How to create a coaching environment

Can organisations create an effective coaching culture? Well maybe, but it’s a long hard road.

Coaching environments are a kind of corporate Shangri La – in theory, a place where supportive relationships grow and flourish, and where everyone is focused on improving personal and organisational performance.

Few have found this utopia, although many claim to be en route: for example, some 99% of respondents to the Training and Development 2005 survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) believe coaching can deliver tangible benefits to both individuals and organisations.

Yet the road to a coaching environment can be a long and winding one, says Bob Garvey, leader of the mentoring and coaching research unit at Sheffield Hallam University.

“If organisations are thinking about setting up coaching it is a good idea to set out its purpose, who it is for and what it is supposed to do. They need to be aware of the kind of things that will assist coaching, such as whether managers have bought into it.”

Coaching culture

The route to a coaching environment is similar to the coaching process, says training and development adviser to the CIPD, Jessica Jarvis. Just as one-to-one coaching is about asking the right questions and holding up a mirror to an individual, so setting up a coaching environment on a bigger scale is about enquiry and reflection.

Jarvis says HR and training professionals have to start by understanding why they want to implement coaching.

“You have to know what you want coaching to mean in your organisation. What it means in your context,” she says.

A need to ask questions has certainly been the experience so far of the North Central London Strategic Health Authority, according to its head of leadership development, Isabelle Iny.

Iny recently met 20 directors from the area’s NHS trusts to discuss how they might develop a coaching culture across the region. She found that a lot of work was needed to interpret what coaching means to the 20 bodies represented.

“The initial workshop showed that for some people [a coaching culture] meant increasing the coaching skills of managers to coach their staff, while for others it meant developing coaching relationships external to their particular organisation or department,” she says.

Organic approach

So instead of providing the answers, this initial meeting showed key areas to be explored. Iny is continuing her research by looking at a way to develop coaching skills in the workplace; she will work with counterparts in another strategic health authority to look at mentoring across London and will also develop a common understanding and approach to what coaching by external coaches will mean. “These are the building blocks,” she adds.

All this has shown Iny how many questions need to be asked, how much time it will take and how the process needs to grow. “We are coming from an organic, not a process-driven approach,” she says.

Garvey agrees and says coaching models cannot be forced on to organisations.

“Start where the energy and enthusiasm is: these people will think this is a good idea rather than thinking of it as a blanket initiative. Think of it as something that is organic – don’t impose it on those who aren’t ready for it.

“It is also important to understand opposition – find the resistance and barriers to coaching,” he says.

Garvey says a true coaching environment is based on a fresh set of behaviours. “What is important is the principle of volunteerism. Get rid of the idea of people thinking they are going to have coaching done to them.”

One isolated coaching activity will not make a difference, he says.

Among the accepted definitions of a coaching climate is that given by consultant and co-founder of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, professor David Clutterbuck.

He says: “You will know that you have a coaching climate when coaching is seen as a responsibility of managers and their direct reports, and it is seen primarily as an opportunity rather than as a remedial intervention.”

So could success be measured by the organisation’s reaction?

Jarvis says anyone wanting to establish a coaching environment decides on their success measurement early on. “You have to know what you are expecting back.”

Gladeana McMahon, spokeswoman for the Association for Coaching, agrees: “You have to decide what it is you want to measure. You must know what is the destination you want to get to – is it talent retention or a decrease in absenteeism?”

But once the coaching environment is living and breathing, keep feeding it the oxygen of publicity – celebrate your wins. “Make sure coaching is embedded,” says McMahon. “You must ensure the org-anisation understands what coaching means there and keep people up to date with successes.”

by Stephanie Sparrow

Network with a reader: Isabelle Iny would like to hear from other organisations trying to implement coaching. You can e-mail:

How to create a coaching climate

  • Give managers the basic skills of coaching.

  • Equip all employees with the skills to be coached effectively.

  • Provide an advanced coaching skills programme for senior managers and HR staff.

  • Provide opportunities to review good coaching practice.

Clutterbuck says you know you have a coaching climate when

  • Personal growth, team development and organisational learning are integrated and the links between them clearly understood.

  • People welcome feedback and actively seek it.

  • Coaching is seen as a responsibility of managers and their direct reports.

  • There is good understanding at all levels about what effective developers and developees do.

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