Building a Coaching Culture

By Preeti D'mello
Jan 18, 2023 3:30 PM ET
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Originally published in Training Industry

If we accept that every business, at its core, is a people’s business, then people are the engine that drives the proverbial train. Its speed determines when the train will reach its destination.

In recent years, the impetus for organizational change has accelerated thanks to technology. Change would be easy if people functioned mechanistically and were able to use every bit of fuel — such as training, incentives and support — that the organization pours into the engine. But we know that is not the case. The train cannot go faster than the engine.

Human beings are not as predictable as well-oiled engines. As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio once said, “We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.” This means we don’t always operate predictably. Our emotions, aspirations, desires, fears, insecurities, and beliefs influence the decisions we make and actions we take.

In every employee satisfaction survey, “growth” emerges as one of the main demands of employees from their workplace. Growth means change: doing new things and/or doing things differently. Paradoxically, while people want growth, they don’t always like change. We are wired for continuity and stability, while change represents the unknown, the unpredictable and the possibility of failure.

Understanding this paradox of continuity and change is key to the success of any coaching program that seeks to enhance the performance of the engines of the organization: people.

For this reason, I prefer to see coaching not just from a leadership development perspective, but also from a change management perspective.

As both a Gestalt coach and a business leader, I am deeply aware of this polarity. As a Gestalt coach, I am an “agent of awareness,” where my primary role is to create awareness and let the client tap into their own resources to do the “work” of change. Wearing the organizational leadership hat, my role is to drive transformation, not just bear witness to it.

When looking to establish a formal coaching program, it’s critical to understand what coaching is and what it does and doesn’t do. This helps set realistic expectations with the sponsors and underwriters of the program (i.e., the chief executive officer and other members of the C-suite, human resources, etc.) as well as its users (i.e., employees).

Understanding this paradox of continuity and change is key to the success of any coaching program.

To set up a coaching program for success, it’s important for stakeholders to understand coaching is not something to “fix people.” Rather, coaching is a space where people can be vulnerable and explore what they need to change in themselves so they can grow as individuals who, in turn, will positively impact the business. These three steps can help to build that understanding and establish a coaching culture:

1. Allow key sponsors to experience the power of coaching.

Establish coaching as a primary developmental tool for the senior leadership of the organization. When this layer experiences effective coaching, they understand its power and become its ambassadors.

2. Integrate coaching as a core element of your talent and leadership development strategy.

Embed coaching in leadership programs for targeted populations — high-potential staff, senior leaders and more.

3. Equip key leaders, including L&D leaders, with coaching conversation skills.

Coaching culture is built when business leaders and learning and development (L&D) professionals exhibit coaching skills and a coaching mindset on their own. Coaching isn’t exclusively for development — it’s also for everyday challenges. Make sure individuals know how to coach their people.

Next Steps

From there, it’s useful to identify who the coaching is for and to align the program objectives with the organization’s goals and values. You can also set up chemistry meetings between the staff and their potential coaches to ensure compatibility.

Set budgets for the program, which will inform how many people will be coached, for how long, and whether virtually or in person. It’s important to set standard measures for reporting and evaluation beforehand so that you can track your coaching program’s impact over time.

Decide how you will measure the program’s success: Will you measure changes in the behavior of staff who have attended the coaching course? Will surveys, evaluations or other data points be required?

To enhance the credibility of your coaching program, consider branding it. This gives it an identity and raises its perceived business value. Have a launch for the program, preferably through a formal announcement made by top leadership.

I am a strong advocate of following up senior leadership coaching with “leader as coach” programs, where senior leadership can apply coaching techniques and develop a coaching style of leadership, so that the benefits of coaching percolate down the line.

Organizational performance is determined by the effectiveness of every single employee. The stronger the coaching skills of your leaders, the better it will be for the entire organization.

It’s important to clarify the link between individual empowerment and organizational support, and how personal aspirations can help achieve organizational objectives.

There’s also an increasing role for group coaching programs as a way to scale the benefits of coaching across large organizations.

Building a resilient coaching culture within your organization is a powerful tool for both staff development and change management. In these dynamic times, change is a constant, disruptive part of most organizations. With this in mind, we need to help our people adapt to these changes — and we need to do it on a group scale. When individual employees are empowered to grow and adapt, the organization becomes stronger as a united whole.