Developing a Strong Leadership Pipeline at One Acre Fund

One Acre Fund, a non-profit supplying financing and training to smallholder farmers in East and Southern Africa, wanted to develop a strong pipeline of rising leaders over a 5 year period.


One Acre Fund is a non-profit social enterprise that supplies financing and training to help smallholder farmers grow their way out of hunger and build lasting pathways to prosperity. They have been working in this arena for over 10 years, and currently serve more than 500,000 customers annually in East and Southern Africa.

One Acre Fund’s incredible growth has been made possible by the commitment and efforts of a passionate, engaged team and the leaders who challenge and motivate them to deliver their best. From the very beginning, they viewed professional development as a critical area for investment. Nearly all of One Acre Fund’s top leaders have ‘grown up’ within the organization, meaning that they had to undergo a great deal of development as their responsibilities and roles expanded.

One Acre Fund has further ambitions of rapid growth, and they were in search of a strategic partner to help them develop a strong pipeline of rising leaders in the organization. They partnered with Hudson to design, develop, and implement a customized coaching solution to 10-20 rising leaders each year, for a period of 5 years.

Challenges

One Acre Fund has an ownership culture, which encourages staff to be autonomous decision-makers early on, while supporting them with feedback, training and development, and strong mentors. With rapid growth on the horizon, the organization knew that it has to invest in its rising leaders to move the organization forward by teaching them to grow from exceptional contributors to leaders who can have an impact at the organizational level. The most common development issues identified were 1) Building and communicating vision, 2) Delivery tough feedback, 3) Improving team communication, and 4) Delegation.

Solution

In order to solve this problem, One Acre Fund opted for an Executive Coach Cadre program, which involved 1-on-1 engagements for 10-15 leaders per year, over a period of 5 years. Specific components of the program include:

  • Matching: Customized matching process to ensure that coachees were matched with coaches who had the most suitable backgrounds and skills.
  • 360° Stakeholder Feedback: In-depth feedback collected from supervisors, peers, and reports, and presented to coachee to identify themes in performance.
  • Duration: Engagements were 3-6 months and involved sessions every 2 weeks.
  • Development Focus: Although customized per individual, most coachees focused on 3-5 issue areas over the course of their engagements.

Hudson believed this would be an effective solution not only because of the direct impact on individual coachees, but because there would be an opportunity to identify development trends over time and feed them back to organizational leadership, in order to provide better internal leverage for people development. In addition, because all Hudson coaches are trained in the same methodology, there was consistency in approach across all engagements, which encourages a firm understanding of coaching at One Acre Fund.

Results

At One Acre Fund, our results demonstrate that Hudson’s Coach Cadre product generated meaningful impact on the organization. It allowed for rising leaders to create lasting changes in their leadership approaches, and because the service was extended over a 5-year period, we were also able to establish a solid understanding of coaching across the organization in general. As we can see from these results, coaching produced significant quanti able systemic impacts, while also producing impressive direct coaching impacts (i.e. progress to coaching goals).

In this engagement, we measured results across two categories:

  1. Systemic Impact: Impact at the organizational level, with a clear and quantifiable ROI.
  2. Direct Coaching Impact: Progress toward coaching goals. This category relates to the strengthening of leadership competencies, which make coachees more effective in the organization.

Systemic Impact

In general, we found that coaching had a transformational impact in 3 main areas, all of which directly tie to the bottom line.

  1. Retention: 70% of coachees reported that they stayed at least an additional year at One Acre Fund as a result of their coaching. This outcome has a significant impact on the bottom line. A recent CAP study found average recruiting and training costs involved in replacing an employee are up to 213 percent of annual salary for highly educated executive positions. For example, the cost to replace a $100,000 executive is $213,000. With an average tenure of 4.2 years for companies in the US, this results in organizational savings of $35,500 per coachee.
  2. Promotions: 80% of coachees were promoted within a year after receiving coaching, and cited coaching as playing a large role in their promotion. Promotions provide a variety of benefits across an organization, including: building leadership pipeline, encouraging retention, boosting morale, in addition to generally being an indication of increased performance.
  3. Job Satisfaction: 73% of coachees report that they are more satisfied with their work as a result of their coaching. The Harvard Business Review recently published an analysis of various studies that showed an average of 31% more productivity and 37% higher sales when employees are happy or satisfied. Another study—this one conducted by economists at the University of Warwick—found that happiness leads to a 12% increase in productivity. It also found that unhappy workers are 10% less productive than content employees.

Direct Coaching Impact

Result Measurement: for all coaching goals, we surveyed coachees to ask 1) How much progress did you make toward your coaching goal, and 2) How much of that progress do you believe was a result of your coaching work? Using these two numbers, we are able to estimate the impact of coaching on each development area.

Progress Against the Top 6 Development Areas

  1. Vision: 72% progress towards coachee goals. Vision was one of the most common coaching areas at One Acre Fund. As a social enterprise, One Acre Fund relies on its leaders to build vision, and establish it in their teams in order to motivate and inspire the organization. Some coaching engagements focused on developing the ability to create vision, while others focused on learning to communicate vision more effectively.
  2. Feedback: 80% progress towards coachee goals. Learning to deliver feedback and lead tough conversations is one of the most common coaching areas that we see across organizations, and One Acre Fund is no exception. For new leaders learning to make a bigger impact on an organization, there is no doubt that this is a critical skill, and one that people can make significant progress on through deliberate work. At One Acre Fund, we generally saw that people were interested in learning to give more feedback, and also improving the manner in which they deliver feedback.
  3. Work-Life Balance: 83% progress towards coachee goals. At high-paced organizations, learning to strike the right balance between work and personal life is key to long-term sustainability. At One Acre Fund, we worked with leaders to set clearer boundaries and to create healthy habits.
  4. Communication: 76% progress towards coachee goals. We have found that many rising leaders struggle with communication as they begin to lead larger teams. At One Acre Fund, we worked with leaders to communicate complex strategies more clearly and to keep teams aligned on a more regular basis.
  5. Leadership Presence: 64% progress towards coachee goals. At One Acre Fund, we encountered many leaders who wanted to develop more confidence in leading large groups and setting strategic direction in public settings. We worked with leaders both on getting more comfortable speaking in front of groups and on team dynamics.
  6. Delegation: 93% progress towards coachee goals. It is no surprise that, as leaders take on more, they quickly realize that effective delegation is a critical skill to develop. At One Acre Fund, we worked with leaders to improve accountability in delegation and helping team members to better prioritize delegated tasks.