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The Traits of a Successful Coaching Culture

Creating a coaching culture is a high priority for many HR teams. But problems occur when HR teams go about building a coaching culture in the wrong way. They coach and train top-level leaders about how to coach effectively and why a coaching culture is important. But to be successful, HR teams must take a broader organizational approach.

Take, for example, a performance management leadership team at a fast-growing insurance company. This organization has internal certified coaches who want more budget to give VP-level leaders one-on-one coaching. They hope to solve specific leadership challenges and influence an organizational coaching culture from the top down.
Yet, in reality, coaching senior leaders about complex leadership and business challenges has little to do with supporting a shift toward a coaching culture. Let’s review what a thriving coaching culture looks like.

What Is a Coaching Culture?
Imagine a workplace culture where team members play to their strengths, help one another to be their best selves, and push solutions forward. A coaching culture creates a safe space for these moments to blossom. In such a culture, learning can come from various sources: peers, managers, direct reports, and external coaches. When everyone in a company can be a coach, everyone benefits.

What a Thriving Coaching Culture Looks Like
Organizations that sustain a coaching culture approach it with a sense of purpose. They often consider coaching an organizational competency for leaders at all levels to develop. They select coaches carefully and measure behavioral change among coachees. Even under stressful conditions, coaching-focused leaders are supportive and collaborative versus directive in their leadership approach. They ask questions and empower coachees in the moment.

For example, consider a midlevel marketing leader who holds staff meetings every two weeks, reserving 10 minutes at the end to ask two coaching reflection questions:

  1. What did you get out of this meeting?
  2. How am I doing, or what can I do better to support you?

As a coach, she expressed courage and vulnerability and set an example by encouraging her team to coach her back in the moment. Coaching-focused leaders give and receive feedback to help their employees be their best and accelerate toward goals they are passionate about.

What Is Common in a Thriving Coaching Culture?
Here are four common themes in organizations with thriving coaching cultures:

  1. Employees communicate candidly. You might hear phrases like “How do you think that went?” or “What might you do differently next time?” These in-the-moment coaching opportunities create more openness around giving and receiving feedback than in organizations where you might hear “Let’s schedule time to debrief” instead.
  2. Employees open up to their leaders because their leaders empathize with them. When leaders show empathy, they are signaling that they are interested in their employees’ lives, including personal and work-related challenges. Empathetic leaders recognize the emotions of others and focus on building real relationships.
  3. Leaders listen intently and balance seeking and telling. Leaders take the time to listen to employee concerns, feedback, and challenges. They ask clarifying questions to ensure they fully understand and offer advice only after listening and clarifying.
  4. Leaders coach people, not problems. Leaders should draw from a mental toolkit of how and what questions to help them stay curious about their coachee and help the coachee build problem-solving skills. Coaches shouldn’t simply offer solutions to the problem at hand.

Learn more about what a thriving coaching culture looks like in DDI’s blog post.

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