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How to build an internal coaching culture

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6th Jan 2014
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In this two-part article, Heather Townsend sets out the decisions, pitfalls, frameworks and the thinking required for any organisation which aspires to develop an internal coaching culture.

Recently I had the privilege of delivering a session at the CIPD’s 'coaching for business performance' conference on the topic of how to build an internal coaching culture on a limited budget. Before my session I asked the attendees at the conference what was the one thing that they wanted to get out of my session. Interestingly, the responses were pretty similar:

  • How to get buy-in from senior level sponsors and managers within the organisation
  • How to keep the momentum going without it fizzling out 12-18 months later

From these responses, it’s possible to see the root cause of why so many initiatives to build an internal coaching culture fail. It’s because it is treated as another initiative, i.e. another project which needs to be done before moving on to the next thing. Building an internal coaching culture is not just a ‘project’ or ‘initiative’ it’s a full-scale cultural change transformation and, if it will succeed, needs to be treated in this way.

Like any large-scale cultural change project, these six things need to be thought about and actively managed before, during and after the rollout:

  1. Shape the vision
  2. Have sponsorship and role models from senior leaders in the business
  3. Gain hearts and minds
  4. Align the infrastructure
  5. Ensure a long-term focus from a central resource
  6. Communicate the plan and results

If you analyse why most companies’ efforts to build an internal coaching culture fail, it is normally due to one of these six things not being right or being handled incorrectly.

Shape the vision

The organisations that do successfully manage to introduce an internal coaching culture have a strong internal reason ‘why’ they should make the change. Getting your line managers to change from often the difficult job of ‘managing their people’ to the even harder role of managing and coaching their people is not always easy. After all, how many of us reading this article wish that their managers would actually do their job of managing their people?

Any ‘reason why’ for building an internal coaching culture needs to link directly into the future of your firm. The ‘pink’ and ‘fluffy’ reasons of why coaching benefits the organisation wouldn’t cut enough mustard in this scenario. (Apologies for mixing my metaphors). For example, one top 30 accountancy firm implemented a coaching and mentoring initiative to help develop and retain more of their top talent. Whereas, BT decided to introduce coaching skills throughout the organisation because they had identified that their revenue growth had stalled due to a company-wide ‘tell’ rather than ‘ask’ leadership style.

Have sponsorship and role models from senior leaders in the business

There is a reason that many organisations choose to train up their directors and senior managers first as coaches. Without these people acting as role models for others more junior in the organisation, the required changes in behaviour just wouldn’t happen. After all, how many leadership projects have you seen fail because senior members of the organisation just don’t make the change, and so their people don’t make the change either?

Ideally you want and need a senior level sponsor within your organisation to champion and sponsor your work to build an internal coaching culture. They may need to help you remove organisational hurdles and barriers as well as having some behind the scenes conversations with you. Without this high level sponsor your plan to build an internal coaching culture is probably doomed. If you are having trouble securing the backing of influential stakeholders, you may find that running a small-scale pilot in one part of the organisation gives you the proof of concept to bring on board a sponsor.

In the next part of this article, Heather will look at the remaining four drivers needed to embed an internal coaching culture.

Heather Townsend helps professionals become the Go-To-Expert, and she is a member of the Crucial Connexions Network. Crucial Connexions specialises in improving business performance working in close partnership with the HR/OD and people management function

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