To make the shift to a coaching culture an organisation needs to change at multiple levels. If I am working with a business across the entire change process, then it is invaluable to start with a review or audit of where things stand now and how the change will support the business strategy. This would cover the following areas.

  • How is a coaching style essential to the future success of the business?
  • Are they using executive coaching? If so how and with who?
  • Are managers taught coaching skills?
  • Is there a consistent model or framework?
  • Are there internal coaches?
  • Is there professional supervision?
  • Do they use team and inter-team coaching?
  • Are they developing leaders to be coaches to their own teams?

Without a clear business driver, it is always hard to land meaningful change. As with any culture change it is also important to review the impact of the wider policies and processes e.g. reward mechanisms and performance management processes.  Too often businesses invest in some skill development and wonder why it does not translate into the desired shift in leadership style.

With a recent client I was coaching the senior team to develop their capacity to lead the change across the organisation. This included using a variety of interventions to develop their skills to coach each other and others around them. Initially, this was mainly to shift their qualities of empathy and dialogue; changing the style and nature of conversation so that they become more effective, focused on strategic priorities and how to engage others.

At the same time in the team coaching process we confronted their current mindsets; helping them to collectively raise their perspectives and step-through the vertical leadership levels (Torbert & Rooke, 7 Transformations of Leadership, HBR April 2005), shifting the balance from Expert/Achiever to Individualist/Strategist.

As with many senior teams I have worked with, there is a mix of capabilities in coaching skills and mindset and certainly scope to have a big impact on the business by developing these and applying them more consistently. The same is true at the next level of leadership and we had a programme in place to help them develop their skills and adapt their mindsets to energise change across the business.

I also worked on the inter-relationships between the senior team and the senior functional/divisional teams that they each led to create some consistency and momentum for the change. The key role for this senior leadership population is both to role-model the changes in leaderships style, adopting the coaching approach and also to make it clear why this is important to achieving their vision; connecting it to business purpose. Recognising the need for change is key to any culture shift and this applies as much to a growth/coaching mindset as anything else.

If there is this shift in approach at the senior levels, they will begin to drive other changes in the policies and practices in the business, to embed and sustain the change through time. You have to consider implications for reward, performance management, team structures and communications.  As part of this the business will be developing the coaching capacity of all managers. Such change is an iterative process, with a need for a long-term strategic intent and a series of actions/initiatives to help tackle emerging priorities in a way that reinforces the direction.

Developing a coaching culture is about shifting the quality of conversations to make them more generative and effective.  The answers to the questions offered at the start of this article help to identify further areas in which one might work to embed the change.  A consistent framework offers a language that gains traction across the business.  Developing the skills is a necessary part of the process but is not sufficient, it needs the supporting organisational context in place.  Many professional services firms and others rely now on in-house coaches for much of their coaching.  Independent supervision for these coaches is essential as contracting and boundary management is usually more challenging for in-house coaches.

There is no one right way to develop a coaching culture because every business is different and the reasons for the change will vary.  It is a significant step in re-patterning the way people relate and how they see their roles and priorities.  It usually requires a shift in mindsets as well as skills and some business processes.  It is of course, an iterative process, with different layers addressed through time and in a spirit of experimentation and learning.  The very principles that are embedded in the coaching process itself.