Why creating a coaching culture starts at the top

June 15th, 2017

Wouldn’t it be great if coaching was available to everybody in an organisation, not just the privileged few at the top?

The benefits of coaching are many. Research has shown that coaching leads to “improvements in communication and interpersonal skills, leadership and management, conflict resolution, personal confidence, attitudes and motivation, management performance as well as preparation for a new role or promotion and, on occasions, combating aggressive behaviour” (Creating a Coaching Culture, ILM). It makes sense, therefore, to offer coaching at all levels of the organisation.

Thankfully, more and more we are seeing coaching being woven into the culture of organisations and impacting people at every level – not just those at the top. A growing number of organisations are creating coaching cultures – where internal and external coaching is available to everybody and where coaching conversations are the norm. Creating a coaching culture is about a way of managing and leading where everybody buys in to coaching principles, and where coaching conversations flow in all directions. It’s about creating a culture of continual learning and feedback, with people feeling able to be to be open and honest with everybody.

But this is no easy feat. Creating a culture where people are willing to be vulnerable, to ask for feedback, to admit where they are struggling and feel able to give often difficult feedback to their managers, requires an almighty amount of trust.

And whilst coaching shouldn’t be reserved for those at the top, creating a coaching culture has to start at the top.

We’ve seen too many examples in business where coaching and mentoring programmes have failed to deliver any lasting change and where the development of a coaching culture has never got off the ground. And this is most commonly because the senior leadership team are simply not seen to be ‘modelling the way’ or creating a trusting and open enough culture. Too many conversations behind closed doors, too many leaders unwilling to show vulnerability themselves, too much blaming others for their own mistakes, leads to a culture of fear. Without a safe psychological environment, employees are much less likely to accept that they are in a confidential relationship with their managers and coach and therefore be less willing to be open and honest about their development, thus limit the impact on driving learning in the organisation.

Creating a coaching culture in a business takes time and a great deal of support and role modelling from the senior team. It cannot happen if the senior team does not buy in to it. And this starts with senior leaders being willing to challenge themselves and preconceptions of what ‘leadership’ is, being self-aware and understanding how their behaviours might be holding the business back, and being willing to be vulnerable themselves.

Developing a coaching culture can shift the way people work together, creating much higher employee engagement, greater revenue growth and radical improvement of results. But if there is no open, trusting culture modelled by the senior team, then it is unlikely to ever bring about the benefits it should and could do.