. The acid test of how well this process continues to improve performance is how well it is used in the workplace. There has clearly been varied practice on that. John Padwick said: "In September 2001 we received the initial CoachingIndex360 reports – covering self versus respondees (direct reports/peers), and manager. But there was no other feedback or discussion. It would have been helpful to have had a discussion with my manager, exploring why respondees and manager gave different scores."

It is clear from talking to Britvic managers that they are using the coaching sessions as ways of changing the behaviour of their teams. The CoachingIndex360 output produces results for each manager who has used the questionnaire. The ways these results look are illustrated in the bar charts. Once the results have been produced Britvic's approach is to encourage managers to share these with their teams, and then to set up regular coaching sessions. Many of these take place during visits to customers, so that hands-on sales coaching can be provided.

David Noble stressed: "blocking out time for one-to-ones is crucial. CoachingIndex360 focused effort and helped make practical progress. It provides:

  • Structure;
  • Process;
  • Framework;
  • Business focus."

This provides challenges for managers to change their behaviour. David Noble again: "Once a month I have one-to-ones, and deal with coaching issues. This is a challenge for me, as the temptation is to get into detail to solve problems. I want them [the coachees] to focus on the top four or five issues."

Diane Corcoran commented: "The key is to be up front about it – share the results; don't take it personally; don't be frightened of discussing it."

John Padwick talked about: "Real coaching sessions now take place when visiting customers. I have a coaching 'briefcase', which I use to refer back to coaching notes. I create 'theatre' around coaching." He went on: "I told staff that I was approaching it as a fairly new coach. My previous position as a manager was 'know it all'. I asked my group to adopt coaching – 'let's consciously change, not just pay lip service', and staff welcomed this new style of management. I do one-to-ones very differently now; we speak frequently:

  • One visit every four weeks is about coaching;
  • Both I and my direct report call it that, and know it is;
  • My coaching 'briefcase' comes out!
  • We plan together;
  • We do two or three customer visits during the day;
  • We complete the coaching form – what went well, and what did not;
  • We agree a 'rating'.

CoachingIndex360 forces documentation through the year."

A coachee of another manager confirmed this approach: "managers are coming out a lot more, filling in the form with feedback, and this is linked into our personal business objectives much more than things used to be. This is good because it can lead to a bonus."

Diane Corcoran's view is that: "I like things that are tangible. In a very measurable bit of the business, we can see what is broken, and then we can fix it. CoachingIndex360 is a very tangible and practical way to do people development in a business context."

What do Britvic Coachees think of this change?

What about the staff who are being coached? Are they noticing a difference? One manager's view is that:

  • "Some say ok do it, but then ignore it;
  • Some see it as valuable tool, and use it;
  • More shift to positive acceptance;
  • Lot is driven by the line manager – is there buy-in at the top?

They have found it beneficial and positive – to be given an accessible, easy to use tool. It is always helpful to have a framework rather than a blank piece of paper. It is very easy to use, and very easy to work your way around."

This seems to sum up the general view.

One coachee said: "I did one for my previous manager, about a year ago. We were asked about 'how they managed'. Not a lot of questions, as I recall. It was quite straightforward and easy. There is more coaching in the business now; it is more active coaching than previous years. It is much more useful to have that. This is best it has been – difficult to see how to improve on that."

David Noble said: "Coaching is positive for people with potential, for those doing ok. For those underperforming it is a 'double edged sword'. Got to get the right culture in, to do this right – it can lead to capability issues. First-line managers must understand techniques, and live and breathe them."

John Padwick thought: "We have got an environment where no one is embarrassed to admit that they have done something wrong. I do group or team coaching, covering 11 people:

  • Devote time to team coaching – 1 to 4 hours;
  • Based on an emerging problem – coach as a group;
  • Do some role playing; and
  • Treat seriously now, as 'all in coaching mindset'."


There have clearly been major changes in behaviour over the period of this work. When it began in 2001 some managers were saying "what is coaching; I'm a manager, not a coach."

Tim Roberts' view is that there has been a substantial change in managers' behaviour: "Previously there was a lot of 'checking;' before decisions; there was not enough intellect and empowerment to avoid that. Now it is much better; coaching has helped that."

David Noble said that the new approach: "has made a big difference to what managers are doing. Britvic has changed in the last few years to invest for growth, and take a longer-term view."

John Padwick was very open about how his behaviour as a manager has changed: "My attitude to coaching has changed; I thought that just 'being with someone' was coaching. Young, well-educated people expect a greater level of coaching. Thought I did pre-planning, but feedback was 'no' – I do that very differently now. Have six months rolling log of coaching. Coachees look forward to it. I learnt from CoachingIndex360 'everyone is different'; I learnt how to adapt style – 10 coachees and 10 styles. My problem is to 'keep quiet in front of customers', and allow staff to make mistakes when selling – that is very hard. I learnt how to contribute in those meetings in a different way – not just jump in. We agree roles before we go into meetings; we agree what to do with the customer; pre-planning of the call."

