How to build a coaching culture in your company when nobody else seems to care

Photo credit © Joshua Earle

Is coaching at work used everywhere in the world?

Coaching in the work environment has developed unequally across continents.  While coaching is widespread in the US, UK and Australia, it is still on the periphery of management practices in most other countries.

Even where coaching is widely used (80% of companies in the UK, 90% in the US) it often occurs in small pockets of the organization, and it is used in different ways.  For example a company might hire executive coaches to support a number of senior managers, or they might designate an internal coach that provides coaching on demand to employees, other companies train their managers to have some coaching skills.  Rare are the companies that can claim a fully-fledged coaching culture where coaching is a normalized learning and development approach practiced by all employees.  In fact, only 13% of surveyed companies report that they have achieved an organization-wide coaching culture, according to a recent study by the International Coach Federation.

So, how does coaching make its way into an organization?

Most of time, it’s an initiative driven by one or more HR professionals who are aware of the positive organizational impact of coaching,  or have been trained as coaches themselves and have actually experienced its benefits in first person.  Usually they are very enthusiastic and would like to see a coaching culture develop in their company, because they know it yields fantastic results in improved performance, more positive organizational climate and employee engagement.  But of course a culture change is quite a tough challenge to tackle!  Especially when it comes to coaching, which most people have heard of, but few really know what it implies until they actually try it.

Let’s assume that you’re a coaching enthusiast who wants to introduce coaching into your company where very few people know what coaching is really about (maybe you’re even the only one!).  

[ Readers who are new to coaching at work can get an idea of what it in implies in these blog posts:
What’s different about a coaching conversation
Why companies are training their managers to have coaching skills ]

You’ve probably started talking about how great coaching is and your colleagues might think that it’s just a dynamic way of teaching or giving advice.  Often they think that they’re already coaching, so they don’t really need what you’re raving about!

If you’re starting from scratch, it may seem a daunting task, so here are four tips that will help you in the noble venture of introducing coaching to your organization!

1.  Choose your entry strategy

These are the three main ways in which coaching takes place in an organization, so you’ll have to choose which strategy to adopt first. If you want a coaching culture you’ll eventually have to develop all of these, but you have to begin somewhere so choose whatever seems to be the most easily achievable strategy to start with in your context.

  • Hire external coaches for senior or mid-managers to support them in their leadership roles
  • Create an internal coaching desk staffed by you or a colleague who is a trained coach, that offers coaching to all employees for work-related issues
  • Train managers, supervisors and team-leaders to gain coaching skills so that they can enhance their communication and people management capabilities.

Achieving a coaching culture is a long process and it implies that an organization has adopted these three ways for coaching to take place. In particular, coaching has been adopted as a style of leadership and communication at all levels of the organization.

In practice it means that most managers have received coaching from an external coach, and that in turn they have learned coaching skills that enable them to engage with colleagues in a constructive and empowering way.

2.  Do your homework and get senior management buy-in

Whichever strategy is the best for you to start with, it is absolutely essential that you have sound documentation and references, with statistics at hand and if possible with cases specific to the industry you work in that support the cause of introducing coaching to your organization.

You will have to convince the decision-makers that it is a worthwhile investment of time and money and that it will be profitable for your organization in the short and long run. So prepare your coaching project with solid arguments and examples of positive business results.

Here are three tips to write up your coaching initiative proposal so that it is more likely to get management approval.

  • Focus on problems and solutions, rather than simply exhorting the virtues of coaching as a management style that will transform your company. With the help of you colleagues on the business side, identify real, specific problems that your organisation is facing (for example in areas such as employee engagement, productivity, innovation, client relations) and explain how training managers to have coaching skills, or hiring external professionals to coach individual managers (or both) will contribute to solving these problems. If possible, give one or two industry examples of successful coaching initiatives in companies similar to yours.
  • Customize your paper so that it responds directly and uniquely to the issues you want to resolve in your company by introducing a coaching culture. I have seen generic “coaching is great” concept papers, put together hastily or copied from other organizations, or even worse copied from books, that lack credibility because they are too vague and don’t reflect the reality of the company in question.
  • Explain how you will measure the results (more on this in point 4 below), demonstrate that you already have the mechanisms to do so, and state in what format you will present your reporting on coaching outcomes.

