So You Think You Want a Coaching Culture?

If someone asks my opinion about their organization making a shift to a coaching culture, I won’t say “think again, my friend”—but I will say “let’s think this through before you go spending a lot of money on consultants and a lot of time and energy rallying the troops.”

Who am I to say anything? I am a passionate advocate for all things coaching. I have devoted the last thirty years of my life to the ideas and technologies that have emerged from the birth and maturity of the coaching profession. I am a champion for leveraging coaching professionals in all areas of life and work. I have created classes and taught managers and leaders to apply coaching tools to increase their effectiveness with their people. I have taught coaching skills, the coaching mindset, and variations of coaching processes to HR and OD professionals—folks who are tasked with being mentors in organizations. I have spent the last twenty-five years deploying coaching in diverse forms in companies all over the world. And I have worked with several organizations seeking to implement a coaching culture.

Here are a few things nobody (except me) will tell you about creating a coaching culture:

Culture Change Is a Very Big Deal

Creating a coaching culture is culture change. That statement alone should make any experienced organizational citizen pause and cringe. It is not unlike asking an individual human being to change—to literally alter their personality. And we all know how rarely that succeeds. Culture change is huge and it is difficult. It takes years of dedicated—actually, let’s go ahead and call it obsessive—focus. And never mind senior level support: if the CEO isn’t frothing at the mouth to make it happen, forget it. In fact, the CEO will need to fire any senior executive who isn’t walking the talk, and for that they will most likely need Board approval. Do you see the problem here? There just isn’t a way to do it halfway. It’s all or nothing, from the very top to the guy who delivers the water.

A Coaching Culture Is Not for Everyone

Each organization must define what coaching culture means to them. I can tell you what I think it means but that won’t help you; it will only give you ideas. Many organizations I’ve worked with became so bogged down trying to get agreement on the definition that the effort actually died of its own weight before it got past the first stage. Other organizations, through their efforts to define and distinguish exactly what kind of culture they wanted and needed to succeed, realized they did need culture change—but the culture they needed was not a coaching culture. It was something else. I considered this outcome a success.

Coaching Is Service

The dirty little secret of coaching that nobody really talks about is this: being an effective coach involves being a better person. Asking people to coach is quite literally asking people to become the absolutely best part of themselves. Many people are drawn to being a coach. Many describe it as a calling. And this is accurate—because coaching is a form of service. It requires the coach to practice enormous self-regulation and demonstrate a highly refined way of relating to others. It requires the coach to put aside all distraction and be fully present in service to another. It requires the coach to manage their impulses to interrupt, solve the problem, or give the answer. These things are much easier for a professional whose only agenda is the success of the individual they are coaching. To do this as a manager or a leader—to constantly balance the needs of the organization, the team, and the individual—requires a very special kind of person. Most people who are successful in organizations are successful precisely because they do have good answers, they do forge ahead, they do solve problems, and they do not let the development of others get in their way. So for them to shift to a coaching culture, we are literally asking these folks to stop the behaviors that have made them successful and exchange them for behaviors that will make others successful. The top sales manager who crushes the numbers every year by scaring the living crap out of his people cannot be exempt. Good luck with that, my friend.

Every Employee MUST Buy In to the Culture

A coaching culture only works if every single individual contributor is fully engaged, bought in, and ready to give 100% to the job. This might seem obvious, but it must be said: for coaching to succeed, the players have to want to be coached. They have to have a strong desire to grow, develop, and improve. They have to be eager for feedback. They have to have a deep locus of control. And these are all traits the organization will need to hire for—they cannot be instilled in people. They can, however, be coaxed from folks who have been beaten into numb submission by nasty, stupid, or just plain careless managers. So a certain number of employees will need to be asked to leave and replaced. Can you imagine a more unpopular reality?

For a long time, coaching was a fad. I am thrilled to report that it seems to be here to stay. But I want to be clear: creating a coaching culture in an organization isn’t a quick fix, and it isn’t easy.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

Leave a Reply