coach telling it like it is
Creating a coaching culture opens it up to everyone while removing the burden from managers as the only potential coaches PHOTO: woodleywonderworks

When you see an organization that is highly productive, innovative and nimble, it is most likely driven by a coaching culture. In this agile and responsive organization, every interaction is viewed as an opportunity to learn, gain insight and increase performance.

In an organization that embraces a true coaching culture, managers and leaders assume that their team members are talented, resourceful and fully accountable for their own decisions. They know that when individuals are energized about their work, they take full ownership of their performance.

They make major shifts in their engagement levels because others are encouraging them, challenging them, seeing the best in them and constructively confronting them. In short, that is because someone is coaching them, and nothing compares to coaching when it comes to helping people consistently bring their very best talents and energies to their work.

Creating a Coaching Culture

Creating a coaching culture can be one of the most important contributions leaders will ever make to their teams. Many organizations today are working to equip managers with coaching skills and that’s an important step in the right direction. But there’s no reason to stop at the management level.

Today’s organizations are extremely frenetic, and even the most well-meaning and committed managers barely have time to coach their own team members. Extending the coaching role beyond the managerial level can lighten the burden on those who are already overwhelmed, while equipping others to step up.

Coaching is Everyone’s Business

As you start to make coaching everyone’s business, it will become not just an activity that occurs during scheduled sessions but a culture that pervades your organizational life. A coaching culture is one in which the values, perspectives and behaviors of the coach have become part of ‘the way we do things,’ not just in formal coaching sessions, but in informal interactions every day.

The magic of a coaching culture is that it is infectious. Any time people have been well-coached, they become more coach-like themselves. Employees at all levels begin to accept ownership and accountability for their work and relationships. What’s more, they require less daily, direct supervision from managers as they develop their skills and strive to reach their full potential.

7 Steps to a Coaching Culture

Fortunately, creating a coaching culture — while perhaps difficult — is quite straightforward.

Here are the seven steps leaders need to take:

1. Invite a fellow employee to coach you

Strongly encourage everyone in your organization to invite another organization member to coach them. Anyone can coach anyone else. Yes, I appreciate that some will not get invited and that may hurt their feelings, but those people should honestly be thankful. That’s because we need to earn the right to coach others, and not being chosen represents very valuable feedback, even if it’s a bit painful.

2. Dive into the process yourself

Invite someone in the organization to coach you and insist that all senior leaders do the same. In the process, you will undoubtedly notice that ‘insist’ is a bit stronger than ‘encourage.’

3. Chemistry doesn’t matter

Remind your team that anyone can coach anyone because a good coach is a good coach. So don’t waste HR’s time in the futile pursuit of ‘good matches’ or ‘chemistry.’ And yes, you can coach your boss.

4. Take on only one assignment at a time

Ask people to take on only one coaching assignment at a time. This will ensure that each person will receive their coach’s full attention and will spread the coaching opportunities and responsibilities throughout the organization. Please note that this guideline doesn’t absolve leaders of the need to be consistently coach-like with all of their team members.

5. Set meeting guidelines

Provide the following loose but important guidelines: Coaching pairs should meet in person or via telephone for 30 to 60 minutes, every 2 to 3 weeks for 4 to 6 months. This will allow plenty of time for great coaching to happen and will keep the momentum going. This amount of time will also be enough to develop new performance standards and create new habits.

6. When you finish one engagement, start another

At the end of every coaching engagement, encourage people to invite a different organization member to coach them. That sends the message that even higher levels of performance are always possible and that good coaches won’t rest in seeking them out.

7. Learn by doing

Equip everyone in your organization with the skills, perspectives and approaches necessary to jump in and immediately coach at a high level. If you find the right program, this will only take a day or two at most.

Unfortunately, most coach training programs focus an inordinate amount of attention on practicing interpersonal skills such as active listening and providing feedback rather than emphasizing what it takes to really be a coach.

That makes it very important that your people participate in the kind of highly experiential training program that introduces them to the potency of coaching and provides them with opportunities to practice real coaching while receiving direct feedback.

You will also want to make sure that your coaches-in-training are fully equipped with the tools necessary to:

  • Ask the types of questions that can pierce through closely held assumptions and examine existing mental models
  • Constructively confront unhelpful behaviors, practices and attitudes
  • Affirm strengths, talents and abilities, even if rarely employed
  • Share fresh perspectives, no matter how radical

Authentic and Deeply Committed to Success

Finally, consider that to promote a coaching culture, leaders need to be recognized as authentic, competent and deeply committed to the success of others. They need to form relationships in which others are inspired, appreciated and held accountable for their own performance.

In short, leaders need to model the qualities and practices of a great coach themselves. So, be ready to make a shift, take the first bold step toward becoming a great coach yourself, commit to the talent and personal development of others and invite all the members of your organization to join you on what will be a very exciting journey.