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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Walker

Creating a Coaching Culture

Creating a coaching culture: 5 changes you can make to build an empowered and high-performing team.

Many of us recognise coaching as being a perk offered to senior managers, but the real benefits lie in embedding coaching into the way all of your people lead and develop others. Here we provide 5 suggestions of small changes you can make to help people leaders embrace curiosity and build coaching habits that will positively impact employee experience and potential.

We all know that people leaders (everyone from line managers to the CEO) need to coach their teams. There are hundreds of books, articles, TED talks and blog posts just like this one promoting coaching as an essential skill for leaders. We also know that coaching gets better results from our people, increases motivation and autonomy and has an overall positive effect on our organisational culture.

Despite the undoubtable benefits of coaching, one study found that 92% of managers believe that coaching is not part of their role. Another report from the ILM found that 85% of organisations aim their coaching efforts at managers and directors only.

But wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in your organisation had access to coaching? If coaching conversations, developmental feedback, reflection and self-directed learning were just part of the employee experience. What impact would that have on both individual and team performance?

It’s not that difficult – honest.

Organisational change takes time, we know. But like any big changes, creating a culture of coaching can start with a few small habits that can be developed and improved over time. Here’s just 5 changes you can make that will have a big impact on the way managers lead, and ultimately how their teams perform.

1) Start at the top

For an organisation to build a coaching culture through its people leaders, the senior team need to ‘walk the walk’. Managers need to see the benefits in coaching and feedback conversations to be driven to, or even interested in, passing this on to their own teams.

Take some time to gain the buy in of the senior team by exploring why you want to develop a coaching culture (here are loads of reasons why you should), what your current approach to coaching is and what you want to change and communicating this clearly. You might also find it useful to work out which senior leaders are already taking a coaching approach and encourage them to share their successes with each another.

2) Celebrate curiosity

One of the hardest parts of adopting a ‘coaching style’ is saying less and asking more. It’s understandable – we’ve spent our entire careers being rewarded for having the answers, being helpful and solving problems. It’s probably the reason your managers were recruited or promoted in the first place. Having the answers isn’t a bad thing -the problem is that giving the answers becomes the default response.

If managers aren’t asking questions, they’re probably solving the wrong problems. Furthermore, if they are constantly giving advice, chances are their team members are feeling that they can’t work things out for themselves - stifling creativity, disempowering people and creating overdependency.

Instead, we should encourage line managers to replace advice with curiosity. By staying curious and asking great questions we can help individuals really work out what’s going on and empower them to explore options for moving forward. Your regular performance conversations (or annual appraisal processes) are the perfect place for managers to practice this.

Take a look at your performance review forms and guidance - how much of the process is designed to encourage curiosity in managers, and celebrate curiosity in team members?

Leaders can also promote a culture of curiosity wherever they can by celebrating when they notice someone asking instead of telling.

Every time you hear a great question - acknowledge it, celebrate it, and it might just catch on.

3) Invest in your managers

Since Google adapted its management training to focus on coaching behaviours, they’ve seen great improvements in turnover, employee engagement and overall performance.

Some of the behaviours that they seek to instil in managers as part of Project Oxygen include providing timely and specific feedback, empathy, active listening and asking open questions.

Investing in your line managers, through coaching, regular feedback, focused development plans and resources / tools that will help them to put coaching behaviours into practice is certainly a positive step towards demonstrating the importance of coaching whilst supporting line managers in adopting a coaching style.

4) Ditch coaching sessions – make it a daily, informal habit

Ask any manager why they don’t coach, and I can guarantee that they’ll tell you they don’t have the time. What they’re really saying is they don’t have time to hold 1-hour coaching sessions with each of their team members on a regular basis. And who does?

All too often, line managers buy into the myth that coaching means scheduling a block of time for every member of their team to ‘be coached’. Although there’s a place for this style of coaching, it’s not the only way.

Managers can (and need to be able to) coach someone in under ten minutes. If they’re taking longer than this, they are either not working on the real challenge or are addressing too many things at once.

Our guide to Energising Coaching Conversations is a great place to start in empowering line managers to have quick, powerful coaching conversations that can take place anytime, anywhere.

5) Just give it a go

The best way to start a movement is by inspiring action in others. Sometimes that means being the first to demonstrate and encouraging others to join you. Think of an opportunity you have coming up in the next few days where curiosity and a few open questions would be more effective than ‘telling’. This could be a difficult conversation, a project preparation or review meeting, a 1-2-1 with a team member who’s eager to develop or the next conversation you have where a team member brings another problem to your inbox instead of a solution. Prepare some open questions in advance that will help you to stay curious, and see what happens. Michael Bungay Stanier’s 7 questions that will change the way you lead forever are an excellent starting point for thought-provoking questions that can help drive changes in behaviour and deliver pro-active solutions.

To really embrace a coaching culture that benefits each and every person in our organisation, we need to overcome our fear of failure and need to control. Not everyone has to do it our way, and not everyone will do it right – but if we open ourselves up to empathy and vulnerability, we’ll encourage others to do the same – ultimately leading to empowered people that have the confidence and autonomy to think critically and solve problems for themselves. That can only be a good thing, right?


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