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The rise of the coaching culture

29th Jun 2010

The recent economic turbulence has led to a welcome refocus on coaching in organisations, says Hana Searson.

Coaching has been with us for many years now, and it has become the norm for many large organisations to use external coaches for various reasons; executive coaching remains popular, and internal effectiveness coaches work one-on-one to improve performance. Recently, however, there appears to be a greater interest in, or perhaps a renewed emphasis on, creating a coaching ‘culture’ in organisations.

Whilst from our point of view any reason for more focus on coaching could be seen as a good one, in this case the reason behind this current trend is particularly interesting as it appears to be sparked by the recent economic events.

The change is upon us

The global recession highlighted many issues, and numerous articles, debates, television and radio programmes have discussed some of the causes of the recession, which don’t need repeating here, but one thing all this debate has done is put the question of moral responsibility firmly back on the agenda.

Amongst others calling for a new corporate ethics is Stephen Green, chair of HSBC (and ordained priest) who recently published a book about morality and banking. Those who heard him talk at this year’s Hay-on-Wye literary festival will have heard him fielding some fairly tough questions from an angry crowd about why so few people spoke out about unethical or morally dubious financial decisions.
"To be a great manager in a coaching culture is to encourage personal responsibility and ownership of actions and reward courageous decisions."

The British MPs expenses scandal was described as a ‘failure of ethics’ by Sir Thomas Legg and Gordon Brown’s first response to the recession last March was to call for ‘a return to the values of the good society’.

There was an initial tendency among those directly involved in both the economic meltdown and the MPs expenses scandal to blame the system itself, with the Financial Services Authority and the expense procedure itself receiving quite a large proportion of the blame. Whilst this is perhaps a natural tendency to protect oneself – there is, after all, protection in numbers and the psychology of conformity is such that it is much more comfortable to go along with the crowd than stand out – in these situations it seems that it was also a symptom of a culture that had stopped valuing personal responsibility.

A new emphasis on taking ownership

Moral or ethical choices call for a certain degree of ‘ownership’ and responsibility; for people to make courageous decisions in the face of uncertain times there must be a supporting culture of personal responsibility and a degree of ownership of outcomes and consequences. What we are witnessing is a growing trend, directly in response to the recent events, towards encouraging people to speak up, to own their opinions, act on them and feel accountability for the consequences.
"To create responsibility in most organisations will take a fundamental shift in approach, and there is no better way to create that shift than coaching."
Some of the basic premises of goal-setting theory apply here; research into goal setting and organisational performance has found that those who were involved in setting their own goals reported higher success rates, in other words, because they felt involved in the goals, and they committed themselves to it in writing, they felt ownership of the outcomes and were more likely to achieve them. Any coach knows that part of the power of coaching is helping a person to set their own goals – and this is a vital part of increasing personal accountability.
It is for this reason, that we are seeing an increased focus on creating a coaching culture; because to create this responsibility in most organisations will take a fundamental shift in approach, and there is no better way to create that shift than coaching. Teaching a manager some basic coaching questions and the confidence to use them can have some dramatic effects in the organisation. It takes some of the pressure off that manager, as they no longer need to fix every problem. The responsibility is shifted firmly back to the staff member, it increases creativity and innovation in the group as new solutions can be found once someone has been given permission to think of new ways of doing things, and employee engagement rises as people feel a new connection to their work, and a feeling of personal involvement.

Developing the 'manager-as-coach'

Previously there has been such an emphasis on knowledge and subject matter expertise that the predominant management culture in organisations has been far more ‘tell’ than ‘ask’. Just as, outside of organisational life, the ‘nanny state’ so often talked about in the press had devolved personal responsibility to the extent that we were living in a culture where conformity ruled.

"What we are witnessing is a growing trend, directly in response to the recent events, towards encouraging people to speak up, to own their opinions, act on them and feel accountability for the consequences."
Our recent work has been focused on developing the ‘manager-as-coach’; rather than bringing in external coaches to show the power of coaching to a select few, we have been working to make coaching an integral part of management – which means that to be a great manager in a coaching culture is to encourage personal responsibility and ownership of actions and reward courageous decisions.
They may only be small steps towards the ‘values of a good society’, but we welcome the increased focus on creating coaching cultures in organisations, and we are proud to play our part in improving personal ownership and responsibility in corporate life as we move into an uncertain economic future.
 
Hana Searson is the head of talent at the Inspirational Development Group, a leadership and performance consultancy specialising in creating sustainable change in organisations. The group has a partnership with the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and delivers learning all over the world.
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