The economy ahead will unquestionably be different. It will require new skills, new processes, new structures, and new ways of thinking. No one is going to have all the answers. And that’s why creating a coaching culture is going to be crucial to thriving in the new economy.
In this new world, everyone is going to be figuring things out at the same time. After all, there’s no playbook for how to recover after a global pandemic. People will need to offer each other a little more understanding and empathy, supporting each other more to forge the path ahead.
And so to some degree, we must all become students at the same time we become teachers. And that’s exactly what a coaching culture should help you to achieve.
What Is a Coaching Culture?
One of the biggest mistakes we see is the assumption that coaching is a top-down concept. In DDI's definition of a coaching culture, all team members, regardless of their level or role, help each other to be their best selves by creating a safe space for everyone to learn new skills and grow. So ideally, you should have four types of coaches in your company.
The obvious one is leader to direct report. No question, this coaching relationship is the backbone of your culture. But people also need coaching from their peers, external coaches, and for leaders, even from their direct reports.
The key is that no one is above feedback and growth. Everyone needs to be open to learning. After all, most leaders can’t be expected to be experts in everything. So, they need to accept coaching from others, regardless of where they stand on the org chart.
The key elements are having leaders with the competence and confidence to coach, motivate, and develop others. Organizations have a coaching culture when people, especially leaders, are holding better conversations that account for both the practical and personal needs of the person being coached.
What Are the Benefits of Creating a Coaching Culture?
In the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, we took a look at some of the benefits of creating a coaching culture. We found that companies that use coaching by direct managers and external mentors have much stronger bench strength. And they’re able to promote more leaders internally. Above all, they are more likely to have a pipeline of talent to fill roles immediately, which will be crucial in the high turnover times that are likely ahead in the next few years.
In addition, companies in which people receive coaching in any form (i.e., managers, peers, direct reports) have leaders who have a deeper understanding of their future career paths. And more importantly, they are more satisfied with their advancement. Both of these benefits are key to retaining leadership talent.
Other studies have found additional benefits. For example, HR Professionals Magazine noted that the benefits of a strong coaching culture include:
- Increased employee engagement.
- Increased collaboration in the workforce.
- Development of people and performance.
- Improvement of creativity and agility.
- Increased responsibility in employees.
- Newly formed change management capabilities.
In short, none of these benefits are ones you can afford to miss in a new and more competitive economy.
The Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture
So how can you get to the positive benefits of creating a coaching culture? Here are four key steps:
1. Get senior-level support.
First, to be successful, culture change initiatives need to start at the top. According to HR Daily Advisor, “Organizations with robust coaching cultures are over 60% more likely to have senior leaders involved in their coaching systems.”
Senior leaders need to devote time to coaching by having it on their meeting agendas and discussing it in their one on ones and in their informal conversations. But most importantly, a senior leader must “walk the talk.”
When senior leaders lead by example, others naturally follow. But leaders still need to do more. They need to pinpoint people’s motivations and position the value received both when you coach but also when you are receiving coaching.
2. Give all leaders coaching skills.
The second step is to give all leaders at every level coaching skills. In addition, make sure that people in informal leadership roles (such as project managers and agile leaders) likewise have these skills. What’s the best way to do this? At a minimum, train every leader in core leadership skills.
These core skills are a combination of emotional intelligence and coaching that will enable people to prepare for an assignment or to learn and improve for the future. Ideally, leaders will also be able to access other resources to support their development.
As such, many companies have built robust learning journeys to train their leaders to become capable coaches. The result? A big step towards creating a coaching culture that’ll get you the benefits we talked about earlier.
3. Encourage the application of coaching skills on the job.
The next step is to have leaders take what they have learned and apply it on the job. The adage is simple but true: practice makes perfect. But how can organizations give leaders the coaching practice they need to be successful?
First, organizations need to develop an action plan to do it. This will help provide support to make the transition toward a coaching culture easier on the leaders and those they are leading.
While it is very common to have development activities for a group of learners, it is important that every leader has a personalized follow-up plan that connects with the organization’s business priorities and structure. Some companies develop a required coach training class with follow-up small group sessions to discuss coaching opportunities and to share experiences and lessons learned.
Other companies leverage peer coaching, online coaching simulations, or apps that can provide feedback in a minute or two. Above all, the critical element is creating a system and an environment that enables everyone to apply learnings and get feedback on their progress.
All the top performers in sports or the arts practice regularly and for extended periods of time. The same level of commitment and dedication is required to become a good coach. And when that commitment is combined with opportunities to coach, you’re well on your way towards creating a coaching culture.
