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Matt Somers

Matt Somers Coaching Skills Training Ltd

Founder & Managing Consultant

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The cultural symbols holding back your organisation’s coaching

Are cultural symbols in your organisation impeding your progress towards a coaching culture?
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In this series we’re using Culture Partners’ model, the Results Pyramid, to examine workplace culture generally and coaching cultures in particular.

Previously, we explored how power structures impact culture.

In this article, we’ll deal primarily with symbols, and the messages they send about our culture.

Do we really need status symbols?

I was once given a project that required me to organise my own resources in terms of desk, chair, stationery and so on. I got hold of the office supplies catalogue (this was back in the day!) and ordered myself a solid looking desk and a nice comfortable chair with arms on.

I then got on with the task in hand. Sometime later, a senior manager walked past and immediately stopped at my desk with a look of abject horror on her face. “You have a chair with arms on!” she said.

To establish a coaching culture may require some dismantling of symbolic indicators of status.

I looked down at the chair and confirmed that this was indeed an accurate observation. “You don’t get a chair with arms on until you’re a manager!” she said and immediately spun on her heels to presumably go and report me for gross misconduct or some such sin.

Logos, office layouts, signage, job titles and so on are all powerful indicators of the essential nature of the organisation.

In the above example, status was very important to people and status symbols like office furniture, company cars and a job title that included the word ‘manager’ were obvious signs that one had arrived at the required level.

There are even more stark examples in the living memory of many, including staff ‘canteens’ but management ‘restaurants’, different uniforms to denote status and a tendency to use more ‘proper’ forms of address.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things and in more conservative, long established organisations, such symbols may form part of the charm of working there and be a deliberate part of the reward strategy.

From our point of view though, these things do not serve to promote a coaching culture.

A gentle dismantling

Coaching ought to be the living embodiment of DE&I because it really only works when coach and coachee come together as equals. To establish a coaching culture may therefore require some dismantling of symbolic indicators of status.

Do business cards or email signatures really need titles on at all, unless they are useful to clients and customers? Why not make a company car available to the sales force who’ll use them productively rather than give them to all managers who’ll probably leave them in station car parks while they commute into work or leave on the drive while they don’t?

How can we expect loyalty and discretionary effort from employees when managers and business owners award themselves inflation busting pay rises? This dismantling will need to be done carefully, over a sensible time period and with as much cooperation as possible.

An environment of mutual respect

In terms of motivation, these things have much more power to demotivate when tampered with than they do to motivate in the first place, so it will be necessary to manage the change sensitively and ensure people have any ‘loss’ recognised.

These symbols and the messages they convey may result in beliefs that mitigate the culture we’re seeking to achieve.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that a coaching culture will not take root until there is a sense of fairness and of working on a level playing field in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Language is also an important cultural indicator and I find it fascinating to listen to the ways that people describe to me the people whom they wish to coach. Team member, worker, employee, staff, colleague, subordinate. Each of these words has a unique resonance and thinking about how they are used can give an insight into how an organisation might contend coaching.

Methodology for changing beliefs®

These symbols and the messages they convey may result in beliefs that mitigate the culture we’re seeking to achieve. Again, Culture Partners have a model to help us with this.

Step one:

Identify the belief you need to change.

“The belief you appear hold that I’d like to change is…(insert).”

 “That’s not a belief I want you to hold.”

Step two:

Tell them the belief you want them to hold.

“The belief I’d prefer you to hold is…”

Step three:

Describe the experiences you will create.

“Here’s what I am going to do…” 

Step four:

Ask them for feedback on the planned experience.

“Will this be enough to change your belief, or is there something else I’ll need to do?”

Step five:

Enrol them in giving you feedback on your progress.

“Will you give me feedback along the way? What should that look like?

This isn’t a methodology you can implement overnight; it requires an investment of time and energy. By making that investment, however, you’re setting up a two-way relationship of trust with your people – and this is the foundation upon which you can start to build a coaching culture.

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Author Profile Picture
Matt Somers

Founder & Managing Consultant

Read more from Matt Somers
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