Implementing a real coaching culture

In many organisations coaching is more than just a standalone activity to support the development of individuals. For good reason, it is often adopted as a means of encouraging development of an empowering or open culture. With the idea of questioning and listening at coaching’s core and with a belief that everyone has the potential within themselves to achieve, it is an obvious line for organisations to take to develop in this way.

However, despite good intentions I have seen that this approach often falls at the first hurdle or fails to develop beyond a pocket of good coaching practice, even where there is a strategic desire for coaching to take hold. My experience of working with a wide range of organisations and the research that I have carried out, has led me to conclude that this is often down to the fact that not all the necessary activities have been carried out to ensure that coaching is holistically embedded in the organisation.

For coaching to be a truly successful activity, four key cornerstones of action have to be implemented, as shown in the model below, the Coaching Culture Kite (CCK).

CCK Diagram

These cornerstones of a successful coaching culture are often implemented in isolation, sometimes two or three of them are used, but without all four it can be very difficult to create the truly ‘safe space’ which is an essential ingredient of a coaching culture. If any of these aspects are missing the coaching jigsaw will never be complete:

  • Without a clear strategic reason for introducing a coaching culture, there will be a disconnect between current and future strategic planning and a lack of impetus to introduce coaching conversations into the everyday dialog of an organisation. A board level sponsor to back up the strategic thinking about coaching provides someone to support the necessary time and financial commitments that introducing and maintaining coaching requires, as well as having someone to ensure that coaching remains wedded to the strategic vision of the board.
  • A willingness to invest time and / or money is essential because a coaching culture does not happen without people giving up time from the day job to carry out formal coaching or changing day to day behaviours to listen properly and ask the searching questions necessary for a coaching culture (as well as going through the initial pain of watching people learn for themselves). In order for behaviours to change people need training on how to do this, another cost of either time (if carried out with internal resources) or money (if outside resources are needed).
  • For coaching to become embedded through an organisation, people have to see that it is working. This is best done through the sharing of good practice and successes at the coal face of the organisation. This approach helps to ensure that coaching is seen as something for everyone and not just another top down or HR led intervention.
  • Even the most informal coaching cultures need a framework to define the boundaries and purpose of coaching in the organisation and the ethics surrounding this. Responsibility for these factors and the day to day management of coaching resources (people and collateral) needs to rest with someone (often but not always HR or Learning and Development) to ensure that good practice is carried forward day in, day out and year in, year out.

Only with a balance of these four cornerstones can the ‘safe space’ for a truly successful coaching culture come about.

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