Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based nonprofit, works with immigrants and communities of color to fight discrimination and foster equity through creative and courageous legal advocacy, education, and economic empowerment. Despite a staff of only 11, LCR has developed an impressive record of winning legal battles and launching innovative programs thanks to their highly committed and productive staff. The organization also leverages partnerships with local law firms and collaborations with community allies.
At the beginning of 2020, the pace was very demanding. In addition to the usual programmatic work, LCR was in the midst of intense multi-year litigation challenging a wide range of policies from the federal government. By mid-March when the pandemic hit, like many other workplaces, LCR asked employees to work from home. In April, LCR’s executive director decided to help staff navigate the pandemic—including unprecedented personal and professional pressures—by offering individual coaching to all interested staff members. LCR offered two coaching sessions per month. Out of the 11 staff members at the time, nine took advantage of the opportunity to receive personalized support. This organization-wide coaching support was designed to:
- Stabilize staff while helping them achieve professional growth and success in a dramatically changing environment
- Help staff develop tools, skills and mechanism for resourcefulness and resiliency, particularly in response to unprecedented adversity
- Promote employee satisfaction and boost morale
Employees were assured confidentiality. They were also actively encouraged to “build their own adventure,” using the time in any way that made sense to them based on their personal and professional needs and priorities.
In the spring of 2020, as the coaching support was under way, LCR saw a high number of COVID-19 infections among staff or their close relatives. Some staff experienced multiple family members on ventilators—and even loss. Many appreciated having an outlet to personally deal with the illness and the new challenges of the virtual work environment. As one noted, “It was so helpful to have a time set aside to chat with someone as a sounding board and to set aside time in a busy schedule to think these issues through thoughtfully.”
As the pandemic continued, staff adapted to the work-from-home reality, and LCR was able to maintain high levels of productivity and output, filing a constant stream of new cases and successfully pivoting programmatic activities to virtual formats. Employees continued using coaching sessions to explore their own developmental goals. Interestingly, once the organization developed collective comfort with the new remote routines, coaching was used to support staff members’ leadership development. While some LCR staff reached a natural endpoint to coaching toward the end of 2020, senior members who engaged in coaching actively continued until the spring of 2021, with an on-demand model carrying on into the present.
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As employees reflected on the coaching experience, they were able to identify concrete benefits. Many were associated with significantly improved supervision dynamics.
- “Often my preconceived notions about managing others and workplace interactions were challenged, which led me to have a fuller understanding about my reactions to things in the future.”
- “I think over the course of my coaching I’ve become a better mentor and manager, both in terms of seeing management as part of my job, as opposed to something that takes away from it, and in recognizing that how I’m communicating [matters].”
- “The process helped clarify just how different supervisees can be and the need for a larger toolbox when learning to address individual challenges to work.”
- “I managed to develop and maintain strong supervisory relationships during a time when we were all remote and communication could feel much more mechanical.”
Staff also used coaching sessions to brainstorm new ways of performing day-to-day work and brought the changes to the organization for successful implementation.
- “I am proud that many of the systems that I discussed and implemented as part of my discussions are ones I am still implementing.”
- “Coaching helped me to seamlessly pivot. It reinvigorated me.”
Staff also expressed value added from a personal perspective.
- “I have definitely felt like I’ve thrived at LCR since May 2020, and a lot of credit goes to the coach.”
Management appreciated having a deliberate, intentional, and dedicated space to reflect and strategize in an otherwise hectic environment—particularly because LCR operated without interruption since the pandemic hit. LCR never closed or pared down services during the pandemic. The coaching sessions helped management navigate internal and external challenges. Management credits coaching with “providing the support structure to not just maintain LCR’s pre-pandemic work, but to expand the organization’s free legal services during the pandemic to help people experiencing unemployment; food and housing instability; and barriers to vaccine access.”
All the positive feedback—reflecting personal and organizational strength and growth—has been consistent since the pandemic hit. In October 2020, a survey was administered to staff to assess their perception of the organization as part of LCR’s most recent strategic planning process. Although exhaustion was real and the pandemic challenges were unprecedented, responses related to LCR’s culture and employee engagement were very positive. All responders agreed (50 percent) or strongly agreed (50 percent) with the statement, “I feel valued and appreciated within the organization.” While coaching is not solely responsible for this outcome, it is certainly an important part of a proactive work culture that promotes holistic assessment, thoughtful reflection, and creative engagement. Against a backdrop of pandemic instability, strategic coaching created a constant support structure in LCR’s work environment. Over the past 15 months, we have learned that this investment generated high levels of employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. During the pandemic, coaching was a win-win for everyone.