Pathways to building a human-centred culture with coaching

January 8, 2022
Kimberley McAdams, PCC

A few years ago one of Canada’s Best Places to Work reached out with a question: “How do we integrate the practice of Coaching more deeply into our organization?”.

Internal research had found that employee experience when it came to performance management was not hitting the mark. This is a company that deeply cared about the experience of their people (which earned them the #1 spot over consecutive years) and had a hunch that more of a coaching approach might be a way forward.

Before we dive in, let’s begin with the basics.

What is a coaching culture?

A coaching culture is where the predominant mindset and behaviours of the organization is literally coach-like, so much so that it becomes a key part of the company’s identity. When an organization adopts this approach, hierarchy gives way to partnership and collaboration and blame gives way to curiosity, honest evaluation and learning. External motivators are replaced by self-motivation, protective barriers fall as teams build.

A coaching culture taps into the inherent potential of the people and teams, leading to better, faster, and more innovative results. Other benefits of a coaching culture:

In the case of the company above, they had performance managers who were adopting more of a coaching approach, without the formal training, and knew that to obtain the results they were looking for, more work was needed.

How does one build a strong coaching culture?

There are essentially three pathways that are used to create and build a coaching culture, each has differing levels of complexity, investment and depth of transformational impact. In a recent study by the Human Capital Institute in partnership with the International Coaching Federation, they polled close to 500 companies globally with coaching cultures, and found those that performed the best had a combination of all three approaches.

  1. External Coaches
  2. Internal Coaches
  3. Managers and Leaders training in Professional Coaching Skills

Which is the right pathway, or combination of pathways for you and your organization? Let’s take a deeper look at each.

External coaches

External coaching has traditionally been the least complex, lowest barrier way to start to develop a coaching culture. That said, companies are asking more and more how to develop the competency internally, and invest in their own people, rather than continue to outsource. The downside is this is expensive and keeps the skills external, with exception of what's developed in the individual receiving the coaching. It also doesn't fully leverage the strengths of a more integrated approach.

Advantages of this approach include frequency in which external coaches can provide coaching, accessibility as well as the ability to coach executives. Disadvantages are limited knowledge of organizational politics, lack of preexisting trust with coach, and the potential inability to coach teams.

Internal coaches

This is the fastest growing pathway organizations are looking to develop. Of the companies polled, only 57% employed internal coach practitioners, yet, two thirds said they wanted to expand this modality. The overall depth and scope of internal coach practitioner initiatives can vary greatly depending on the size of the organization, yet there are key advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of this approach are internal coaches with knowledge of the organizational culture, strong development of coaching culture and frequency of coaching. One of the biggest challenges of this approach is role clarity and limited training or experience.

If this is an approach you want to try, here are some best practices:

Managers and leaders trained in professional coaching skills

This is by far the most practiced path towards a coaching culture with 83% of the companies with coaching cultures polled utilizing this strategy. Further to that, most of the companies (85%) polled intend to expand this modality.

Similar to the other pathways, there are some major advantages, as well as disadvantages. We’ve found that companies with this strategy build a strong coaching culture over the long term as these individuals have in depth knowledge of the organizational culture and are aligned with the mission and vision. One of the major drawbacks in this area is the limited knowledge or skill of coaching competencies. There can also be some role confusion as the manager is responsible for performance management and these two factors can compete - the needs of the individual, and the needs of the company.

Some best practices for integrating this approach:

Things to think about

What is your current rate of overall engagement? Retention? Talent Development? Do they need improvement? If so, adopting one of the above approaches may be an answer.

How much are you spending on External Coaching? What's the ROI? The strongest coaching cultures have Professional Coaching as a line item in their budget.

Would it be beneficial to move the coaching competency internal either in part or completely?

In conclusion

There are three main pathways to creating a coaching culture, each with it’s own advantages and disadvantages, and those with the strongest coaching cultures (and better performance overall) integrated all three.

If embedding coaching more deeply into your culture and you’re curious about this right approach for you, reach out. We love meeting great leaders who are wanting to build this important modality into their role!

Questions? Thoughts? Feedback? Whatever it is, we would love to hear from you!