A coaching culture
Reference to a coaching culture was first made in the late 1980s when a “culture of coaching” was proposed as the new paradigm for management . However, little research was conducted thereafter on a coaching culture because the concept of coaching was still in its infancy. Researchers were preoccupied with exploration of executive coaching and its effects [2-6]. Hence, it was not until 2005 that interest in understanding a coaching culture quickened.
Definitions of a coaching culture have highlighted its ambiguity and complexity [7-11]. Clutterbuck and Megginson’s view is that coaching cultures are characterised by “a commitment to grow the organisation alongside a parallel commitment to grow the people in the organisation” . Passmore and Jastrzebska state that “a coaching culture is one where coaching, the use of reflective and provocative questions, is used consistently by all employees and by key partners, to help develop understanding, insight and personal responsibility for those responsible in delivering the organisational outcomes” . Hawkins  is of the opinion that a coaching culture exists 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 organisational performance and shared value for all stakeholders” . The definition that I derived for my research study, which captures the essential nature of a coaching culture from the viewpoints of my participants, is as follows:
“A coaching culture is one in which coaching occurs naturally and organically as the way to transform relationships, conduct business transactions, and achieve cultural change.” (Knowles, 2020)
A number of studies have focused on how coaching contributes to the organisation’s return on investment [13-17], drives cultural change [18, 19] and retains talent in a complex, diverse and global business environment . Formal, structured, long-term coaching programs are effective in aligning behaviour with organisational priorities, cascading these programs down the organisation through training, following-up with coaching and appointing an internal coaching team . These strategies incorporate coaching behaviour as a job performance competency and link it to systems for advancement, rewards and incentives. Establishing the infrastructure for coaching has been empirically validated as a positive and supportive approach to coaching culture development [11, 22].
Characteristics of a Coaching Culture
My research reveals that a coaching culture is developed in organisations over four stages . In the fourth and final stage, organisational leaders have an organic conceptualisation of coaching as a natural phenomenon and a culturally embedded approach that the organisation uses to enact its vision and values. Coaching contributes to organisational identity, meaning and purpose to achieve business objectives and outcomes. Coaching occurs without conscious thought and is integral to the routines of the organisation.
When coaching is conceptualised as organic and naturally occurring, it becomes part of the DNA and fabric of the organisation – part of “our story”. Coaching shifts culture as it promotes self-awareness and ongoing development. Self-awareness uncovers underlying shared meanings that contribute to the development of social, cultural and organising aspects of organisational life [24, 25]. Shared meanings expose the values and assumptions which underpin organisational behaviour as knowledge is distributed to create mutual understanding .
When a coaching culture exists, coaching has a transformational motivation. Organisational leaders are motivated to embed coaching within their organisation to positively transform the culture as a long-term investment in creating competitive advantage. A coaching culture aims to release and harness the skills, knowledge, and perspectives of a diverse workforce to assist individual and team transformation. As individuals transform, consideration needs to be given to three essential components of the individual change process: cognitive and emotional processes that create changes in behavior, thoughts and emotions that may prompt anxiety and defensiveness, and previous experiences which have created patterns of responses that are repeated throughout life and may lead to dysfunctionality . In a coaching culture, the coaching aspect provides the transformational motivation for coaching to become the platform for cultural change.
In the fourth stage in the development of a coaching culture, the drivers of coaching are passionate and committed CEOs and senior executives who are enthused about culture, capability and developing people. They understand that culture is not something that organisations can outsource. The initiative must start from somebody who embraces it at the most senior level of the organisation – a coaching champion - who can garner enough of a ground-swell to support its spread throughout the entire organisation. Executives must draw from their own lived experience of coaching and being coached to endorse and nurture a coaching culture, and make coaching a strategic priority. Once endorsed, an organisational strategy is developed which provides the opportunity for leaders to lead through coaching as well as support employees’ innate ability to grow through coaching.
The champion who stewards coaching throughout the organisation must have a growth mindset and be interested in developing people. They would use their networks to speak publicly about their experience of coaching and being coached, as well as the benefits of investing the time and effort to be trained and deliver coaching thereafter. The organisation may develop a lifecycle approach to capability development and talent management starting with new inductees, right through to retirement. Middle management needs to be engaged to eliminate the disconnection that this level can experience during times of change. The champion would also be responsible for evaluating the success of coaching programs and broadcasting this achievement internally. Champions are especially warranted in toxic organisational environments. The extant literature reports that, for initiatives to be shared and integrated into daily life, they need to be articulated in a form and language that others can access and understand . Coaching provides that common language and shared model of behaviour which is initially promoted throughout the organisation by a coaching champion.
In this final stage in the development of a coaching culture, the delivery of coaching is integrated into all business activities across all levels of the organisation. Executives drive coaching throughout the organisation by demonstrating strong sponsorship for, and buy-in to, modelling and cascading coaching throughout the organisation. Coaching is woven into the daily activities of managers, internal coaches and peers to develop employees, facilitate learning, and improve performance.
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