Allison Fincham's view is that: "coaching has been a big focus in field sales. 'Steps to Selling Solutions' has been positively received. The approach to selling is to drill down to specific skill areas: it provides measures to compare against, and is supported by coaching between sessions. Recording and giving people written feedback is part of the process. For the coachee it is very stretching – they have to ask for feedback, and coach has to give it. People had to learn feedback skills. I learnt about feedback models and how people receive feedback. People now realise that getting leadership and coaching right will help business results. Builds core competencies of the business – to be change managers. It is a good tool to identify what more you could do as a manager. Over the next year I worked on issues raised with the team; e.g. challenging and pushing people harder. I focused it as part of team development. Shared own results with the team. Team came up with plan of action; built that into way of working. Have something to work on."

One manager talked about having varying degrees of success with his direct reports: "I helped one to focus on a few areas, rather than take a scattergun approach to business. The coachee recognised the help, and has done the same with his reports."

Diane Corcoran view is that: "I have done CoachingIndex360 three times – my results have improved; whether you improve depends on:

  • Whether you take on board results;
  • Put into tangible targets;
  • How far manager supports you;
  • Whether there is a platform for review."

Tim Roberts talked about the benefits of helping staff take more decisions, through empowerment and coaching support. John Padwick commented: "I empowered my staff to take decisions and run their own activities."

Maintaining momentum

An important feature of changing managers' behaviour is sustaining this over time.

David Noble said: "It would be useful to do again early in 2004; keeping the target audience as consistent as possible over that period. We can then start to use it as a management tool, which we have not done."

One coachee said: "it would be great to have a refresher course on selling. It is great that the line manager is coming out to do it in practice [coaching on selling skills during customer visits], but it is good to recap and review in the classroom."

David Noble said: "I've been 13 years in Britvic – for the first time what has not happened is flavour of the month – for first time we have got sustainability in a management development programme. It has not 'withered on the vine'. We keep it 'live and fresh', and demonstrate success through the results seen. Promotion and development of individuals shows it works, using CoachingIndex360 as the basis."

Diane Corcoran was particularly keen to see effective follow up with CoachingIndex360. She said: "positioning and follow up is very important, to provide additional insight into development requirements. It is linked to the annual review, giving good evidence for that. My team and I have a development plan; we use CoachingIndex360 as feedback to help select a couple of areas to link into the development plan. Also gives more rounded insight, and 'more tangible statements'. Previously had generic competencies, which didn't fit the business very well. CoachingIndex360 competencies fit better: more pertinent, relevant, specific statements. Could be useful to share results and development areas among peers – but would people be open and safe to do this? It helps to gain insight on why people do things –we would need some facilitation of this."

Valerie Heritage reviews: "It is clear from the comments from the Britvic managers that CoachingIndex360 has been a valuable process enabling them to gather relevant, reliable feedback on their coaching skills. One of Index360's benefits is that the reports are easy to interpret and work with, and that is apparent from the views expressed in this article. So many 360 reports available in the marketplace end up in the filing basket gathering dust because they are difficult to understand and work with. Being able to review progress on a regular basis is also essential for long-term improvement and to maintain commitment; the Index360 process makes this easy."


The key messages from Britvic's experience are:

  1. Setting the overall context and direction, and providing leadership, captures everyone's attention and interest;
  2. The process of Coachingindex360 is crucial – it starts the dialogue and keeps it alive;
  3. Feedback is a basic component of the change; having quantified measures of 'soft' areas is seen as helpful and motivational;
  4. There is a lot of enthusiasm from managers, and a general belief that coaching works – that's about leadership;
  5. It greatly helps that this initiative is not seen as 'flavour of the month';
  6. Maintaining momentum is important, and more thought needs to be given to that.

This approach to coaching works in a highly commercial, sales-driven environment.

Allison Fincham said: "my conclusion is that context is very important – including 'Steps to Selling', and leadership training. The feedback model and giving specific feedback is crucial. Britvic needs to have a few simple leadership and training approaches – CoachingIndex360 should be one of those; it gives measures of softer skills."

Valerie Heritage commented: "the process works a lot better now managers and coachees are well briefed on the role of coaching. It also helps that people go on-line to complete CoachingIndex360 – there are fewer queries and a higher response rate. There are now bookings twelve months ahead for the leadership workshops and the use of CoachingIndex360. Its use has become more frequent and momentum has built as word has got around that it is well regarded, and helps people to manage and achieve their bushiness objectives."

The final comment is perhaps best illustrated in Tim Roberts' own words: "the attitude now is that coaching is widely known and understood as a technique for managing performance. 60-70 per cent of managers understand enough to have bought in."

CoachingIndex360 is a process available through The Communication Challenge Ltd, a consultancy which works with organisations to improve the performance of their people. CoachingIndex360 helps managers to identify their coaching strengths and weaknesses, and measure performance. Tim Sweet, a consultant who has worked with the Index360 process for several years, wrote the case study. He interviewed the Britvic Director leading the change, several managers and coachees, the individual responsible for the leadership development courses within Britvic, and the Managing Director of The Communication Challenge Ltd.