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Matt Somers

Matt Somers Coaching Skills Training Ltd

Founder & Managing Consultant

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Building a coaching culture: Part one

How do you know if your organisation has a coaching culture - or not?

Does your organisation have a coaching culture and if so, what are the signifiers of this? A coaching culture is defined as one where coaching is the predominant style of managing and working together, and where commitment to improving the organisation is embedded in a parallel commitment to improving the people, according to Professors David Clutterbuck and David Megginson at the Mentoring and Coaching Research Unit of Sheffield Hallam University.

This suggests that every area of organisational life from Zoom room to Board room should have coaching at its core. This makes perfect sense if we strip out some of the needless complexity that permeates working life and gets back to basics.

You provide a product or service to people who want it and receive more revenue than it costs to provide it. The more often you do this the more revenue you make. You’ll have people who make, serve, manage, or support and the better they do this the more effective the business. Therefore, if through coaching we can help individuals perform better, then by extension, the business or organisation will perform better.

Your coaching culture will not take root until you go further, instilling beliefs that you are genuine in your efforts.

Training your managers to coach

Of course, if it were that simple everyone would feel as if they were working in a coaching culture, but most don’t and some obvious barriers must be overcome to bring it about. Managers must be trained in how to coach and not left to work it out for themselves simply because they are managers.

Similarly, coachees need some training or at least quality information on what coaching is and what it isn’t, what to expect from coaching and how to access it if they need it.

The senior team, assuming they’re driving or backing the move towards a coaching culture must become advocates and role models in deed as well as in word. Each time a director leaves a change workshop because ‘something important has cropped up’ it sends the message that the change isn’t important and there’s no real commitment behind it.

My aim in this article series is twofold. I want firstly to present a model of interpreting culture and then to set out a vision of what working in a coaching culture is like. My hope in doing so is that you’ll then want to take your first steps on what can be a fascinating and fruitful journey towards such a culture.

How your culture impacts results

In 2021, I was introduced to the firm Culture Partners and the work they do around culture to realise potential at the organisation level. My association with them gives me access to a whole host of powerful tools and techniques to complement my practice. Like this definition of culture for example…

Experiences shaping Beliefs which drive Actions and Results…which can be shown in diagrammatic form as The Results Pyramid®.

The premise is that the Results you achieve as an organisation are a consequence of the Actions your people take (or don’t take). Such Actions (or inaction) are driven by the Beliefs that they hold, and those Beliefs are informed by their Experiences.

So, if you want to achieve the Results that a coaching culture promises – which will surely be better numbers from a more engaged and fulfilled workforce – then you need to be taking the appropriate Actions to achieve that, such as:

  • Providing training in coaching skills
  • Communicating the benefits and business case
  • Sourcing scheduling and session note software

You should highlight the availability of coaching on intranets and Slack channels. You should put posters in the coffee areas and perhaps schedule Zoom and Teams calls to provide information and guidance.

In fairness, many organisations do indeed do these things. The problem is they stop at this point too. This is the Action Trap, and it is represented by the grey plateau in the diagram.

The bottom two layers tell us that your coaching culture will not take root until you go further, instilling Beliefs that you are genuine in your efforts and backing that up by providing Experiences that reinforce those Beliefs.

The role of everyday experiences in a coaching culture

It is your people’s daily experiences then that will determine the success or otherwise of your coaching culture, not just the grand announcements or the slick admin.

Not all experiences are created equal when it comes to influencing culture.

Experiences are created in one of three ways:

  • Our direct, personal encounters with other people and events
  • The systems and processes in which we participate
  • The stories we hear (experience by proxy)

Let’s look at each in turn.

Personal experience

A few years ago, I took over the running of a team which I felt needed two major changes: there was a disconnect between my predecessor and the team itself and there was little if any focus on performance.

Over the first couple of months, I did four things that I thought would address those issues. I hoped to create experiences that would help the team come to believe that I was all about creating a culture of performance improvement and that we were all in it together.

  • I moved from a separate, solo office and took a desk amongst the team
  • I faced up to a difficult conversation with a non-performing salesperson and we agreed he should move on
  • I instigated a series of monthly meetings
  • I agreed with the board that we should pay an upcoming bonus to two tranches, the second of which was based on a client extending a contract

What I didn’t know at the time, was that not all experiences are created equal when it comes to influencing culture.

Culture Partners has another useful model – Experience Types for understanding this.

You can see the actions I took map onto this model completely and it explains why they didn’t necessarily lead the team to see and believe in what I was trying to do.

Similarly, for your coaching culture to take root you need to be intentional around experiences and recognise that some (i.e. type 2) will need a clear explanation to ensure your people are aligned with what you are trying to achieve.

In the next article in the series, we’ll pick up on the remaining two types of experiences that shape beliefs including the systems and processes that affect us, and the stories we hear (experience by proxy).

Interested in this topic? Read Should everyone get their own coach?

Author Profile Picture
Matt Somers

Founder & Managing Consultant

Read more from Matt Somers
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