Cultivating Coaching Cultures

Last month, I attended a panel discussion on Creating a Coaching Culture in Your Organization sponsored by the Bay Area Organization Development Network. Only one of the panelists actually talked about how coaching becomes cultural–the others discussed the practice and discipline of becoming a coach. Nonetheless, the event prompted me to think about coaching and reflect on the ways coaching fits within a performance leadership framework. Cultivating a coaching culture has the potential to create an environment in which people are encouraged to see the importance of their contribution to organizational strategy, goals, and objectives. A recent Harvard Business Review article, Finding the Balance Between Coaching and Managing noted that “effective coaching raises employee commitment and engagement, productivity, retention rates, customer loyalty, and subordinates’ perception of the strength of upper-level leadership.” Recognition of each person’s role in organizational success helps keep employees engaged and motivated.

But what is a coaching culture, exactly, and how does coaching fit within a performance leadership framework? And by the way, what is performance leadership?

Unlike a traditional performance assessment process, in which supervisors evaluate employees on an infrequent basis–e.g. annually–performance leadership is a framework that involves all members of an organization in regular goal setting, aligned with overall organizational strategies and objectives. Managers, supervisors, and other leaders (team or program leads without supervisory authority) commit to engaging colleagues in regular (weekly, if possible) conversations about the work, the employee’s interests and skills, obstacles and opportunities, and progress towards goals. Regular conversations about priorities and obstacles, and consistent attention to alignment of employee interests and aptitudes with organizational needs contributes to organizational effectiveness. If the organization is required to comply with an annual performance assessment process, that process may be integrated into the performance leadership framework, although the integration must be undertaken carefully due to the difference between directive supervision and collaborative coaching.

For a successful transition to a coaching culture, leaders in the organization will need to learn what coaching involves and how it works, and to become familiar and comfortable with different roles and relationships with subordinates and colleagues. A workshop such as the one I have developed on performance leadership, which includes exercises to prepare leaders to become coaches–including role playing activities–can be a good way to launch a coaching program. Once the first cohort in the organization has had some experience with coaching, a train the trainer approach can be used to infuse the entire organization with a collaborative approach to reaching organizational goals that expects everyone to take responsibility for organizational effectiveness.


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