10 must haves for transforming the culture and performance of your organisation through coaching
Change and transformation are the new normal. The outcomes of coaching are proven. But working out how to go about transforming the culture and performance of your organisation through coaching is complex. It can feel like a big undertaking. IECL’s Coaching Practice Lead, Renee Holder, shares 10 ‘must haves’ informed by IECL’s (almost) 20 years’ experience.
#1 Clarity of Purpose
IECL and our broader GrowthOps team believe uniting your people around a shared purpose is essential. Coaching needs to sit in service of something – for what purpose is the organisation building a coaching culture? How clear is the purpose of coaching for your organisation? Are you seeking to transform the way you innovate, improve performance, enhance collaboration or nurture talent? The purpose must translate into business outcomes, everyday language and behaviours which bring the purpose to life. It may be useful to consider…how will you describe coaching without using the word coaching?
#2 Exec Level Support
Support at the Executive level ensures coaching has the best chance of succeeding. Building a coaching culture needs to be strategically aligned so that when competing demands and scarce resources challenge the transformation agenda, the Executive know what they are supporting and why. It’s essential, as basic as it sounds, that the Executive know what coaching is, and what it is not! Working with a professional coach is one of the best ways to experientially give the Executive an understanding of what coaching is and what it can deliver.
#3 Customer-Centric Approach
To truly transform your culture through coaching, coaching must be seen as an enabler of outcomes not just for your organisation but for your customers. At its core, coaching is underpinned by a unique mindset and the core skills of listening and questioning. Leveraging this mindset and these skills in your people enables them to help your customers achieve more of what they want.
#4 Experience of Coaching
Who in your organisation has had a personal experience of coaching that they rave about? How do they describe the value of the coaching? How do they think differently or see new perspectives or take bold action or find new solutions to complex problems or become ‘unstuck’? If this isn’t happening now, get the stories started by offering or assigning exceptional coaches to work with your best and brightest, hi-potentials, future advocates, the cynical ones, the visible ones….or all of the above.
#5 Reality Check
Identify what might get in the way of culture change or enable it. Consider the processes, policies and cultural norms which are in line with or counter to the desired transformation. Be real. Is there a deeply held belief that leaders of teams should be the smartest person in the room? Are those with all the answers the ones who get promoted? How strong is the support for existing processes and procedures? Do leaders have a habit of scripted or task-oriented conversations? On the flipside, strengths and opportunities in the system can easily go unrecognised too. IECL recommend taking a whole system approach (Wilber, 2000) and investing time in an exploration of ‘immunity to change’ (Keegan & Lahey, 2009) when checking the current reality.
#6 Skill Build
Invest in the development of coaching skills. Build practical skills in phases suited to your organisation. Phases will be dependent on your purpose and could include: building internal coaching capability, leader as coach, leader as team coach, coaching approach leading projects as well as coaching approach to stakeholder management and client interactions. Hawkins (2012) emphasises that culture change ‘needs to be driven by those in the middle of the organisation – the leaders of tomorrow’. Develop the skills of those in the middle with the overarching purpose front and centre.
A common misconception is that coaching is easy. It’s simple but certainly not easy! Coaching is a craft that takes time and consistent practice to master. Within organisations, coaching can run counter to the well ingrained habits of leaders. Allowing sufficient time for new skills to be mastered, new cultures to form, and habits to be broken and re-formed, is essential. For culture change of this nature, a minimum 18 months to two years is a realistic timeframe.
For close to 20 years the IECL team have facilitated dialogue and developed the skills of leaders to create the space for dialogue. We are passionate about the difference true dialogue makes. This experience is echoed by Lawrence and Moore (2019) who write ‘you don’t achieve change by telling people what to do, you achieve change by creating the space for dialogue and paying attention to what emerges’. Where do leaders go, when despite good intentions they struggle to implement their new coaching skills? Where is the safe space to voice concerns or questions about the over-arching purpose? How do they share experiences, socialise problems and make meaning?
Rally the troops! Gather together a small working group who are experienced in coaching and all aligned with the transformation agenda. Also source admin and project management support to coordinate activities. IECL have observed organisations significantly underestimate the resources required or rely too heavily on one person to drive change, are you?
Create a series of feedback loops and measures along the way to gauge how the culture is changing. Tracking for both progress and outcomes is important. How will you know when the culture has shifted in the right direction? Be open and flexible to altering your approach in response your measures if need be…‘we must seek to understand the impact of our efforts on the system as we go and be prepared to adjust and adapt’ (Lawrence and Moore, 2019).