Research Paper By Nadejda Anguelova
(Transformational Coach, BULGARIA)
In 2009 I was nominated in my role as a Training and Development manager in a big multinational company to initiate the development of coaching culture in our market. I was so excited to get the opportunity, that I immediately started researching for information. Our central HR team was in a process of building capabilities in this area, so I could not use anything readily available. I have contacted colleagues from other companies to do my research and prepare my plan for implementation. Unfortunately, or rather luckily, no one could help me and share their experience, so I focused on reading books, articles, and other available literature. I am saying luckily as it gave me the freedom to learn by doing, to make mistakes, to work with coaches, who supported me, and most importantly, to fall in love with coaching.
Working in an in-centric company, we used experienced coaches to support leaders and to train employees; we created an internal network of coaches to support the coaching culture, and so on, and so on. Yet, I have always wondered how companies out there do it. 11 years later I have finally done the research and to me, it feels like a full circle. And as much as it is not an exhaustive overview, I truly enjoyed writing it!
To succeed in the constantly changing business environment nowadays, many multinational companies have initiated the development of initiatives currently referred to as coaching culture. In the last 20 years, the use of coaching to support corporate training, development, and change processes increased significantly, as in this period of time it has become more than an intervention to develop executives and reached a stage where it is largely adopted as a leadership style and way to do business. (Hawkins, 2012). Also, coaching has expanded to different types of practices such as leadership coaching, everyday coaching, coaching skills training, team coaching, which are used in organizations to support leadership skills, personal development, and organizational change. Such programs are becoming more and more strategic in nature due to the perceived benefits they bring. According to Greene(2012) companies that implement coaching initiatives and focus on the effective development of coaching skills at the managerial level, have higher engagement, empowerment, and accountability at the employee level, combined with increased business results. This research paper reviews different aspects of coaching culture in organizations such as indicators, demonstrating its existence, stages in developing such programs, as well as perceived benefits of implementing them.
Definition of a coaching culture
Before defining what coaching culture is, we need to look into the definition of coaching and acknowledge the fact that there is no one commonly agreed definition. However, in their review of the different definitions of coaching in literature, conducted by Gormley and van Nieuwerburgh(2014), they define it as:
“coaching could be seen as a human development process that involves structured, focused interaction and the use of appropriate strategies, tools, and techniques to promote desirable and sustainable change for the benefit of the coachee and potentially for all stakeholders”.
Taking into account the aforementioned, there are also many definitions of coaching culture with different nuances and benefits expressed by different authors and researchers, encompassing a range of coaching interventions such as coaching at the managerial level, use by employees, use of external coaches, coaching workshops, etc. Most authors agree that “coaching culture exists in an organization when a coaching approach is a key aspect of how the leaders, managers, and staff engage and develop all their people and engage their stakeholders, in ways that create increased individual, team and organizational performance and shared value for all stakeholders.”(Hawkins, 2012).Based on this we can conclude that coaching culture is not necessarily the only leadership and management approach in an organization, but “it is the primary leadership, development and learning style used in the organization”(Passmore, J. & Jastrzebska, K., 2011).
Clutterbuck (2003) states that there are several indicators in organizations, that demonstrate that coaching culture is present:
- There is an open culture in the organization where employees are not afraid to share their opinions, to take risks, and enter positive confrontations
- People are open to give and receive feedback
- There is a focus on employee and team development
- Managers and their employees jointly use coaching in their everyday interactions
- There is a positive attitude towards coaching, with its benefits clearly seen and acknowledged by everyone
- Coaching practices are role model across the organization
Prerequisites for developing a successful coaching culture
Embedding a companywide coaching initiative is a complex endeavor, which needs several prerequisites to succeed. The first of them is developing a strategic framework, which ensures wide organizational support for the initiative by engaging key stakeholders. Such a strategic framework should not be standalone but should be aligned with the larger change initiatives in the company and the other systems, such as being connected with the company’s values, aligned with its priorities, and embedded into different processes, e.g. people processes in the organization. Last, but not least, Hawkins (2012) points out that this strategic framework needs to be dynamic and adaptable to the changes and the environment the organization operates in, to provide the initial set targets and benefits.
Another key point in developing a coaching culture is the senior management in a company. According to Hart (2003), their role is two-fold: From one side they sponsor the creation of coaching culture by approving and supporting such initiatives in the organization. The second role of senior management in creating a coaching culture is even more important as they serve as role models and advocates, as well as setting expectations for others to use coaching in their everyday activities.
Another key prerequisite is to create a positive atmosphere around the use of coaching in organizations. This can be done by using targeted communication, which promotes the use of coaching behaviors to employees, by pointing out what are the benefits for them, not only for the company. Many organizations choose to focus their communication on the increase of collaboration, the easier achievement of tasks, and last, but not least, personal development. Such communication should be supported with role models at executive levels and concrete actions, as well as the sharing of good examples.
Stages in the development of coaching culture
There is no single aligned approach when defining a strategy for creating a coaching culture. Most authors agree that following elements that need to be included in such a strategy(Hart, 2003, Gormley and van Nieuwerburgh 2014):
- External coaches to be utilized in the implementation by providing coaching to leadership and training employees on coaching skills
- Development of internal coaches who serve as catalysts for the further development, dissemination, and enhancement of the culture; Also they play a key role in role-modeling, promoting the benefits of coaching, engaging employees towards actively using coaching behaviors
- Managers – training and developing coaching skills and behaviors at the managerial level
- coaching training at all levels of the organization
- coaching to be embedded in all people-related processes
According to Passmore& Jastrzebska (2011)there are five stages in the development of coaching culture – 1) use of professional external coaches; 2)use of informal external coaches; 3) coaching is used as the preferred leadership style, 4) space for coaching conversations is provided and 5) the final level being expanding coaching beyond the organization in working with suppliers and partners.
