The idea of a coaching culture - making a start on establishing coaching as a part of how the organisation works by Sarah Kivlin (guest)

1. My developing interest around coaching in organisations

I’ve wanted coaching to be recognised as a viable way of developing people in this organisation for several years.

I have now started a definite plan for this, and it is a great opportunity to use ‘the good coach’ as an open forum for reporting, and considering how this fits into the wider picture of Coaching, and how it gets established in organisations.

I will take the opportunity, here, to outline how this is starting; and expect to then use the same approach in some short articles, to keep track of how it is going.

I have been very aware, and keep in touch, with how initiatives – based on this idea of Coaching - have started in a very wide range of other organisations. I am also aware of the challenges that can be involved in embedding Coaching as an established ‘organisational function‘ like all the other established functions. I can still remember when Personnel Management was the normal term before the change in emphasis was made to refer to people as ‘ resources!‘ i.e.  Human Resources!

Coaching has been going on a long time. It’s not a wholly new concept, but up until a short while ago it was seen primarily as remedial; something that gets done to someone if they’re not performing.


2. Early signs of important momentum 

Now, I hear CEOs talking about their coaches and sharing their experiences with other senior managers. It’s no longer being kept a secret – it’s out there and people are listening.

The trends that resulted in this shift were also happening quietly, as part of natural changes taking place over time. For example,

  • Several senior leaders retired within a couple of years of each other and with new blood came new ideas.
  • Also, came a desire to change the culture of the organisation – to make it less bureaucratic and hierarchical.
  • To encourage managers to spend more time getting to know their staff, to ask them what sort of climate they created for their people. 

3.  Appreciating the existing organisational Culture

While it is possible to get excited about movements, it is also important to appreciate that we don’t want to get rid of some of the important features of our culture that will continue to be important going forwards. Even though they may initially seem to work against some of the ideals of the idea of Coaching.

Our organisation has a substantial history, over many many decades, with long links to a world renowned educational body. Proud of its heritage, the organisation takes its reputation extremely seriously and, as such, is relatively risk-averse. The culture tends to be bureaucratic and hierarchical. 

Some areas of our business are heavily regulated and there are limited solutions to problems, therefore a coaching approach seems artificial and, often unrealistic. This environment can cause some managers to believe they should always have the answers, which, in turn stops them asking questions. Part of our strategy is to open minds and show managers how liberating it can be to help their people find their own answers. There is a push to become less bureaucratic and hierarchical and many of the HR initiatives are designed to contribute to that shift. 

Our organisation has always invested heavily in people development but there has been a substantial increase in that investment and, in particular, leadership development. Part of that has been greater use of coaching as an approach. At last coaching has become well and truly on the agenda. 


4. Starting with my own role

a) The HR context

The HR leader is already a qualified coach and a great ambassador for the development of our managers so that they have the confidence as well as the skills needed to have coaching conversations. 

We don’t want them to put themselves under pressure to become coaches, instead our approach is to encourage them to ask more questions and do less telling. For some of them, a consultative style is more natural which makes for an easier transition. 

For others, it’s a long journey from the solution-finding, “just do it” style they’re used to; either from a reportee perspective and/or a management one to a coaching style. 

b) My particular role

My role has been for some time in training and development, generally. So I already have an established portfolio, and network.

I have been able to start my own portfolio of Coaching assignments. This is also still very much a start and I have made important progress in establishing this.

I then moved on to considering how part of my re-designed role was to put together a strategy for developing a coaching culture in this organisation . This was a really exciting opportunity for me to focus much of my energy on a huge area of interest. 

It sounds simple, but actually ..

  • What would a coaching culture look like here? 
  • Where would the support come from? 
  • Who would be involved?

5. The Internal Coach idea as a basis for a strategy

The important factor in establishing coaching seems to depend on some straight forward factors:

  • Establishing the relevance of the special knowledge involved. This differentiates what is involved as something different from what might already happen invisibly.The type and nature of knowledge involved was a challenge in a field still evolving its articulation and consensus around what is involved.
  • Establishing a resource inside the organisation that held the capabilities and offered practical options for registering, and delivering this knowledge.
  • Again, this depended on a practical approach of finding resources who would commit to the value added  for themselves in their roles/careers – without being a special budgetary burden – given the intangibility of outputs still.
  • Design a process for bringing the two together in a practical operational formula.

