Behind every great athlete, every winning team is a great coach, who knows how to unlock others’ full potential. For organisations, the same principle applies.
Each member of an organisation, regardless of whether they are a senior executive or an entry-level employee, would benefit from having a masterful coach to help unleash their untapped performance. To achieve that, the organisation needs a coaching culture.
Leaders, however, cannot do everything on their own. They need support from many sources: employees who take care of the majority of the execution, fellow leaders who help come up with justified counteractions, and reliable external sources who can inspire, motivate and transform leaders.
Successfully implementing coaching techniques and harbouring a coaching culture can endorse open communication and reflection, embrace vulnerability, and accelerate transformation.
So, what does it take to adopt that culture in your workplace?
What is a coaching culture?
A simple Google search can yield different variations of the coaching culture definition. Often, it is the "who doing the coaching" combined with the "how". As coachingculture.com puts it, a coaching culture is "a place where leaders and managers help people grow, thrive, and perform through effective conversations and honest feedback underpinned by trust."
One key element of a coaching culture is the openness to learn, which applies to both employees and leaders. Leaders are not expected to be experts in everything. They, too, need to be equipped with adequate coaching skills so they can, in turn, help develop key influencers in the company. These key influencers then help transform even more people regardless of where they stand in the organisational chart.
Peter Hawkins, the author of Creating a Coaching Culture, has given a more well-rounded definition of coaching culture, which is "a coaching culture exists in an organization when a coaching approach is a key aspect of how the leaders, managers, and staff engage and develop all their people and engage their stakeholders, in ways that create increased individual, team, and organizational performance and shared value for all stakeholders."
According to the International Coach Federation's "Building a Coaching Culture" report, a strong coaching culture meets at least five of these six criteria:
- Employees value coaching
- Senior executives value coaching
- The company has a dedicated line-item budget for coaching
- Coaching is available to all employees.
- Managers, leaders, or internal coaches receive accredited coach-specific training
- All three types of coaching (internal coach practitioners, external coach practitioners, and managers or leaders who use coaching skills) are present in the company
So the bigger question is, how do you build one?
How to instil a coaching culture for your business
Lead by example
Managers and leaders are the ones that set the tone and mood at any company, and thus, if you want to build an effective coaching culture, get your superstars on board. Leading by example can help shift the paradigm from resisting change ("I am fine with how things are going") to igniting a spark ("I have benefited, and I want you to also experience it").
Before taking action, educate your "All-Stars" about what coaching is, what it does, and a few core coaching skills fundamentals, such as listening, asking questions, and reflection. These skills and knowledge will later be passed down to others, so be authentic, confident, and accurate.
Companies and leaders can have dedicated weekly or bi-weekly sessions with an experienced coach to get more clarity on the skills and knowledge they need as well as have their questions answered.
Success does not appear overnight. You cannot win a marathon without regular training. Thus, you need to build a coaching routine, show up, and coach.
Integrate coaching into your talent and leadership development strategy
Teams are made up of individuals, and when there are people, there are synergies and conflicts. Coaching can help uncover gaps, hidden signs, and blind spots and recalibrate those "not-up-to-par" behaviours, hence, maximising individual and team potential.
One way to gradually introduce coaching into your company culture is by integrating the concept into your leadership and talent development strategies for targeted individuals or teams before mass adoption.
Managers and leaders can join coaches in building developmental plans and goals that truly reflect each person's needs while addressing specific challenges and behaviour issues they need to overcome.
If your company requires leaders to take leadership assessments (if not, you should) to determine gaps in behaviours, skills, or knowledge, you can include a session to help decipher the participants' feedback results as a way to introduce coaching.
This can be the golden opportunity for the leaders to understand the importance of coaching and realign their own and the company's expectations while soliciting their support feedback.
Once you have the support of your leaders, coaching can also help you keep the excitement going and make the programs even better by making the participants do their best and keeping them on track.
Personalised development plans make everyone feel included and that the company is investing in them. Coaching can empower individuals to rethink how they work, and they are excited about doing so.
More important, don't overlook middle and first-time people managers. They can also reap benefits from a coaching-based culture, as these individuals still have plenty of room to finetune their management styles. Middle and new managers also work more closely with employees. Consequently, it is easier for them to demonstrate the benefits of coaching to their subordinates.
Does HR play any role in this? The nature of HR is to oversee the entire human workforce of a business. Thus, they should also be trained in all the fundamentals to help coach others and develop strategies to nurture a coaching culture in the company.
Show clarity and dedicate time, effort, and resources
The coaching culture is just like emotional intelligence in that they are the unsung heroes. They have a significant impact on both individuals and businesses, but their effects may take some time to manifest and are frequently undetectable at first.
To see progress, those involved need to be held accountable, and the company has some sort of system to track coaching metrics. This goes hand in hand with how companies show clarity with their goals and how often coaching is mentioned. Every employee should be aware of what coaching means and how it is different from mentoring or other forms of assistance.
Moreover, there should be a reward mechanism in place to recognise those that demonstrate a significant transformation due to coaching. And likewise, those who underperform need to be reevaluated.
Coaching is an emotional, time-consuming, and resource-engulfing journey. It is not an ad-hoc, set-it-and-forget-it type of activity, nor a sprint, but a marathon that requires lots of dedication and hard work to change people's mindsets and behaviours. You want to influence people, not force them.
Company culture generally has several layers, which are solidified over time using concrete strategies and support frameworks. Then there are also the expressed values - frequent communication, openness, clarity, and, last but not least, inclusivity and diversity.
Undoubtedly, you will face countless resistance and unconscious assumptions. It is important to remember that coaching is not an evaluation tool. Thus, while coaching people and building a healthy, supportive, coaching-based environment, it is essential to consistently remind employees of the purpose of coaching, which is to produce better results and achieve common goals.