Coach Your Organization to Establish a Coaching Culture

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Coaching Your Organization_Teamwork

How you approach instilling a coaching culture tells people what a coaching culture is. Is your organization sending the right messages to wire up an effective, productive coaching culture?

The Medium is the Message

Do as I say, not as I do. We all know those instructions don’t work with kids, or with anyone, for that matter. Congruency between what we say and what we actually do is essential for building the credibility needed to influence others to change their behavior. Unfortunately, when it comes to instilling a culture of coaching in organizations, the change process can look and feel more like the same ol’ story, rather than sending the message that the culture is truly changing.

Traditional leadership is founded on telling people what to do and correcting them when they don’t hit the mark the leader has in mind. When an organization tries to establish a coaching culture by telling people they need to start coaching now (or else), the message is loud and clear: Nothing has changed, and as a result, nothing’s going to change. The situation heads downhill even faster when those leading the charge to make coaching a way of life in the organization get upset, point fingers—or worse, blame the people themselves—when the coaching culture they told people to create doesn’t materialize as planned.

The biggest loss in this whole fiasco is people’s lack of confidence that coaching-based leadership is a viable and beneficial approach to leadership. That setback makes trying to instill a coaching culture again even more difficult—particularly if the same directive approach to leadership is used. That’s why taking a coaching approach to wiring up a coaching culture is essential. Let’s explore what that actually means.

What Makes Coaching Work?

The desire to transform coaching from an individual developmental event into shared way of life stems from the success that real coaching consistently delivers. As a Master Certified Coach with almost 25 years of experience, and the co-author of Coaching that Counts, I have some insight into what really makes real coaching work. And as a pioneer in the creation of coaching cultures, I’ve seen what works well—and what doesn’t. Below, I’ll discuss what I know is needed for any kind of coaching to deliver consistent, sustainable results and how to scale each factor to successfully create a coaching culture throughout your organization:

Inspire Change

For me, one of the most important parts of a coaching engagement is ensuring that my clients are truly inspired to change. People need to understand how doing something different will benefit them in ways that are meaningful to them before they will fully commit to coaching.

As a coach, I share with my clients what I’ve learned about how their current actions appear to limit them from attaining the things that are most important to them. Then, I illuminate for them how making a few targeted changes could open up new possibilities they will find valuable. When clients truly believe they will personally benefit from the potential outcomes of their coaching engagements, they become fully engaged in the coaching process.

Scaling into a Coaching Culture

To scale this, consider, how your organization will benefit from instilling coaching-based leadership as the preferred leadership style. What are the most challenging business issues your organization is facing? How are traditional approaches to leadership exacerbating those challenges? How will taking a coaching approach to day-to-day interactions create movement in what is stuck?

When initiating a coaching culture, work with key stakeholders to co-create a shared story that paints a clear picture of how individuals, and the organization, will benefit from instilling coaching as way of life. Then share that story widely and often so that people can envision where they are headed and why it’s worth putting in the effort to get there.

Create a Learning Path

A key element of successful coaching is setting stretch goals that are attainable for the client, then—piece by piece—establishing the shifts of perspective and building the skills needed to attain and sustain those outcomes. For instance, when I coached someone who wanted to become more effective at influencing at the executive level, I ensured our coaching first focused on re-envisioning what it meant to influence others, then worked on building the skills needed to put those new ideas into action. The client first practiced skills like listening to others, expressing ideas clearly and learning how to read the room before moving on to the more complex skills required to influence multiple stakeholders. Sustainable behavior change is built on an infrastructure of solid core skills. Just like in any sport or form of art, foundational skills must be mastered before more complex outcomes can be achieved.

Scaling into a Coaching Culture

Similarly, when you introduce the concept of a coaching culture, people need to learn the foundational elements of what coaching is and how it works in day-to-day conversations before tackling more complex coaching skills, like setting coaching goals and navigating the complexity of long-term coaching engagements. That’s why I believe that establishing “in the moment” coaching and feedback skills is the best way to lay the foundation for a coaching culture. Transitioning from traditional “telling” approaches of leadership to igniting insight through coaching conversations is one of the most complex kinds of behavior changes you can make. To be successful, people have to learn how to catch themselves in “telling” mode and then feel confident enough in their coaching skills to use them. That’s a big change.