Companies that have achieved a coaching culture usually conducted large-scale change programmes, driven by the senior management. Major organizations like the UK Foreign Office, Siemens or IBM integrated coaching in their leadership strategy and deployed it as a culture change process.

If you can’t get the initiative to be fully driven by the senior management, don’t get discouraged. At least get their endorsement to start in one corner of the organization, a department, a work unit or across a functional level such as all the sales team leaders.

Coaching associations, HR and L&D professional bodies provide good resources (industry surveys, research, white papers, cases) that you might find useful to build up your case, for example:

If you’re looking for academic research to support your coaching initiative, the International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring (Oxford Brookes University) is one of the rare peer reviewed journals that gives free access to their articles.

3. Find a champion

Get support from someone in the organization who has experienced  coaching or is, for any other reason, convinced of its value as an organizational tool.  It’s very important to have a third party who believes in your project and acts as advocate for you.

If you can’t find one, create one!  I’m not suggesting that you force people to convert to coaching, but if you know of someone who is really interested in the topic, take them up on it.  Explain what coaching is, give them an opportunity for exposure to coaching such as inviting them to a coaching event (for example your local ICF chapter workshops), or give them an easy to read book about coaching such as John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance, which is an excellent introduction, or offer them a free coaching session.

4. Measure everything and report on the impact of coaching

Like any other learning and development initiative, each of the three organizational coaching strategies mentioned above needs to be measured in terms of impact on individuals and on the company, so make sure you collect feedback on all your coaching initiatives and that you measure the business results.

There is no single way to measure the impact of coaching, that is why studies on return on investment give very different results.  A PriceWaterhouseCoopers conducted for ICF listed ROI figures ranging from 10 to 49 times the investment. It really depends on what is measured and how it is measured.

Ultimately it will be your task to determine relevant metrics and measure the results of coaching based on the key performance indicators and competence framework that are unique to your company.   This is a tedious task, but it must be done unwaveringly and systematically if you want to develop evidence about the effectiveness and credibility of coaching in your organization.

You should be measuring intangible and tangible outcomes, as well as return on investment whenever possible. Here are some ideas of things that you should  be measuring:

  • intangible factors: self-confidence, interpersonal skills, leadership presence
  • tangible outcomes: changed behaviors, relations with colleagues, handling conflict, managing meetings, speaking in public, motivating teams
  • business results: impact on sales, account management, strategy implementation, project completion, innovation, savings.

You must also decide on a methodology and measurement tools.  In your first steps when measuring organizational coaching,  I would suggest you start with a simple, easy to use methodology that you can adapt to your needs. The New World Kirpatrick Model is a tested and useful method, in particular with the addition of a Level 4 evaluation which measures business results.  Make sure you survey different perspectives: self-assessment by the coach, assessment by the coachee, feedback by  others (team, supervisor, clients, peers) as appropriate.

Once you get the hang of it, you can elaborate a more thorough ROI measurement for coaching results.  An excellent book  is “Measuring the Success of Coaching: A Step-by-Step Guide for Measuring Impact and Calculating ROI“, by Patricia Pulliam Phillips (Chair of the ROI Institute),‎ Jack J. Phillips and Lisa Ann Edwards.

Most importantly, create impactful communication channels to report on the success of your coaching initiatives!  Collecting feedback and measuring ROI is not enough unless you find opportunities to present your findings. Create an attractive communication plan and stick to it, until everyone in your company knows about coaching and how it is improving your workplace.

Be prepared for the long haul, but reap rewards right away!

Creating a coaching culture does not happen overnight, but you can still get excellent and very rewarding results at a small level when you let even a small group of employees experience the positive power of coaching.

Read more on how to build a coaching culture… 

Tell us how you’re getting on with your project, post a comment or a question in the box below!

© 2018 Saba Imru-Mathieu 

Saba Imru-Mathieu(180x180)Saba is responsible for organizational  development initiatives, coaching culture implementation, and the coaching and educational programs at Leaders Today. As the founding partner, her work focuses on developing international leaders, fostering collaboration in multicultural workplaces, and advancing the skills of coaches within global organizations.

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