In this post we discuss the pillars of a coaching culture, we explore how to launch a coaching programme and give you our ten point plan.
It would be hard to find an organisation in the world today which does not have some sort of coaching programme in place, whether it involves providing external coaches to staff or training the staff in coaching skills themselves.
I was fortunate enough to have experience a complete and intrinsic coaching culture when I joined the Virgin group to spend a decade working closely with Sir Richard Branson as a Managing Director of several Virgin companies (see my article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/sir-richard-bransons-coaching-culture-virgin-carol-wilson/). Moving on through several directorships in the corporate entertainment sector, including stints at Warner Bros and Polydor, increased my understanding of a coaching culture through experience of the opposite; and the last 20 years of studying leadership, coaching, working closely with performance coaching creator Sir John Whitmore, and designing coaching culture programmes for large organisations, have led me to identify the following three principles as the pillars of a coaching culture:
The more you micro-manage people, the less they will think for themselves. after providing a clear strategic plan, training in the necessary skills, and access to the right information, give your staff as much freedom as possible to make their own decisions and have control over their are of work.
“Find good people, set them free!” – Sir Richard Branson.
It takes all types to make a team – extraverts, introverts, people who look at the big picture, the detail-and-paperwork devotees, lawyers, healers, jokers, monarchs, prophets and sages, to name a few. In terms of human relationships, there are two more types – people who rejoice in the differences and the diverse skills that they bring, versus those who regard different opinions and approaches as a threat.
I find that people will rise to the challenge of whatever responsibility they are given, as long as they feel they are working in a safe and supportive environment.
It takes confidence to suggest new ideas at work and bravery to carry them through. To build self-assurance, people need both input from outside and opportunities to build faith in their own abilities through trial and error. The child learning to walk will fall, many times, but it never needs to be told how to go about the task, only encouraged and supported as its efforts improved. Most parents instinctively know this and put it into practice – but may find themselves behaving entirely differently when overseeing someone learning a new role at work.
“You have to trust the people around you to learn from their mistakes. Blame and recriminations are pointless.” – Sir Richard Branson
3. Blame free
Maintaining an environment where mistakes are treated as a learning process rather than a case for punishment is essential if an organisation is ever to become a coaching culture.
The art of feedback is the key here, and I have explored coaching feedback in depth in my article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/facts-feedback-coaching-carol-wilson/.
It is rare to find an organisation where all three of the pillars are present and, even if they are, they may each fail from time to time. However, the more they are respected, the higher the level of trust will be throughout the organisation.
How to launch a coaching programme
The question of where to start with a coaching programme is usually more to do with budget and buy-in than choice. The first dilemma is whether to invest in external coaches or training managers internally, and within those two possibilities, which staff should receive coaching, and whether to train managers in coaching skills or as accredited internal coaches.
Sometimes organisations hope that by providing external coaches to one layer of management, the coaching way will be cascaded down to all the levels below. While there is likely to be some improvement in the overall culture, this cannot be a completely satisfactory solution, because having a coach, being a coach, and teaching coaching skills are three very different areas. The first will not adequately provide the skills required for the second and third.
If some training is to take place, the next question is to what extent the managers should be trained. In my experience, to become fluent, natural, coaching managers, people need to practise coaching until it is ‘in the bones’, and this cannot be achieved through a couple of days on a course. By training people as internal coaches, they absorb the coaching style and skills to the extent that the skills will flow automatically in any situation. A couple of days in the training room will provide an understanding of what a coaching manager is, but not enough technique or practise to become one.
Bearing in mind the Chinese proverb Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime, if budgets are limited, the organisation will probably gain more, in the long run, from training its managers in coaching skills than paying for external coaches, and then the managers will be able to coach each other.
The Ten Point Plan for creating a coaching culture
Below is a plan which might form a basis for any organisation to acquire a coaching culture:
1. Vision and purpose:
A coaching approach to any situation starts by looking ahead to the desired outcome. This makes the pathway clearer, unifies people and aligns purpose. It enables progress to be measured and confirms whether the project is heading in the right direction. This can be achieved in a variety of ways from simply talking to people to find out what they want, to launching a full-scale training needs analysis involving surveys, focus groups and interviews.
Aim to obtain a clear picture of what type of programme will suit the organisation’s needs the best. Appointing external coaches? Training internal coaches? Training managers in coaching skills? Talk to people and find out what they want.
2. Organisational health check:
Once the goals of the programme have been defined, it is time to explore the current situation. What resources are already in place? What else is required? What needs to be changed? What has been achieved so far? Who needs to be involved? If a large training needs analysis is being undertaken, this stage should be covered at the same time as defining the goals.
3. Stakeholder mapping:
The stakeholders are the people who are affected by, or have an interest in, the coaching programme and the diagram below shows how the stakeholder map might look in a typical organization:
There are people who will influence the programme and those whose approval is required; the ones who will attend the programme, and those who will shape and plan it. The approvers are essential, or the programme will never happen. The shapers are also necessary in terms of putting it together and driving the process. However, when designing the programme, it helps to take in the views of everyone who will be affected by it, not only the key players. The actual job roles in each section may vary from organisation to organisation and some may fit into several categories.
