Often times when leaders struggle as coaches it’s due to their environment and not their aptitude or attitude. In fact the most common question I get from my corporate clients:

  • How can we create a coaching culture?

Many organizations have tried to crack the code on this and some have been successful and others have failed miserably – mostly because they tried to copy the other companies who got it right (enter the slippery slope of benchmarking). Herein lies the paradox of creating a coaching culture.

People sometimes think it’s as easy as A (your company) + B (get coaching) = C (have a coaching culture) when in fact there is much more to consider before creating any type of substantial change(s) to your organization or it’s methodology to learning, performance or talent. But by looking at the definitions of each, one can see the complexity.

Corporate Culture Vs. Coaching

Corporate culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, standards, and beliefs that characterize members of an organization and define its nature. Corporate culture is rooted in an organization’s goals, strategies, structure, and approaches to labor, customers, investors, and the greater community.

Coaching however, typically refers to methods of helping others to improve, develop, learn new skills, find personal success, achieve aims and to manage life change and personal challenges. Coaching commonly addresses attitudes, behaviors, and knowledge, as well as skills, and can also focus on physical and spiritual development too. Furthermore, coaching is:

  • According the ICF – partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. 
  • Coaching may refer to different types of personal development delivery, for example: The process, or augmentation of, teaching or training or mentoring within organizations and the provision of a specified personal development (or ‘coaching’) service by a private individual or small company.
  • Coaching may have different degrees of formality and structure, for example: Coaching can be very informal and very loosely structured, or quite formal and heavily structured, and anything between these extremes.
  • A coach could be a manager, supervisor, co-worker or an external trainer or consultant working for a small or large company

Coaching is by definition, obtuse or broad whereas culture can more easily be defined.

To add another layer of complexity lies in how or what you are actually defining as a “coaching culture” within your organization. We all know how critical a healthy culture is. Just Google it (which I did) and you will get over 8,000,000 hits on the topic and articles from Inc., Entrepreneur and Forbes all agreeing on the same thing – it’s important. Now add the coaching piece and what happens?

One article from Forbes said this:

  • A coaching culture simply means supporting your employees so that they learn new skills and become greater assets to the company. (A management culture that emphasizes training, regular feedback, and opportunities for growth creates a more engaged and energized workforce.)

Although I believe this definition works on the surface, it obviously doesn’t speak to the complexity of “how” you build out the coaching culture itself. So, let’s do a deep dive into how you set this up and what you need to know.

How To Create A Coaching Culture

If you believe you are ready to build a coaching culture, then following the right steps is key, and asking the right questions is critical. Here are the best building blocks I could find in my research that encompasses everything you should consider:

Perform a coaching culture assessment: (questions to consider to understand your org health and audience)

  • How well is coaching understood and integrated into performance and talent management?
  • What competencies does the organization need to develop within five years?
  • How well is coaching embedded in the policies and procedures in your organization?
  • What behavior changes and performance improvements are most needed now?
  • How effective are your internal and externally sourced coaches?
  • How does coaching support the achievement of your organization’s objectives and outcomes?

Address resistance to change:

  • Getting curious about the positive intentions underneath the resistance to change is where coaching comes in. Naming the fears and normalizing the emotional impact helps people feel understood. They get a sense that they are valued and once they experience the power of coaching, they become the ambassadors for a system-wide coaching culture. Add coaching skills to any change initiative and the resistance actually fuels the process.

Consider external coaches at first:

  • Research shows that 35% of new executives fail within the first 18 months.3 Many of these failed leaders state that they did not know how to get the support they needed. Executive coaches have the tools to support successful transition to a higher role.

Develop internal coaches:

  • By training internal leaders to coach, you create a more scalable, sustainable and robust approach to driving change. Because they understand the organization’s culture, landscape, and interests, internal coaches significantly increase retention, engagement, productivity and performance.

Expand leadership capacity:

  • Leaders who receive coaching are more likely to be promoted, create work-life balance, and develop their successor. People become even more valuable when they become internal coaches, and more valuable still when they are selected to teach coaching skills throughout the organization. In addition to expanding leadership capacity, coaching impacts how people run their meetings, organize their time, and interact in daily conversations.

