So You Think You Want a Coaching Culture?

If someone asks
my opinion about their organization making a shift to a coaching culture, I
won’t say “think again, my friend”—but I will say “let’s think this through
before you go spending a lot of money on consultants and a lot of time and
energy rallying the troops.”

Who am I to say
anything? I am a passionate advocate for all things coaching. I have devoted
the last thirty years of my life to the ideas and technologies that have
emerged from the birth and maturity of the coaching profession. I am a champion
for leveraging coaching professionals in all areas of life and work. I have
created classes and taught managers and leaders to apply coaching tools to
increase their effectiveness with their people. I have taught coaching skills,
the coaching mindset, and variations of coaching processes to HR and OD
professionals—folks who are tasked with being mentors in organizations. I have
spent the last twenty-five years deploying coaching in diverse forms in companies
all over the world. And I have worked with several organizations seeking to
implement a coaching culture.

Here are a few
things nobody (except me) will tell you about creating a coaching culture:

Culture Change Is a Very Big Deal

Creating a
coaching culture is culture change. That statement alone should make any
experienced organizational citizen pause and cringe. It is not unlike asking an
individual human being to change—to literally alter their personality. And we
all know how rarely that succeeds. Culture change is huge and it is difficult.
It takes years of dedicated—actually, let’s go ahead and call it
obsessive—focus. And never mind senior level support: if the CEO isn’t frothing
at the mouth to make it happen, forget it. In fact, the CEO will need to fire
any senior executive who isn’t walking the talk, and for that they will most
likely need Board approval. Do you see the problem here? There just isn’t a way
to do it halfway. It’s all or nothing, from the very top to the guy who
delivers the water.

A Coaching Culture Is Not for Everyone

Each organization
must define what coaching culture means to them. I can tell you what I think it
means but that won’t help you; it will only give you ideas. Many organizations
I’ve worked with became so bogged down trying to get agreement on the
definition that the effort actually died of its own weight before it got past
the first stage. Other organizations, through their efforts to define and
distinguish exactly what kind of culture they wanted and needed to succeed,
realized they did need culture change—but the culture they needed was not a
coaching culture. It was something else. I considered this outcome a success.

Coaching Is Service

The dirty little
secret of coaching that nobody really talks about is this: being an effective
coach involves being a better person. Asking people to coach is quite literally
asking people to become the absolutely best part of themselves. Many people are
drawn to being a coach. Many describe it as a calling. And this is accurate—because
coaching is a form of service. It requires the coach to practice enormous
self-regulation and demonstrate a highly refined way of relating to others. It
requires the coach to put aside all distraction and be fully present in service
to another. It requires the coach to manage their impulses to interrupt, solve
the problem, or give the answer. These things are much easier for a
professional whose only agenda is the success of the individual they are
coaching. To do this as a manager or a leader—to constantly balance the needs
of the organization, the team, and the individual—requires a very special kind
of person. Most people who are successful in organizations are successful
precisely because they do have good answers, they do forge ahead, they do solve
problems, and they do not let the development of others get in their way. So
for them to shift to a coaching culture, we are literally asking these folks to
stop the behaviors that have made them successful and exchange them for
behaviors that will make others successful. The top sales manager who crushes
the numbers every year by scaring the living crap out of his people cannot be
exempt. Good luck with that, my friend.

Every Employee MUST Buy In to the Culture

A coaching
culture only works if every single individual contributor is fully engaged,
bought in, and ready to give 100% to the job. This might seem obvious, but it
must be said: for coaching to succeed, the players have to want to be coached.
They have to have a strong desire to grow, develop, and improve. They have to
be eager for feedback. They have to have a deep locus of control. And these are
all traits the organization will need to hire for—they cannot be instilled in
people. They can, however, be coaxed from folks who have been beaten into numb
submission by nasty, stupid, or just plain careless managers. So a certain
number of employees will need to be asked to leave and replaced. Can you
imagine a more unpopular reality?

For a long time, coaching was a fad. I am thrilled to report that it seems to be here to stay. But I want to be clear: creating a coaching culture in an organization isn’t a quick fix, and it isn’t easy.

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

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