There are a few over-used terms that find their way into any organizational development plan – one of them is coaching. Everyone has a general idea about what it entails (the noun itself is rather self-explanatory as we are all aware what a sports coach job is) and there is a widely spread agreement that when it comes to building (or rethinking) a corporate culture, including this practice can only have a positive impact.
I couldn’t agree more. Weaving coaching deep into the fabric of organizational culture has tremendous benefits both for the employees and the company. However, making that happen is a lot more difficult.
Corporate culture has several layers
The first thing that is noticeable, as with any culture, are the artifacts – how the workspaces look like, what the posters on the walls are saying, what the distance is between the employee’s stations – basically everything one can notice the first time they are acquainted with the organization.
Then there are the expressed values – you know, the ones that are usually on the above-mentioned posters and sometimes on small colorful cards on people’s desks.
And then there is the third and most difficult to modify level – the unconscious assumptions. This is what people actually think. A lot of times, while one of the company’s expressed values is honesty, the people working there can’t help but see all the small print in their minds.
Culture cannot be transformed solely by vocabulary and syntax
While the internal communications team is very important and its skill in getting C suite messages across the organization is essential when it comes to building culture, it cannot do it on its own. Leaders need to truly walk the talk and the company as a whole has to behave in a way that is congruent with the values it empathically displays.
Further than that, it’s the job of leaders to make sure that what is openly stated becomes part of the unconscious assumptions that people working in that organization make. The most important driver for organizational change and positive corporate culture is habit alteration.
3 Obstacles to overcome when building a coaching culture
When setting about to bring coaching as an important pillar of organizational culture, there are three major areas that will need work:
Leaders are great at conveying the message but they need to be convinced to act on it as well
One of the most frustrating things I had to deal with as an internal corporate trainer was team leaders and managers constantly telling me
That is just great, but we don’t have the time/logistics/framework to do it
This was especially the case whenever the L&D department (which I was the ambassador of) promoted coaching as a talent development tool. The excuses were always numerous and most of the time they made sense.
Convincing them it’s worthwhile even with all the ‘impediments’ requires a clear exposition of how it will help the teams to increase productivity, drive up engagement, and gear towards a desired organizational outcome. The specifics are obviously different for each business, sometimes for each team, but touching on these points is crucial in really getting them on board.
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Employees are not precisely sweet on coaching either
For the most part, people still think of coaching as a form of negative feedback:
You are not doing something right so I’m going to tell you how to improve.
While the ultimate goal of coaching is indeed a better result, it’s in no way meant to be an evaluation tool. Furthermore, building a coaching culture is not only about being coached but becoming a coach for your peers.
The general arguments are the same as in the case of formal leaders – lack of time, opportunity, and a generalized misconception about what coaching really is. It’s important to show people that they will not need to add to everything they are doing at work but rather transform their routines to incorporate coaching.
Last but not least, coaching does not mean turning into some meditating Zen guru talking in bumper stickers on social media. It’s a genuinely useful activity that leads to better work relationships and much less office drama.
Coaching models are examples, not molds
Another obstacle that L&D specialists face when promoting coaching is that once everybody more or less accepts the idea and wants to move forward with it, require a very detailed recipe of exactly when and what they ought to do.
While most coaching models are quite viable and have proved they work in one environment or instance, they can’t be minutely replicated in another with the same results. Building a coaching culture is more about promoting a certain way of thinking and addressing various situations rather than scheduling intervention-like meetings to do some coaching so that a box on a list can be checked.
Before declaring success in establishing a coaching culture within an organization, it’s crucial to make sure that it is really done constantly instead or just occasionally mimed so that a box can receive its checkmark. Leaders and employees need to see the usefulness in changing their ways and their habits to incorporate coaching in their daily tasks.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.