6. The start – progress to date

A group of people from across the Group were convened to start working towards a coaching qualification. 

Each of them undertook 3 coaching assignments on their journey to being qualified and are turning out to be passionate advocates for coaching.

Finding people to take part in the first accredited coaching programme was easy. There was a great deal of interest in attending the set of workshops involved; and completing subsequent portfolios to achieve a recognised qualification. There was also much enthusiasm to take on the three coaching assignments required to achieve the qualification and, going forward, each internal coach agreed to coach at least three people per year. 

The key process involved

Although this technical start was important, momentum has been really established by continuing dialogue among this group.

We get together regularly in group supervision sessions to support each other and share any challenges that we’re facing in our coaching relationships. In an organisation where the prominent management style is more authoritative than coaching we have much to discuss and work through, for example:

  • We share stories; successes, challenges and what ifs? I notice the different styles and personalities emerging; the contribution each coach makes to their colleagues’ learning in those sessions is invaluable. 
  • We’ve discussed boundaries and whether we keep coachees to work-based issues or whether we coach on more personal topics. The consensus was that it’s important to work with the whole person and that one area of their lives is likely to impact on others. 
  • We have agreed that there may be times when the coachee decides to leave the organisation and that line managers would need to accept that this might be the best option for the individual and ultimately the organisation. 
  • We’ve talked about unwilling coachees and how we could possibly find ourselves sitting with someone who didn’t know why they were there and couldn’t see the value in coaching. I shared the age-old problem in any learning and development department where managers send staff along to an event to be ‘fixed’. We’ve agreed that there needs to be some initial conversations to understand how the coachee came to be presented with a coach. 

All the time, that we’re honing our skills, we’re streamlining the process of coaching in the organisation. And we’re working to make it a credible proposition to managers. 

The freedom to develop personal coaching styles will come with further development as we invite other coaches to talk to us and train us in different techniques. With that will come an increase in confidence to support the development of our coaching culture.


7. What next..?

So what next? I’m getting ready to run the coaching programme again this year and accredit another group of internal coaches. This group will join our established coaching community and we’ll continue to support each other and share our experiences. 

We’ll continue to raise the awareness of coaching by running regular events; giving colleagues the opportunity to experience coaching and gain an understanding of the benefits.

However within this the key factor is still hidden - it’s my belief that every one of these internal coaches will develop their own style and they need the encouragement and freedom to be able to do that. I already see those who like the structure of models and enjoy solutions-focussed coaching. I see others as enjoying a more fluid style. Whatever the style, there will be more development for each coaches. 


8. Conclusions and next steps

I am satisfied that a good foundation has been established. It has taken time, as well as a lot of work to get this far.

I want to continue to build how Coaching works in a similar manner – providing those involved with the support and circumstances that enables the people involved to learn at an appropriate pace, and establish how it best works for them in their circumstances.

There have been a number of important lessons from even this start, and I will want to ensure these are carried forward, and developed further, as we progress towards that ultimate goal of that coaching culture.

Sarah K..jpeg

Passionate about the development of people, I have worked in the area of learning and development for over 25 years. The focus of my current role is to identify and design development opportunities to support the careers of our high potential people. I’m able to integrate two areas of particular interest; coaching and mentoring; both of which form an integral part of the organisation’s talent strategy. 

My introduction to learning and development was through my role as an IT trainer which led to my studying and qualifying in Human Resource (HR) Management. Whilst operating as an HR generalist gave me a sound insight into different organisations, people and cultures, my heart has always been in learning and development. Going back to my specialism gave me the opportunity to formulate the learning strategy in a number of organisations and establish learning and development departments in two of them. I started coaching about 15 years ago as, what seemed to me, a natural addition to my work as a facilitator in leadership and management development. I’m currently building a community of internal coaches within the organisation with a view to raising awareness of the benefits of coaching and advocating it as the default management style for our people.