Without underestimating the other stages, an important focus is put on the development of coaching skills at the managerial level and ensuring that coaching is the main management approach in the organization. By doing this the company ensures that its employees develop the necessary skills to solve their own problems. To achieve the necessary level of competencies, managers need to be trained and practice coaching skills. According to Clutterbuck (2003), training courses are not enough to develop the needed competencies in coaching. The focus should be put on practicing, reviewing coaching sessions, follow up with group sessions, or use of mentor coaches to provide feedback. The researchers argue that a well-rounded coaching development programs key for senior managers since it “increases the techniques they can use to respond in different situations, thus decreasing the loss of talent which at this level is quite expensive”.
Clutterbuck (2003) also complements the above-mentioned stages with the notion that coaching needs to be expanded to the employee level to facilitate the development of coaching culture. According to him the more the employees are active participants in the coaching process, understand and support it, the greater will be the impact of the undertaken activities. Several other authors agree with this and point out that to have the notion of a “culture”, coaching behaviors should be spread at all levels in the organization (Hawkins, 2012).
The other focus should be the development of a network of internal coaches which will ensure the implementation and further development of coaching culture by providing guidance, ensuring that issues that arise are tackled, and supporting others to build further their coaching skills. More and more companies recognize the need of including employees at all levels in their coaching activities and efforts. There are several reasons for building internal capabilities. From one side hiring, external coaches can be expensive, and when the coaching initiative is implemented in the long run, it can lead to significant savings for the organization. Another reason is that by developing coaching skills and competencies at the employee level, the company ensures consistency and sustainability of the implementation, but also to retain the needed skills within the organization.
Benefits of a coaching culture
There are several benefits of coaching culture not only on organizational but also on an individual level. Hart (2003) states that one of the main benefits of coaching in organizations is that it is “a cost-effective way to accomplish the work of the organization because no extra resources are utilized to focus action and improve results”. This is based on the notion that when managers and employees use a coaching approach in their work, it leads to higher focus on priorities and development of their skills and knowledge, which in turn leads to work and decisions which “increase productivity and reduce costs”. A study conducted in the UK (Laske, 2008) confirms that both managers and employees perceive that there are higher task achievement and stronger development of interpersonal skills after the implementation of a coaching program in their respective organization. The same author states that the use of a coaching approach in organizations leads to higher motivation, job satisfaction, and collaboration within the company.
Bennett and Bush (2013) argue that “coaching is all about change and that coaching is designed to change aspects of performance, development and even transformation of individuals and groups, which then can impact changes in organizations and systems”. Although coaching is being implemented primarily as a tool for leadership and employee development in the organization, another perceived benefit is that it supports wider change processes in the organizations. Organizational change usually consists of many different processes and phases, and as such provides an important platform for the use and practice of coaching approach, as some authors suggest that “just as coaching changes people, it similarly changes organizations” (Gormley & van Nieuwerburgh, 2014).
According to Grant (2013), coaching of senior executives is often used in organizations in situations of organizational change so they are equipped with the needed skills to deal with uncertainty. The author researched how coaching in such situations impacts the change processes in organizations and its results confirmed the increased level of goal achievement, higher leadership, “and greater ability to deal with change”, as also positive effects on areas outside of work such as family life, were registered.
The use of coaching as a preferred leadership style has been found to lead to increased employee performance and achievement of company results (Grant, 2010). Another study shows that organizations which develop effective coaching skills at a managerial level are “130% more likely to realize stronger business results and 39% stronger employee results through engagement, productivity, and customer service”, as a coaching culture impacts directly key factors such as strategy, people performance, and knowledge management to achieve positive business results. (Greene, 2012)
In today’s volatile economic and technological environment, companies need an autonomous, self-directed workforce and management which can adapt and constantly develop new skills to lead successfully their teams through constant change. In such an environment companies shift their focus to equipping employees on all levels with the needed skills, competencies, and behaviors, as coaching culture is perceived as an important element to ensure achievement of goals and to motivate and engage employees. The reviewed literature shows that most often coaching are used to increase organizational performance and to develop people at leadership positions. Still, there are signs that recently more focus is placed on the development of holistic coaching programs, which integrate different processes in organizations and encompass all employee levels. It can be concluded that that in coaching as a practice in organizations is still evolving, but although it is perceived as a valuable intervention, there is no unified approach to how it should be implemented in organizations. (Rosha, 2014). Implementing a coaching culture in any organization would mean a major shift from its present company culture and there is a need for more integrated efforts in its development.
Bennett, J. and Bush, M.W. (2013), Coaching for change
Clutterbuck, D. (2003), Creating a Coaching Climate, Clutterbuck Associates
Gormley, H. & van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2014) Developing coaching cultures: a review of the literature, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice, 7:2, 90-101, DOI: 10.1080/17521882.2014.915863
Grant, A. (2013), The Efficacy of Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change, Pages 258-280
Greene, B. (2012), The Power of a Coaching Culture on Organizational Performance; Career Partners International – San Antonio
Hart, E. (2003), Developing a Coaching Culture, Center for Creative Leadership
Hawkins, P. (2012), Creating A Coaching Culture: Developing a Coaching Strategy for Your Organisation
Laske, O. (2008), On the unity of behavioral and developmental perspectives in coaching: A view from the Constructive Developmental Framework; International Coaching Psychology Review, Vol. 3 No. 2
Passmore, J. & Jastrzebska, K. (2011). Building a coaching culture: A development journey for organizational development. Coaching Review.
Rosha, A. (2014), Peculiarities of manifestation of coaching in organizations, Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences 110 (2014) 852 – 860