4. Create accountability.
Finally, it is important that everyone be held accountable for their role in creating a successful coaching culture. Oftentimes that responsibility is placed onto the leaders, but when there is a coaching culture in place it looks and feels completely different.
An outcome from effective coaching is that leaders are developing teams of people who feel supported and empowered to make their own decisions. The resulting accountability system encourages employees to take ownership of their performance and encourages managers to take ownership of how they coach others.
How will you know if your organization has this level of accountability? When every employee at every level is experiencing coaching conversations on a regular basis. The coaching can be from the manager, a peer, or a direct report. And coaching can come from either inside or outside the organization.
In addition, it is important to gather evidence around the effectiveness of coaching efforts. Do you know who is coaching successfully? How many coaching conversations are occurring? Tapping into this type of knowledge will inform leadership on what needs to change and how to do better. This type of knowledge will showcase instances where the coaching is working.
If your organization is already investing time and money in workplace coaching, why stop there? Dig deeper and embrace fully creating a coaching culture. Make sure coaching is happening at every level and as often as possible. The result? You will see better productivity, more engagement, and higher performance all around.
How to Overcome the Challenges of Creating a Coaching Culture
Changing the organizational culture is hard work—it requires behavior change. Corporate culture has several layers that are built up over time. These include “rituals and symbols,” how the workspaces are laid out, what is written on the posters, and much more. Basically everything someone sees the first time they are acquainted with the organization are bits and pieces of the company’s culture.
Then there are the expressed values. These values are usually the ones that are on the posters and signs. Lastly, and most difficult to modify, are the unconscious assumptions. These are what people think. How can you overcome these challenges and still build an effective coaching culture? Here are five things you can do:
1. Encourage stakeholder support.
Internal communications are a very important step in getting everyone on the same page about why creating a coaching culture is important. And having C-suite support is an important part of this step. It is essential that C-suite members deliver messages across the entire organization about why coaching is valuable and how leaders can do it.
2. Highlight and reward the good.
Leaders must also make sure that what is openly stated becomes part of the unconscious assumptions that people who work in the organization are making. But how can this be done? Leaders must do more than convey the message that coaching is important. They need to be positive examples of good coaches for their employees and colleagues to see in action.
Leaders need to truly “walk the talk.” This will encourage every employee to behave in similar ways—ways that align with the company’s values. Highlighting and rewarding positive coaching examples and outcomes is a great way to get the message across.
3. Clearly explain the benefits.
As the people responsible for creating a coaching culture, we must not accept the “I don’t have time for this” type of excuses. We must instill in our people that coaching is one of the most important parts of any leader’s job. How do we do this?
Convincing leaders coaching is worthwhile requires a clear explanation of the benefits. And these benefits will be different for each business, and possibly even for each team and team leader. But touching on these points is crucial in getting everyone on board.
4. Don’t make coaching an evaluation tool.
Employees aren’t always excited about coaching. Many perceive coaching as a form of negative feedback, for example, “You are not doing something right so let me tell you how to improve.”
The objective of coaching is better results and it is not meant to be an evaluation tool. Furthermore, building a coaching culture is not only about being coached, but it requires that all employees become a coach for their peers.
The general arguments against coaching at the peer level are the same as those from formal leaders:
- I don’t have time.
- I don’t have the opportunity.
- I don’t know how.
It is important to show people that they will not need to add to the list of what they are doing at work. Rather, they need to transform their current routines to incorporate coaching.
5. Promote coaching as a mindset.
Another obstacle is that once everybody accepts the idea of creating a coaching culture and wants to move forward with it, they expect a very detailed plan of what they ought to do.
Unfortunately, this is not possible. Building a coaching culture is about promoting a coaching mindset. It’s also about developing leaders who can handle situations in the moment rather than holding intervention-like meetings to do some coaching so that a box can be checked.
Seeing the ROI on a Coaching Culture
One study shows the ROI on creating a true coaching culture is above average revenue and higher employee engagement.
In addition, the Global Leadership Forecast 2021 provides another example of why investing in creating a coaching culture is a wise decision. In the study, leaders were asked how they want to learn. The top six modalities that leaders want most are all reliant on some type of coaching: external coaching, internal coaching, and coaching from a manager.
In summary, we all know how musicians and athletes benefit from coaching, and so will your leaders. While they may not know it, leaders want and need to be part of a coaching culture. This will only happen when they are engaged in group-based development provided within a supportive environment.
Learn how DDI can help you develop a coaching culture.
Bruce Court partners with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy. He’s experienced in every facet of leadership strategy design, development, and execution. Outside of work, Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen. He loves eating at great restaurants as well as sampling good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.