October 16, 2020

Building a culture of coaching starts with assessing where you are.

By now you’ve probably heard of a “culture of coaching” and the benefits of embedding coaching into your organizational structure, supports, and working style. But what does it look like to put it into practice? 

Professional coaches act as objective third parties to support employees in coming to their own solutions. Coaches provide a strategic and safe way to distill issues and brainstorm steps toward the desired outcome of any work situation. In a culture of coaching, interactions in all directions are imbued with the principles of openness, empathy, and self-support that make coaching such an effective tool. As a result, teams working within these cultures adapt quickly to feedback, experience greater trust and cohesion, and successfully keep each other accountable and engaged. 

Bravely Pro Vanessa Le offers her advice on the first steps toward implementing coaching as a vital tool in your company culture. “Coaching means working less hard, with more impact,” says Le, but “don’t expect your managers to be coaches overnight. Have realistic goals and be clear on your definition of coaching.”

Start with your “why”

First, get clear on the shifts you’d like to make. As Le says, “Coaching is a tool to get to the desired outcome.” Perhaps your team is looking to increase their innovation, jumpstart their creativity, or build deeper relationships. Or maybe this year has taken a severe toll on your people, and your team is experiencing a lull in enthusiasm, engagement, and connection. Take the time to sit with where your culture is today, locate the gaps and shortcomings, and determine what needs to change. 

Ask yourself:

  • What are you looking to build? Skills? Relationships? Enthusiasm? 
  • What is it you’re longing for as a business? 
  • Where’s the gap between where you are now and where you aspire to be? 
  • How is coaching a tool to get you there? 
  • What will it unlock for you?
  • Are those that speak up with concerns or questions or objections rewarded or penalized?
  • How does that contribute or detract from a culture of psychological safety?
  • What can promoters share about coaching and how it’s helped them?
  • Are your promoters willing to be vulnerable and share how coaching has helped them? 

Take Stock

Anyone can take on a coaching mindset in their role at work. “You don’t have to be a manager, per se. Anyone who interacts with other human beings can be more coach-like. We do that when we manage up,” Le says. Coaching behavior shows up as direct feedback, empathetic listening, and open conversations. 

Coaching is a container for safe, courageous, and unbiased conversations, detached from any particular outcomes. Vanessa Le shares her philosophy on coaching as a desire to evoke “transformation and the big stuff—the mindset shifts and personal evolution. The deeper goal of coaching is to take a strategic time out to examine your beliefs with someone to serve as a mirror to you and reflect back and deepen your awareness.” 

Celebrate the people on your team who are already promoting a culture of coaching. Who and what we celebrate or reward signals our values and where we will give our attention and resources. When you roll out your plan to your team, you’ll want to set the tone that coaching is a positive experience and keeps us at the forefront of our growth edge. If people on your team are already putting their coaching skills to work, celebrate them openly, and make a positive example of their behavior. “Don’t focus on the detractors, celebrate the promoters.”

Ask yourself:

  • What is it about our culture that gets in the way of us embedding coaching into the fabric? 
  • Who are the people within your organization that are modeling coaching behavior naturally? 
  • What are the barriers, and how can we remove them? 
  • What are the behaviors for which people are rewarded? 
  • Do we value people who talk more than they listen? (Hint: That’s not conducive to a culture of coaching.)

Stay humble and patient

If you’ve ever received coaching, you might think being on the opposite end of the conversation seems straightforward; a matter of just asking questions. But effective coaching requires you to listen to what’s not being said and ask the right questions. The goal of coaching is to “stay curious before you rush to advice-giving,” Le says.

Giving yourself an honest assessment can be challenging! Vanessa Le offers this advice: “Be patient with yourself. You wouldn’t go to the gym and bench press double your weight on the first day. Start small with little behaviors—train people to ask for feedback. It takes longer than you think because you’re undoing so much programming—it’s a big cultural transformation to go from being rewarded for having the right answer to being rewarded for listening and hanging back.” 

2020 has been a marathon of learning and unlearning, breaking down the old systems, and building up new, innovative ways of supporting our people and our teams while also driving toward business outcomes to keep the lights on — and it isn’t over yet. As you run that marathon, your company culture is like your shoes: it’s foundational, and the support it provides makes or breaks your success. A culture of coaching is built for long-distance.

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