Organizational culture can be hard to define, but some might describe it as simply “how we do things around here.” Coaching, meanwhile, has grown into a popular and highly effective workforce development tool, one that many organizations have put into place either through informal or formal leadership development programs.
But while the practice of coaching — or one-on-one mentoring — can be highly effective in individuals’ professional development, its maximum value to an organization may not be truly realized unless culture and coaching are fully aligned.
To satisfy the growing demands of business and the skills required of senior leaders today, coaching and mentoring should become part of an organization’s culture, said Gregg Thompson, president of leadership development and coaching consultancy Bluepoint Leadership Development.
Coaching, Thompson said, must be not just an event but a common philosophical thread woven throughout the ranks of the entire organization. And it should be the responsibility of learning and development leaders to ensure that’s the case.
“People tend to have a pretty high degree of self interest,” said Thompson, whose clients have included Intel, Microsoft and Univision. But in a coaching culture, “people are committed to the success and performance of other people — not just the success and performance of themselves.”
Thompson said organizations that possess a strong culture of coaching have the following attributes:
• Talent, high performance and individual career advancement and acceleration are a fundamental component of the firm’s culture.
• People are focused on and excited about their personal and professional growth opportunities — as they are for others.
• Leaders are viewed as trustworthy, selfless and competent.
• People feel appreciated for their contributions.
• Feedback is a common practice in the organization. It flows on an ongoing basis; not just once a year.
• Promises are made and faithfully kept.
• Difficult conversations are routine.
A strong coaching culture, however, cannot sustain itself unless the top workforce development officer — the CLO — embodies the traits and mentoring practices that he or she expects out of the organization’s cultural ladder, Thompson said.
“The most potent way a CLO can be a personal catalyst for creating a coaching culture is to become a great coach,” Thompson said.
After CLOs learn to coach those directly tied to them, the next step is to make sure that those immediately below them in the reporting structure are taking their own steps to become involved in a coaching relationship with subordinates.
Strongly encouraging senior leaders to take part in a high-quality coaching training program is a good starting point. Doing so “will not only build coaching capability but will also demonstrate your commitment to talent and personal development,” Thompson said.
Thompson also recommends that learning leaders heavily skew performance management and reward systems for leaders and employees toward coaching. This, he said, will ensure that coaching eventually becomes part of the organization’s DNA and not just “another managerial competency.”
He even went as far as to suggest that leaders’ performance reviews should be based almost entirely on the performance of those working below them — a test as to how well they’ve been coaching their people.
Lastly, Thompson said, learning leaders should cap their coaching culture initiative by encouraging everyone in the organization to invite someone else to be their coach — even across employees in different functional areas of the organization. This informal coaching structure enables the organization to embrace coaching even when it’s not built into a formalized program.
“The idea here,” he said, “is to start a lot of fires in the organization, and let the CEO and others get swept up in all these fires.”Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@CLOmedia.com.