Align policies and procedures:

Creating a coaching culture is much more than just getting people to do a lot of coaching. To ensure the development of a coaching culture, a policy review is crucial. Which of your HR policies are already conducive to creating a respectful, energized, coaching culture and which need revision. Places to consider:

  • Performance Reviews: How are coaching skills reinforced during performance reviews? What support do managers need to give inspirational feedback, share power and increase active involvement?
  • Key Competencies: What competencies does the organization need to develop within the next 5 years to reach their goals? How are coaching skills embedded in each of the competencies?
  • Diversity and Inclusion: What policies ensure all people have access to coaching and development opportunities?
  • Reward System: How does your reward system support coaching and collaboration rather than internal competition?
  • Job Descriptions: Do your job descriptions state explicitly that coaching, mentoring and developing people are part of everyone’s job description?
  • Selection and Promotion Criteria: How does the selection and promotion criteria reinforce the coaching culture strategy?

Evaluate the program and measure the results:

The investment in coaching is increasing, but few organizations formally evaluate the coaching process or identify the return on investment. Some expected outcomes of creating a coaching culture are:

  • Expanded leadership skills are developed
  • Key challenges are addressed collaboratively
  • Coaching empowers people to take responsibility

To assess how well the organization has created the ideal culture and accomplished the desired goals, tailor your metrics to your organization to include:

  • Changed behaviors: competency development, relationship building
  • Achievement of goals: personal, team and organizational objectives
  • Expanded creativity: product or service development
  • Improved service: customer satisfaction, industry leadership
  • Leadership and Talent Development: can be measured in terms of increase in promotions from within, lower recruitment costs, increased employee retention, filling the pipeline for succession planning
  • Relationship building: can be measured in terms of increase in loyalty, expansion of networks, sharing on social media, increase in recommendations and testimonials.
  • Employee engagement: can be measured in terms of reduction in turnover, absenteeism, safety incidents, quality defects, shrinkage and grievances.


To Consider (& Do) Moving Forward

Here is a great summary of sorts from a Forbes Coaching article on what to remember, do and consider when implementing your Coaching Culture.

  • Lead By Example: If you think your team could benefit from coaching, engage a coach for yourself. Find someone who delivers exactly what you are hoping to provide for your team.
  • Ask Your Employees The Right Questions: A coaching culture encourages employees to learn from their experience by exploring the right questions rather than telling them what to do and how to do it.
  • Start At The Top: Start by teaching senior leaders a few coaching basics — listening, asking questions, encouraging others to reflect and develop insights before taking action. 
  • Bring In Training: If you are going to successfully integrate coaching into your workplace culture, you must engage expert coaches to train individuals at all levels of the organization in coaching practice. 
  • Just Do It: Coaching is a way of being, and as such, you can’t simply integrate it. You just have to understand what it is and do it. *I personally love this as it’s 100% true.
  • Make Managers Accountable For Developing Employees: Create a coaching culture by tying this activity to the company’s mission, and hold every manager accountable for coaching employees to help them master their jobs and learn new skills
  • Ask More Questions Than You Answer: When someone asks you what to do, ask them what they think will work. Ask how they came to that conclusion. 
  • Be Clear And Strategic: If you don’t already have a clear definition of what coaching is, you need to have one so everyone in the organization is in sync with what it means, especially compared to mentoring, training, consulting, etc. Then, ensure coaching is not an “ad hoc” activity, but is truly integrated into your overall talent management strategy.
  • Live What You Claim: Ever joined a company that claimed they had an open-door policy but that door was always closed? To cultivate a coaching culture, you need to create a workplace that walks the walk.
  • Have Lunch Bite Drop-In Sessions: Teach people how to be with one another and listen through short introductory coaching lunch drop-in sessions. 
  • Gain Buy-In And Practice: Coaching is real-time development by all team members to all team members. It’s about practice, not perfection. Start asking questions to help individuals gain more insight on what happened and how they can handle it next time versus just telling them what to do.

Final thought: The key to success of any coaching cultural initiative is the selection of the appropriate behavioral change models and best-practices you choose to support your organization’s specific needs. The new culture should be a continuation of sorts and a representation of the organizational attitudes, and beliefs of the company itself. It won’t be easy and in fact could be slow. Building out, in or adding to – this type of culture will require a clear commitment, a clearer vision and a committed group of leaders. It’s completely doable, just remember to do “your companies culture” and not your neighbors.

The floor is yours: What do you think is possible in creating a coaching culture?

Please leave your comment below as your insights are greatly appreciated and a learning opportunity for everyone reading this article.

With leadership,

Joshua /

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