Sound basis for encouraging a coaching culture in the workplace

Companies with a strong coaching culture are better able to implement change

It used to be called “bringing people along”. These days it goes by the fancier title of building a coaching culture. But the aim is exactly the same: supporting employees to build skills, knowledge and leadership strengths.

There’s a sound business reason for encouraging a coaching culture. Employees become more valuable to an organisation and hopefully develop into management material.

Encouraging people to improve also contributes positively to the working atmosphere. It shows you care about your staff, value their contribution and want them to reach their potential. Furthermore, this feel-good fest generally translates into more interested, communicative and engaged employees. If people feel “loved”, there is an energy and willingness to pitch in which is good for morale as well as creativity and productivity. It also speeds up decision-making and makes it easier and faster to implement change.

"Traditional performance management approaches rely heavily on a directive approach. Coaching is non-directive and focused on co-creating a trusting and equal partnership in which people can flourish and realise their true potential. Bringing coaching into an organisation can revolutionise its talent management," says Orla Carolan, a talent coach with training company, Optimum.


If you’re a manager and you want to encourage a coaching culture in your organisation, you need to offer more than lip service to the idea. You need to put money into training, be prepared to restructure teams or workflows to provide new opportunities for people, provide consistent constructive feedback and cut people the slack to fail by providing a safety net. Millennials, in particular, like to work in a well-supported environment.

If you have never experienced coaching, then start there. Hire yourself a coach and see how you benefit from their input. Bear in mind you need to “click” with your coach, so you may have to kiss a few frogs before you find the right one.

Levels the playing field

Sharing your experiences with your team levels the playing field and shows you are prepared to take guidance as well as give it. As with most things in business, however, support from the top is essential if you want a coaching culture to cascade down an organisation.

Ideally, your organisation should be prepared to provide professional training for team leaders and to use outside help where needed. Companies with effective coaching cultures often use a mix of in-house and external coaches.

“The practical elements involved include education and training around what coaching is as it can often be confused with mentoring or training,” says Carolan. “[These include] putting a structure in place around the use of simple coaching models and tools, identifying who will coach in the organisation and how often, whether it will be internal or external experts and how the success of coaching will be measured in terms of return on investment and ongoing key performance indicators. Informal supports can also be hugely beneficial such as appointing coaching champions within teams or having coaching circles for people to discuss the new approach.”

The authors of Creating a Coaching Culture in a Global Organisation, Bill Pullen and Erin Crane, say that "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."

Fostering a coaching environment may require a change in managerial style, particularly for managers who tend to be prescriptive and are used to telling people how they want things done. Micromanagers leave very little room for people to learn or to build their experience and that’s essentially what coaching is all about – empowering your team to make their own decisions by fostering their confidence, developing their powers of discrimination and letting them come up with their own solutions to problems.

Useful phrases to add to your vocabulary are: how do you think you might approach this problem? (rather than do this, do that). Would you like any input from me? Or is there anything you need to help you make a better decision or plan?

Hands-on learning

Most people are familiar with what coaches do from a sporting context and might assume that business coaching, like a sports training session, involves stopping everything else while you do it. At one time maybe, but not any more. Today’s workplace coaching model is all about practical hands-on learning while the wheels of business keep turning and it is often tied into achieving specific business goals or outcomes.

A good coaching environment fosters talent and can play a role in promoting staff retention. At global healthcare giant GSK, for example, there is a formal coaching system that links managers who have been trained in coaching with individuals (not necessarily on their team or even on their side of the world) who request it.

The company says that developmental relationships, including coaching and mentoring support, form around 20 per cent of its learning and development processes.

“To be successful, coaching must become an integral part of the organisational strategy and leader and senior management buy-in is key. Leaders need to ‘walk the talk’, fully understand and communicate the benefits to all team members with everyone up to CEO participating in and driving the coaching approach,” Carolan says.