Starting to Build Coaching Culture: Key Principles

Updated: Oct 3, 2019


The term “coaching culture” is being heard more and more within organisations, especially those that want to move from using coaching as a development resource for 1-1 and 1-team interventions to leverage coaching as a strategic resource at an organisational or systemic level. While this might be an appealing idea, some organisations don’t always know exactly what is meant by coaching culture or what benefits such an idea might bring. For now we are focussing on three important principles that are important to understand before taking any steps forward.

Principle 1: High performance is the goal.

Be clear that high performance is the goal! Coaching culture is more than having great conversations, it’s about having impact, successfully managing change, delivering results and fully tapping into people’s potential in support of these outcomes. Given this, how is coaching currently perceived in your organisation? Is it viewed as a “soft skill”? Organisations that successfully leverage coaching as a strategic resource most certainly know that it is not soft, quite the opposite in fact.

Coaching as a skill is underpinned by a set of competencies, created through scientific research and in-depth job analysis. The eleven core competencies of coaching against which International Coach Federation (ICF) coaches are assessed is rigorous, as is their training. This same level of rigour applies when managers and leaders learn to use good coaching skills as part of their role. Furthermore, coaching conversations and coaching-related activities are very outcome and forward movement focussed with clarity on measures of success, methods of accountability and integration of action and learning. Doing this well, consistently and comprehensively, is not a “soft” option.

High performance also relates to the performance of processes. Processes can be designed to incorporate coaching principles. This is often overlooked and becomes a missed opportunity when it comes to making the best use of coaching principles in an organisation. We’ll dive more into that later when we look at approaches and strategies.

Principle 2: Coaching is not the golden panacea.

A strong coaching culture is one where leaders know when, if and how to use coaching alongside other leadership and communication styles, tools and approaches. In addition, coaching needs to be an integrated resource and part of an overarching strategy, and not viewed as a stand-alone solution to all problems or goals.

During my years designing and delivering leadership development programmes, I could cite far too many examples of organisations sending someone on a training course and then expecting them to simply perform better when they return to work — just like that. There is often no context setting for why they are on the course, no pre-work with the line manager around their goals and objectives, no support when they return, no immediate opportunity to apply and practice their new skills and no ongoing review, integration or development of their new skills.

We know from learning and development theory that a single training intervention means that an individual may retain and apply approximately 30% of what they learned through a programme. However, this can be increased significantly by pre- and post-course support and development. The same principle applies to coaching. By coaching someone, there is going to be some value, like there is value in attending the training programme. However, as an isolated, unsupported and unintegrated activity, there is so much missed opportunity to realise the full potential and impact of that development activity.

The key here is to use coaching as a resource as an integrated part of a broader strategy and not a standalone answer. When these first two principles are combined, we see that a coaching culture combines and carefully balances support and challenge in order to bring out the very best potential and performance at all levels.

Principle 3: One size does not fit all.

Culture, including coaching culture, is unique and individual to each organisation. It is important to take any recommended principles, steps and approaches and adapt them to suit your organisation, thereby proactively creating your own coaching culture strategy. Each organisation’s strategy will be influenced by the following:

  • Size of organisation

  • Geography of organisation

  • Employee demographics

  • Current culture

  • Senior sponsorship

  • Strategic business goals and objectives

  • Economic climate

  • Available resources (people, time, budget, expertise, etc.)

  • Timeline

  • Significant events or initiatives

It is important that your coaching culture strategy enhances the organisation’s current efforts towards success and is not experienced as yet another “project.” By having a clear strategy that considers these three principles and is integrated into the organisation’s current strategic plan, you are well on the way to success. Next, we will look at how you can build upon these principles and take the next steps to building a great coaching culture strategic plan.

As we continue this series, I will explore approaches and strategies, measuring progress and success, long-term sustainability and models of excellence to help you create a coaching culture strategy that is just right for your organisation! I will be sharing ideas on how your organisation can do more with coaching. Regardless of your current state of progress and use of coaching, this series will offer resources and food for thought. Sign up to receive this full series directly to your inbox. I want to help you bring coaching into your organisation in a way that truly makes a positive difference and is done by developing a strategy that is just right for you, your people and your business.

Tracy Sinclair has more than 20 years' experience in leadership development, and she currently works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability as a core leadership competence. Tracy also specialises in working with a wide range of organisations to support the development of coaching cultures.

A Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Tracy is dedicated to the development of the coaching profession and the coaching community. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, and she has served on the International Coach Federation Global Board of Directors since 2016, in a variety of positions including Treasurer, Global Chair and currently as Immediate Past Chair.

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