Founder & Managing Director Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training Ltd
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How to recognise and embed a coaching culture in your organisation

Your business may use coaching to support employees but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a coaching culture. Embedding these characteristics into your workforce is no easy feat, but the pay-off is huge.

11th Jun 2020
Founder & Managing Director Matt Somers - Coaching Skills Training Ltd
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I had an interesting conversation (or do I have to call it a Zoom now?) with a senior leader the other day in which she explained that despite being determined to cultivate a culture of coaching in her organisation she wasn’t honestly sure if she had one.

This set me thinking…

What is a coaching culture and how would you know if you’ve established one? 

Professors David Clutterbuck and David Megginson at the Mentoring and Coaching Research Unit of Sheffield Hallam University define it (in their book Making Coaching Work) as one where coaching is the predominant style of managing and working together, and where commitment to improving the organisation is embedded in a parallel commitment to improving the people. 

This means every area of organisational life, from mailroom to boardroom, should have coaching at its core, which makes perfect sense if we strip out some of the needless complexity that permeates working life and get back to basics. 

You provide a product or service to people who want it and charge more than it costs to provide it. The more often you do this the more money you make. You’ll have people who make, serve, manage or support and the better they do this the more effective the business will be. Therefore, if through coaching we can help individuals perform better then, by extension, the business or organisation will perform better.

It is not enough to have a highly organised approach to training and development.

It’s not that simple...

Of course, if it were that simple everyone would feel as if they were working in a coaching culture, but most don’t and there are some obvious barriers that must be overcome to bring it about. 

Managers must be trained in how to coach and not left to work it out for themselves simply because they are managers. Similarly coachees need some training or at least quality information on what coaching is and what it isn’t, what to expect from coaching and how to access it if they need it. 

The senior team, assuming they’re driving or backing the move towards a coaching culture must become advocates and role models in deed as well as in word. Each time a director leaves a coaching workshop because ‘something important has cropped up’ it sends the message that coaching isn’t important and there’s no real commitment behind it. 

But what is this culture thing anyway?

In his thorough treatment of the subject in Coaching Across Cultures, Philippe Rosinski offers the following definition:

“A group’s culture is the set of unique characteristics that distinguishes its members from another group.”

Rosinski’s work is mainly concerned with how we must recognise and use cultural differences within the coaching relationship, but his definition is also useful in our attempts to understand the nature of a coaching culture.

The characteristics comprising culture have both visible and invisible elements. The visible ones will include the language and symbols while the invisible set will include beliefs and values.

A coaching culture requires both. It is not enough to have a highly organised approach to training and development, a rigorous performance review process and so on, if there is still an intolerance of taking time out to think and endless blaming whenever anything goes wrong.

It’s absolutely vital to celebrate success for a coaching culture to take root.

The definition also mentions groups, and cultural groupings have many dimensions. Typically people recognise nationality, religion, gender and ethnicity as cultural groups but there are also groups whose culture may be defined by, for example, industry, profession, education and union membership. 

The implication for establishing a coaching culture is to firstly define the group concerned. Is it the whole organisation or just certain departments? Is it for all staff or only for some? We must also recognise that people can belong to more than one group at the same time. It is perfectly possible to be both British and a HR professional but which culture most influences your behaviour at work? 

At a basic level it is perhaps reviewing people’s notion of who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us'. No one will respond to working in a coaching culture they do not feel part of.

Cultural indicators

In their book Exploring Corporate Strategy, Gerry Johnson and Kevan Scholes present a model called the cultural web as a means of characterising and analysing organisation structure. 

Let’s examine how each of these elements might be observed in a coaching culture...

 

Element

Coaching culture indicator examples

Stories

Celebrating success; tales of successful coaching

Routines and Rituals

Regular, scheduled coaching; engaging performance reviews

Organisational Structure

Flatter reporting lines; fewer managers; collaborative working

Controls

Shared and agreed targets and standards; empowerment; devolved decision making

Power structures

Personal rather than positional power; coaching not anchored to seniority

Symbols

Few status symbols; inclusive language

Overall Culture (paradigm)

Senior leaders ‘walk the talk’ 

 

Creating a structure around the cultural web

The cultural web also lends itself readily as an agenda or structure for team meetings, focus groups, interviews or indeed a coaching session in which organisational culture is to be discussed. 

You will need to understand your organisation’s business or service plan and the strategic direction in the coming years. This will help define the exact nature of the coaching culture required and will be vital in securing the support of the senior team. Many a change initiative has failed through an inability of HR to make a compelling business case. 

Here are a few additional tips for building a coaching culture...

1. Get training

A coaching culture necessitates some willing and able coaches and you’ll have to hire them in or train your own. I would clearly advocate training your own as it’s more difficult to establish a coaching culture with a reliance on outside help. 

2. Make sure that effective coaching is rewarded

Recognition must be given to those who willingly take up the coaching challenge, especially in the early days. And it’s not unheard of to find targets for coaching included in performance management plans. To begin with these will likely be around the amount of coaching taking place, but with experience you can begin to develop more qualitative measures that evaluate the outcome of coaching interventions.

3. Celebrate success

It’s absolutely vital to celebrate success for a coaching culture to take root. Success indicators include: coaching happening naturally outside formal sessions, coaching outside reporting lines, improved overall communication, and a movement towards more on-the-job learning and away from formal training courses.

4. Get senior buy in

By far the biggest determinant in my experience is the extent to which senior leaders embrace the concept of coaching and get fully involved. To be as determined as the leader on my Zoom call was to creating a coaching culture is probably halfway towards achieving it.

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