How do we Executive Coaches and Organizational Consultants help our clients create the cultural conditions for sustainable high performance? We need to look no further than the powerful process of coaching. We already know that coaching assists individuals to grow and develop. Imagine what would happen if the entire organization were able to tap the power, ideas, and wisdom of its own members…through people learning how to deliver and respond to feedback in powerful and healthy ways.
What is the vision of a “coaching culture”?
A coaching culture is present when…all members of the culture fearlessly engage in candid, respectful coaching conversations, unrestricted by reporting relationships, about how they can improve their working relationships and individual and collective work performance. All have learned to value and effectively use feedback as a powerful learning tool to produce personal and professional development, high-trust working relationships, continually-improving job performance, and ever-increasing customer satisfaction.
How do we know we have one? It looks like this…
The 7 Characteristics of a Coaching Culture
- Leaders are Positive Role Models
Organizational cultures take their cue from its leaders at the top. They set the tone, pace, and expectations for what is right and what is wrong — what is acceptable and what is not. When leaders become skilled coach-practitioners, they transform their leadership style from being THE BOSS OF PEOPLE to THE COACH FOR PEOPLE.
Coaching is “applied leadership,” requiring the best of what we know about contemporary leadership. Leaders who master coaching learn to create powerful, emotionally-intelligent conversations where the coach guides productive change, passion, and inspired action.
- Every Member is Focused on Customer Feedback
Most modern organizations have feedback channels that capture information from the customers they serve. This is not new. However, in a coaching culture, there is a huge emphasis on expanding these feedback channels and making them truly effective at what they’re capable of doing. It becomes the responsibility of every member in a coaching culture to proactively seek, strive to understand, and non-defensively respond to the feedback and the customer who is delivering it. Everyone understands the significance of their role as it relates to the mission of serving (internal or external) customers.
- Coaching Flows in all directions — Up, Down, and Laterally
In a coaching culture, coaching flows in all directions from all parties, making a networked web across the organization consisting of many connections between people in the same departments, across departments, between teams, and up and down and across the hierarchy. The key to this rich flow of coaching communications is the establishment of explicit coaching relationships.
We know that leaders and managers, when optimally effective, provide performance and developmental coaching for their direct reports. This is a necessary component of high-performance, yet, in itself, is not sufficient to create the true high-performance cultural conditions required in today’s businesses.
Peer coaching is the second place for creating explicit coaching relationships. Coaching relationships across the organization are established to support ongoing dialogue, learning, problem solving, and enhanced working conditions.
Peer coaching is an invaluable element that supports learning, growth, and productivity improvements.
Upward coaching is the third element and often the most challenging to establish. There are many reasons why. The leader/manager may either be unaware or unwilling to receive upward feedback. The direct reports might not feel safe or that permission exists to offer candid feedback even though they would like to be able to deliver it. For whatever reason, the nature of the relationship must dramatically transform if feedback is to flow freely between a manager and direct reports. Becoming coaches for one another makes this shift by creating safety, trust, respect, and rapport in the relationship.
- Teams Become Passionate and Energized
The process of coaching, when learned by teams, creates egalitarian, high-trust relationships that transcend traditional Boss/Subordinate/Competitor dynamics, and moves people toward a collaborative Coach/Coachee/Partner relationship.
In high performance cultures, people feel part of the larger whole. This enhanced feeling of connection occurs because teams make a point of opening up dialogue to explore how they are working together. Teams focus on creating connection and high trust. Trust directly supports people being able to work together more effectively and more efficiently which leads to higher performance.
The relationships that teams create in a coaching culture can be characterized by a high degree of commitment to teammates’ success. Internal competition for the spotlight, job promotions, and accolades from top management do not become destructive. The fundamental belief is that all members of the team work for the same company. They are part of the same team. Everybody is in the same big boat together and pulls her own weight and is accountable for their contribution to team performance. They accept this truth: we can’t win unless everyone wins. My job is to make my teammates successful.
- Learning Occurs, More Effective Decisions are Made, & Change Moves Faster
Coaching speeds up the personal and team learning curve by capturing lessons learned more quickly. Teams make frequent use of after-action-reviews to document any and all lessons learned. People become anxious to tap and share wisdom across the team. People learn to fail fast without fear of repercussion in what is truly a learning environment.
In a coaching culture, it is common practice to involve everybody affected by the change in the decision to make the change, and certainly in the implementation planning. Coaching is the act of engaging people in safe dialogue where they are expected to respectfully share their candid concerns, ideas, and points-of-view so that they experience feeling part of the process and being valued as a partner.
- HR Systems are Aligned and Fully Integrated
Human resource systems are comprised of talent acquisition, orientation, training, performance evaluation, promotions, recognition programs, and compensation. Coaching must be fully integrated into all the systems that impact people.
Most organizations today have articulated organizational values that hang on the boardroom wall. Coaching cultures actively embrace and use their espoused core values as a compass to guide people and business decisions. Members of the culture are expected to observe and coach their colleagues on the extent their colleagues’ observed behaviors are congruent with the core values and guiding behaviors. This makes values relevant, useful, and meaningful to the organization.
Coaching cultures use 360 processes to gather feedback on a regular basis. All members of the culture have personal development plans that are taken seriously, reviewed annually, and serve to significantly impact the effectiveness of individuals and teams.
Job descriptions include a clear description of relevant coaching skills required to be successful in the job. Everyone is expected to perceive themselves as a “coach practitioner” engaged in continuous learning about what it means to be a coach.
- The Organization Has a Common Coaching Practice and Language
We define coaching as “the process of helping others enhance their effectiveness…in a way they feel helped.” This comprehensive definition of coaching reflects the intention of the coach as well as offers guidance in how to organize and conduct the coaching conversation. Coaching cultures adopt a singular approach and methodology so the culture has an easily recognized, commonly understood approach. Why is this important?
If an entire culture has a shared understanding of HOW to coach, then the coaching conversations are more easily started and sustained between people. The mystery is removed. People can connect easily and communicate with fewer distractions, making the communication much more effective. This increases the likelihood that more people will start getting more of what they want, and less of what they do not want.
The Emerging Results
Organizations have seen the powerful impact on the effectiveness of Executives who retain external Executive or utilize internal Business Coaches. They are also beginning to connect-the-dots and extrapolate the incredible power of an organization whose capacity for growth and change is enhanced through the systematic practice of coaching.
Crane Consulting is actively engaged with several leading organizations that are focused on creating their own coaching culture. We see this work as the nexus of BOTH continuing external coaching with Executives AND showing their organizations how to coach one another. Rather than reduce or eliminate the role of Executive Coaches, this transformational organizational work actually provides Executive Coaches more to work with their executive clients on…how THEY become coaches for the teams they have the privilege of leading!
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Premier Issue 2005, Volume 1, Issue 1).
Thomas Crane, M.B.A.
Thomas Crane, M.B.A., is an experienced OD consultant, coach, author, and speaker who specializes in working with leaders and their teams to build “feedback-rich coaching cultures” that create and sustain true “high-performance.” His book, The Heart of Coaching, is published by FTA Press, San Diego, CA. His next book, “Creating Coaching Cultures — The Next Wave” will be available in the fall of 2005. Read more about Tom’s work at www.craneconsulting.com.