Always try to involve people who will champion your plans and who have influence with decision-makers. All of the stakeholders are important; some are essential to whether the programme runs at all:
- The Influencers might be board members, HR & OD heads and department heads.
- The Approvers might be CEOs, finance heads and department heads
- The Users might be managers, team leaders and account managers
- The Shapers might be L&D and HR heads, and department heads
The categories will vary from organisation to organisation.
4. Getting buy-in:
If the visioning and health check has been meticulously undertaken with all the stakeholders, then buy-in will be in place by now. Each of the parties will have a sense of ownership of the programme and how it will meet their needs. Visioning also tends to raise enthusiasm and energy, so the programme will already be building momentum.
5. Where to start:
Notice how far down the list this comes. The foundations must be laid even before planning, never mind executing the programme. It is like decorating a house: if the filling and sanding is not done properly, the final effect will suffer.
Now is the time to research potential providers and narrow them down to the ones who can help the organization fulfil the objectives identified by the training needs analysis. Start with simple conversations. A great deal can be learned by talking to experts – even if they are trying to sell you their products – and this is an effective, free-of-charge way to find out what you need to know. These talks might trigger further research, and through all of this you will start to formulate a picture of the best type of programme to choose.
After that it is simply a question of narrowing down possible providers. In my experience, 80% of the value of anything that involves people depends on the quality of the people involved. After identifying a pool of suitably experienced suppliers, find out who you want to work with by speaking with them. Only these suppliers should take part in a detailed tender process, to save your time and theirs.
6. What to measure:
Effective measurement starts here, before the programme has even been designed. Once we have ascertained what the intentions for the programme are, we can put in place yardsticks for measurement. It is crucial to differentiate the benefits derived from the programme as opposed to other programmes or situations which might be happening in the organisation at the same time, by including these questions:
- What benefits are solely due to the coaching programme, and to what extent (as an estimated percentage)?
- What tangible benefits have accrued to the organisation because of the coaching programme? If qualitative or ‘soft’ benefits are offered, try to pin them down to quantitative or ‘hard’ ones. Take this conversation for example:
ROI reviewer: How has the coaching programme benefitted the organisation?
Participant: ‘Our customers are happier’
ROI reviewer: ‘What difference does that make to the organisation?’
Participant: ’We are selling more products’
ROI reviewer: ‘By what percentage do you estimate that raises profits?’
By asking these questions across a number of stakeholders, a pattern will emerge. ROI is explored in more detail in my article “ROI in Coaching”.
7. Implement pilots:
It is advisable to start with one or more pilot programmes to ensure everything is on the right track. Ideally some key stakeholders should take part, so that they can make suggestions about how to adjust the coaching or training to be as useful as possible in terms of fulfilling the agreed goals for the project.
8. Evaluation and forward planning:
Once the pilots have taken place, the programme can be re-evaluated to identify any adjustments that need to be made to suit a particular organization. All the relevant stakeholders should be canvassed for their opinions. Not only will valuable information surface but it will reaffirm their sense of ownership of the programme.
9. Roll out the programme:
After adjustments have been made, you can roll out the whole programme in the confidence that it will be enthusiastically accepted, and will achieve the desired goals.
10. Maintain the momentum:
Coaching programmes tend to have a momentum of their own because of the enthusiasm they generate and because the effects are immediately noticeable throughout the workforce. People see that newly trained or coached managers are communicating more effectively, delivering better results and are altogether nicer to be with. If people have been trained as coaches, these reactions can be captured and capitalised on by setting up coaching activities like co-coaching or supervision groups, and providing coaching related CPD (continuing professional development) training and refresher days.
Coaching programmes are like a happy virus: the positive effects spread exponentially, reaching a tipping point where the whole organisation will have changed. People become happier, kinder, and more aware of themselves and others, and the effect that everyone has on one another and the whole. Perhaps the best result of all is that performance improves as people are freed from the effects of fear and excessive stress in their working lives.
Branson, Sir R. (2009) Business Stripped Bare London, Virgin
Whitmore, Sir J. (2017) Coaching for Performance London, Brealey
Wilson, C. (2020) Performance Coaching: A Complete Guide to Best Practice Coaching and Training London, Kogan Page.
Illustrations by Pexels
About the author
International speaker, writer and broadcaster Carol Wilson is Managing Director of Culture at Work and a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership & Management, the Professional Speaking Association and the Association for Coaching, where she is a member of the Global Advisory Panel. A cross-cultural expert, she designs and delivers programmes to create coaching cultures for corporate and public sector organisations worldwide and has won awards for coaching and writing. She is the author of ‘Performance Coaching: A Complete Guide to Best Practice Coaching and Training’, featuring Forewords by Sir Richard Branson and Sir John Whitmore, and ‘The Work and Life of David Grove: Clean Language and Emergent Knowledge’. She has contributed to several other books and published over 60 articles including a monthly column in Training Journal.