Trade secrets: Ten steps to a coaching culture

Investing in coaching for the sake of it will never get results. Here are 10 ways to embed a coaching culture at your organisation

Answer the question: “Why a coaching culture?”

Articulate the linkages between the coaching culture strategy and the core strategy.

Build an appreciative and developmental view of the organisation’s current and aspirational culture.

Ask leaders: “How can you be the culture you want to see?”

Develop a selected community of appropriate external coaches.

Build an internal coaching capability.

Ensure all managers receive some basic training in coaching skills.

Build coaching into all HR processes and metric, including performance measurement.

Explore how coaching can be used by staff at all levels with key stakeholders.

Have regular reviews of where your organisation is on the coaching culture journey.

Our expert: Peter Hawkins

There are a simple set of 10 steps to building a coaching culture. However, while the steps may be easy to list, acting on them is a lot more difficult, with plenty of scope for losing the way, slipping or taking a false turn into a dead end.


Why a coaching culture?

A coaching culture should not be an end in itself but a means to an end. Otherwise it will become flavour of the month, just as the concepts of ‘building a learning organisation’, or ‘total quality organisation’ or ‘customer-centric organisation’ were before.

To answer the question you need to start with the end in mind and know how being a coaching culture will serve the core strategy of the business.


Make the link between the coaching culture strategy and the core strategy

One client we worked with wanted a coaching culture to create more distributed leadership, so more decisions could be made closer to the customer, giving greater flexibility of service which was one of their key areas of competitive advantage. This clarity reduced the cynicism of those who did not think coaching was beneficial.


Build an appreciative and developmental view of the organisation’s current and aspirational culture

There is nothing worse than being told: ‘You need to become a coaching culture.’ In several organisations, we have worked with people drawn from across the functions and hierarchy of the organisation to elicit the positive aspects of the current culture, as well as what is not working and what needs to be developed.


Consult with your leaders

It is true to say that leaders often get the culture they behave, rather than the culture they want to see. Ask your leaders across the organisation: How can you be the culture you want to see? This builds a hunger for coaching so that the process is demand-led, rather than pushed on people from above.


Develop a select community of appropriate external coaches

These coaches should not only be accredited, supervised and experienced, but also fit well with the organisation and be challenging enough to help senior leaders achieve the change needed. This community needs to come together regularly to update them on the organisation and to gather lessons learned from the various coaching conversations while protecting appropriate confidentiality.

It is important to ensure that the coaching is not just for individuals but for teams and departments. Culture resides more in the collective relationships than it does in individuals. Individual development will not by itself shift the culture.


Build an internal coaching capability

You can do this by developing a pool of coaches that are prepared to undertake coaching training and spend two or three hours each week coaching managers from other departments, as well as receive supervision.


Give all managers basic training in coaching skills

This will ensure that one-to-one meetings with staff, team meetings and performance reviews conform to your coaching methodology and approach. In one local authority we have partnered the internal training department, to train the top three tiers of leaders and observed them carrying out one to one meetings with their staff, and given them feedback and supervision on their coaching. A number of these leaders have now gone on to run training events for their people in how to coach.


Ensure that coaching is built into all HR processes and metrics including performance measurement

Coaching must become part of each manager’s balanced scorecard and part of what is reviewed and rewarded, part of job descriptions, selection and promotion criteria, leadership capabilities, managerial competencies and the like.


Explore how a coaching approach can be used by staff at all levels with key stakeholders

Some companies using coaching skills to engage their customers, such as British Airways coaching passengers on using self-check-in terminals, or a large auditing firm using coaching to work with their key executives in their client companies. The public sector, meanwhile, has used coaching skills to form more effective partnership working across agencies. Senior executives use coaching skills to engage their investor community when they reveal their annual and half-yearly reports.


Regularly review external and internal providers, and assess where the organisation is on its coaching culture journey

Has the strategy produced the required shift in culture and helped the organisation achieve its goals? This review needs to involve senior executives, HR leaders, and representatives from internal and external coaching teams, and may require a facilitator.


Many business authors, such as David Clutterbuck and David Megginson, Alison Hardingham and Janice Caplan have attempted to define a coaching culture.

While these definitions can usefully point to areas that the organisation may wish to address, the dangers with all these definitions is that they either end up as a generic list of good managerial practice or they predetermine a generic ‘end-state’. Each journey needs to be uniquely defined for each organisation travelling down this road.

These 10 steps can help an organisation use coaching for far larger gains than just personal development. A coaching culture approach can deliver team and organisational learning, aid effective cultural change, increase the engagement of staff and stakeholders in the enterprise of the organisation and support the delivery of the core strategy. The journey has many benefits for those companies who follow it through to the end, including embedding coaching in a way that will survive cost cuts and major staff changes.

Our expert

Peter Hawkins was joint founder and now chairman of Bath Consultancy Group, where he is also director of coaching strategy and supervision. He has worked with many international organisations co-designing and facilitating strategy reviews as well as major change and organisational transformation projects. He is the co-author with Nick Smith of Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consultancy: Supervision and Development (McGraw-Hill/Open University Press 2006).

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