In today’s challenging business world you constantly need to improve business results. The ‘war for talent’ is on, and you want to attract the most promising talent, and retain your top performers. Like so many organizations these days, your company might have decided to build a coaching culture, too. Generally speaking, this sounds like a good idea.
Daniel H. Pink once wrote that in order to be successful, today’s bosses need to stop telling people what to do and instead turn into ‘autonomy supporters’ for their employees  . Or, as Ronald Heifetz put it: “The leader’s job is not to provide the answer but instead to frame the right questions for which answers are developed and discovered by the collective intelligence of the people.” 
And since coaching is a great way of supporting autonomy and asking powerful questions, building a coaching culture is indeed a very promising approach to attract top people, get the best out of them, and keep them. Thus, the idea of building a coaching culture in your organization makes perfect sense.
What begins with a great vision though, often ends with a great disaster. Perhaps the idea of building a coaching culture was a board decision. Board members are very busy people, so what they do is to delegate the “task” of building a coaching culture to someone else down the hierarchy. Often to someone who either might lack the full picture or is not given the necessary resources. And that’s a terrible mistake.
Instead of blossoming, the idea fades and finds it end in a weekend workshop in which managers learn a bit about the GROW Coaching Model, they learn a few coaching techniques like ‘active listening’ and ‘asking some powerful questions’ — and that’s it.
The workshop attendants, often senior leaders as well as front line managers, are left on their own after the workshop. They are smart people who should know now what to do, shouldn’t they? But it’s not that simple. It won’t work that way and consequently, the enormous people potential in your organization remains un-leveraged. In worst case, a notion remains that ‘yeah, we have a coaching culture but it does not really work.’ And there goes your coaching culture.
What should you do instead of the weekend seminar, if you want your coaching culture to really work and utilize “the collective intelligence” of your people?
First, you need to handle building a coaching culture in your organization exactly like you would handle a multi-million dollar investment project. Because changing the culture in your organization is a huge, complex project, nothing less. A coaching culture will only be successful when implemented in a systematic, strategic, company-specific way. You must be absolutely clear about the why, what and how.
As with any project, you have to begin with the end in mind:
- Why do we want this?
- What specifically do we want to achieve?
- How are we going to do it in detail and who will be responsible for what?
Once you walk through this process, you will soon come to the question ‘who coaches who?’ most oranizations look into three possible pools for coaches:
‘Leader as a Coach’, Internal Coaches, and External Coaches
1. ‘Leader as a Coach’
Having leaders use coaching techniques can have a tremendously positive impact on individual development, motivation, and accountability. Definitely I am a strong supporter of using coaching skills as a leader, because I have often seen great results.
However, there is a big misunderstanding in this concept, and that is that a boss can never really be a coach for their direct reports. Why? Because it violates the fundamental coaching principle that coach and coachee have to meet at eye level. That’s not possible if the coach is the boss. Even when an employee has a good relationship with their boss, there is always some sort of dependency which limits the coaching outcome.
Just ask yourself: would you tell your boss everything that you would tell a trusted advisor? Probably not, but this sort of trust is exactly the key element for coaching to be effective.
It’s terrifying when an organization send their managers to the weekend seminar ‘leader as a coach’ and they think with this they have built coaching culture. In reality, they have just ticked off a box, and eventually wasted a lot of time and money.
Again: having leaders use coaching techniques can be very useful. But just sending them to the weekend seminar is not enough. You need a comprehensive system.
Questions to ponder:
- How frequently shall managers have coaching-style conversations with their employees?
- How will we monitor progress?
- What will we do when an otherwise good manger turns out not be a born coaching talent
- How will we enable our managers to deepen their coaching skills?
2. Internal Coaches
Internal coaches are great to provide real coaching experiences to employees who are not in their reporting line. Internal coaches or mentors can be very useful when the coaching requires some insider knowledge, e.g. organization-specific knowledge.
Where will your internal coaches come from? Is your organization big enough to justify the employment of full-time internal coaches? Or do you plan to have current employees coach others besides their normal job? The latter is often used as the low cost solution, but in reality everyone is so busy that hardly anyone can make sufficient time available to coach others in addition to what they have already on their plate. The worst case scenario, which unfortunately is not uncommon, is that “the HR guy will do it somehow on the side”…
Questions to ponder:
- How will we choose and qualify our internal coaches?
- What coaching model shall we use?
- Who gets a coach and how frequently will we provide coaching sessions?
- What is the desired outcome and how will we track progress?
3. External Coaches
Internal Coaching has it’s limits: there maybe conflicts of interest or trust issues when your coach is also a full-time employee in your organization. In addition, when your internal coaches coach only part time, it usually limits the quality of the coaching proficiency they can achieve. If one day you need a brain surgeon, would you choose one who operates part-time?
External coaches are people-development professionals who are experts in their field. Their expertise is in “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance”  and in “facilitating positive change by improving thinking” . They should know this better than anyone else in your organization.
Therefore, external coaching must be part of your strategy of a coaching culture.
Questions to ponder:
- What qualifications do we require from an external coach?
- How do we ensure the coaching is aligned with our business strategy?
- How do we promote coaching as a positive development tool?
- How do we decide who will have the privilege of working with an external execuitve coach, and how can we ensure transparency?
- How will we monitor progress and success? How will we measure the ROI?
This article is supposed to spark some ideas and help you deepen your discussion on how you can build a coaching culture in your organization. It is not meant to be a comprehensive guide. If you would like to explore more , I recommend Frank Bresser’s ”The Global Business guide for the successful use of Coaching in Organisations” . And I will of course be happy to discuss with you personally how you can turn your idea of a coaching culture into a great success to boost performance and win in the war for talent!
phone: +66-2 107 2025
 Daniel H. Pink, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Riverhead Books; 1st edition December 29, 2009
 Ronald Heifetz, King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership, Founding Director of the Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School
 Coaching definition by John Whitmore in: “Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practices of Coaching and Leadership”, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 4th edition 2009
 Coaching definition by David Rock in: “Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work”, HarperBusiness, 2007
 Frank Bresser, ”The Global Business guide for the successful use of Coaching in Organisations.” Books on Demand, 2nd edition 2013