How to build a coaching culture

Two men sat on a bench looking at a tablet

Do you have a coaching culture in your organisation? No? Well, then you’re not alone.

A coaching culture - what’s that?

A coaching culture is an organisational culture that values coaching to improve performance and carries out coaching activities regularly, sometimes without even realising it. Coaching is in the DNA. The value of coaching is seen at all levels of the organisation - from the most junior employees, who may need to go out of their comfort zone, to senior executives who will need to recognise that in the short term, at least, the coaching approach takes more time.

A coaching culture may mean bringing more qualified coaches into the organisation (or training up internal people) but is more likely to involve giving coaching skills to all managers. This is as much about coaching people on the job than formal coaching sessions.

Sounds good, but a bit of an effort - what are the benefits?

The benefits of a coaching culture are wide and varied.

  • Employee development. Coaching can more quickly elevate the performance of team members than by training or experience alone. A meta-analysis of coaching studies published in The Journal of Positive Psychology shows that organisations that use coaching increase employees’ performance by 32%.

  • Individuals feel supported in clarifying their objectives, reflecting on their learning and embedding any behavioural changes. This gives them a sense of empowerment to take control of their future and leads to more confidence and engagement.

  • Coaching helps leaders align individual actions and leadership decisions across the whole organisation, creating a stronger leadership team, better governance and business performance.

  • Coaching builds stronger relationships, leading to more collaboration and better communication, which in turn also improves organisational performance.

Two women sat in an office talking
You’ve sold me - how do I go about starting a coaching culture in my organisation?

Firstly, you need to recognise that, as with any culture change programme, you need to be patient and will not see the results immediately.

Here are a few thoughts to start you off:

  • Look at your annual performance management processes. Do you have backwards-looking assessment conversations? Performance measurement is important, but forward-looking career coaching discussions need to be at the front and centre. It goes without saying that they should not be happening just once a year! At least quarterly.

  • Give managers the time, space and opportunity to coach employees on the job. This means building it into utilisation or other time and financial related targets that you may have. There will be time savings in the long run as team members are far more likely to be able to remember what they have learnt and not need telling again.

  • Teach everyone in the organisation basic coaching skills. These involve active listening, using exploratory questions and setting aside judgement. By using these in every interaction, most conversations become coaching conversations by default. Rather than jumping to an immediate solution, people can talk through challenges, explore different ideas and find answers for themselves.

  • Role model from the top. Although a coaching culture is not just about formal executive coaching, exposing senior managers to external coaching will help turn them into advocates for changing the culture. Some of your leadership team may have the mindset that coaching is to “fix” people. You need to get them to a place where they genuinely believe that everyone can benefit from a coac