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Building a Coaching Culture

Published Fri Oct 26 2018


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“How can I build a coaching culture?”

Over the last several years, we’ve seen a big uptick in that question from HR and talent professionals. The reason is that we’ve entered a new era of business in which the rapid pace of change requires people at all levels of the organization to constantly learn new skills, change their perspectives, and push themselves to higher levels of performance. That’s where coaching comes in: Coaching is about providing timely feedback to help someone strengthen their skills, knowledge, or behavior to better accomplish a short-term goal.

The word “short-term” is an important aspect to remember. Coaching is all about helping someone perform better right now. While coaching might happen repeatedly over the life of a project, it could also occur in the space of just one conversation.

This distinction helps to separate coaching from other forms of training, such as mentoring, which are more focused on building long-term relationships that support a person’s overall career goals. While mentors often play a critical role in shaping someone’s career, coaching represents a much more informal relationship that is focused on the task at hand.

Coaching is also different from managing. While coaching is about helping guide people to solve problems, managing is telling people what to do. Managing involves setting goals, giving directions, communication expectations, and making decisions. When coaching from a boss or other higher-level leader starts to become more like managing, coachees often get frustrated, and may feel micromanaged. While managing is a necessary part of leadership, it should occur much less frequently than coaching.

According to our Global Leadership Forecast 2018, published in partnership by DDI, The Conference Board, and EY, many organizations are seeing significant advantages from making coaching a part of their culture. Among other benefits, these organizations are more likely to have a strong leadership bench, experience lower leader turnover, and have more satisfied and engaged leaders.

While the benefits of a coaching culture are clear, it can be very challenging to build. One of the big issues is that many people have a misconception that coaching can happen only in one direction, with people at higher levels of the organization coaching people who have lower-level titles. But a coaching culture depends on breaking down those barriers and enabling everyone in the organization to become a coach.

One of the key ways to overcome this barrier is for leaders to become comfortable not only with giving coaching, but also with receiving it. As leaders become more comfortable asking for and receiving coaching from varied sources, coaching begins to become more ingrained in the organization’s culture, creating a constant push in the organization for higher-level performance.

To learn about building a coaching culture and the four specific types of coaches every leader needs, check out my full article.

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