When people feel overwhelmed by change, or feel that they can’t be successful for any reason, they stop trying. That’s one of the big risks of trying to teach large numbers of managers to be “full-fledged” coaches who are responsible for managing full coaching engagements right away. That’s a very steep learning curve to climb all at once. Instead, begin with “in the moment” coaching skills that people are likely to have immediate success with, then build those out further, if you feel that’s necessary, for the coaching culture you envision for your organization.

Work with the Willing

Before I accept a coaching client, I always speak with the person first to ensure they are willing to do the work required to gain value from participating in a coaching engagement. Forcing people into coaching engagements doesn’t work because ultimately, people need to commit to change themselves.

Scaling into a Coaching Culture

The same is true when creating a coaching culture. Often people wonder, “Where should we begin building our coaching culture?” I always say, “Work with the willing.” That is, look for the groups of people who are most likely to benefit from learning coaching skills, and begin there. That could be a division or area of the company that is going through a challenge where coaching skills will help them to be more successful, such as transitioning from traditional “expert-based” sales to a more consultative approach, or going through a merger where the two cultures are quite different. You can also begin with a level of leaders who have been asking for this kind of development or you can connect instilling coaching with an enterprise-wide change initiative, like moving to rating-free performance management.

If your most senior leaders are willing to be the first to go through the learning experience, that’s fantastic, but it’s not essential. The goal when initiating a coaching culture is to get people excited about the experience and share with others how embracing coaching made a positive difference for them. That kind of enthusiastic response helps others feel more confident about taking the risk to learn coaching-based leadership. Choose to work with people who will be true champions of coaching-based leadership and initiate a positive wave of change that will flow throughout your organization.

Reinforce the Learning

One of the reasons that coaching engagements take place over several months is the need for people to practice new skills before they become confident enough to use them on a regular basis. In coaching engagements, the coach provides feedback and sometimes guidance, as clients report back what went well, and what didn’t, when trying out new approaches. In some ways, coaching engagements provide practice fields where people can make mistakes and learn from their experience before moving on to the next level as they progress through their learning path.

Scaling into a Coaching Culture

The same kind of practice is needed when transitioning to coaching-based leadership. It’s a big shift to go from feeling like, as the leader, you have to be the expert with all of the answers, to taking a coaching-approach where you are more focused on igniting the insights needed to support the learning and development of others. Practice and reinforcement opportunities help solidify that shift and increase confidence in the new approaches to leadership. These “practice fields” could be meeting with others to practice coaching skills, using team meetings and huddles to talk through how to take a coaching approach to real-life coaching scenarios, working with a peer coach, and so much more. It’s essential to think through how you’re going to support the learning—and make it safe for people to successfully go through the learning process—as part of planning the initiative.

Learn from Experience

The hallmark of coaching is iterative learning through experience and reflection. The insight loop that reinforces learning in coaching engagements consists of coaches encouraging clients to try new approaches, then having them reflect upon what went well and what they can do differently next time to build their skills and have more successful outcomes. The insights gained through the reflection process grounds the learning that has taken place so far and allows for course corrections, as needed.

Scaling into a Coaching Culture

It’s important to have the same kind of iterative learning loop built into a coaching culture initiative. Make it part of your plan to step back from time to time and notice if people can apply the skills they’ve learned in their day-to-day interactions. If you are not getting the results you are looking for, get curious and take a coaching approach to discovering what’s missing and what can be done differently, rather than shifting into old school blaming and shaming mode.

Transitioning to coaching-based leadership is a highly complex change initiative that requires the same kind of guidance and oversight that successful coaching engagements require, only it needs to happen on an enterprise-wide basis. Just because the change initiative is large in scale is no reason to abandon the coaching principles that inspired everyone to want to create a coaching culture in the first place. The team that guides the change effort needs to take a coaching approach to everything they do, including how they bring coaching-based leadership to the organization.

Ready to Learn More?

We created a webinar on this very topic. Just visit this link to watch “How to Take a Coaching Approach to Cultivating a Coaching Culture.”