Recently I conducted a video conference session with an overseas client. This client is a senior executive and we have had previously three very fruitful sessions face to face. While I do conduct a fair number of coaching sessions via video conferencing, I do feel always that I have to be even more vigilant in following my client thanRead More
As a Coach I work with high level Executives and Entrepreneurs in developing their skills, abilities and behaviors to match the complex requirements of their roles. Developing a person is a highly demanding and very revealing process for both the Coach and the Coachee.Read More
It’s very easy to stereotype and generalize, and this becomes more noticeable when you’re working in a multicultural, multi-country organization because you’re dealing with people in lots of different countries. Without thinking through what it is you want to actually say, it can be very easy to blurt out, “Oh, you’re Belgian, therefore,” “Oh, you’re German therefore,” “You’re American, therefore.”
I attended a recent cross-cultural coach training program in Northern Europe and what fundamentally underpinned the whole programme was to question the relevance of stereotypes when you’re dealing with the individual who's there with you in the room, and there to have a conversation with you.
One of the exercises we carried out early on was to ask all the participants to think through the considerations with cross-cultural coaching. We wrote down all the things you have to think about e.g. technology, speaking slowly, avoiding acronyms etc. And then, a kind of light bulb came on, “Actually, we don’t. What we have to think about is the person in the room.” If the person in the room speaks fluent English and actually doesn’t mind us speaking quickly, and can — what is it you’re implying when you speak slowly?
By speaking slowly aren’t you just assuming they don’t understand you if you speak fast? More importantly it’s about speaking at the pace they can understand.
And then came, “How are we going to take this further?”
It was one line, “Treat them like an individual.”
The answer was as simple as that. It was literally, ‘When you’re in the room with them, virtually or physically, just talk to them and listen to them and treat them like an individual, because they might not be anything like anyone else. They won’t be like any other person you’ve ever met’.
Exploring further my approach to coaching in a cross-cultural environment
I think as coaches, we’re lucky. I think we are lucky in a cross-cultural environment because our natural instinct is to assume less and jump to fewer conclusions (rather than starting at a solution). I’m not going to jump to conclusions about why they’re wearing what they are or jump to conclusions about the way they’re responding to me, or not. What I am going to do is to ask whether they are struggling to understand what I’ve said? Are they struggling to pick up the nuances in the question? And asking more questions, and in particular direct questions in a non-assuming way, is something that a coach can bring to the situation.
Are you struggling to understand or actually, is there something more to this? It’s this idea that as a coach, you’ve got the freedom and the permission to ask direct questions. For example, when someone appears to be upset by a particular situation or question, it’s normal to give them the appropriate space, a coach could also ask if it’s something else, (and I urge all the coaches to ask the question). “I noticed that when I asked you that question, you responded in this way. Why was that?”
Whereas many managers tend to say, “I noticed that when I said that, you shied away from me. And actually, I know that’s typical of where you are from, but I need you to engage.” That’s a huge assumption that the response was simply down to a stereotype. Whereas a coach could just ask the question, “Why did you respond in that way?”
Being able to ask that question, and hear their response, is a great transformational piece for cross-cultural organizations. Understanding the difference between making a judgement and stating a fact as part of their training engages their curiosity to ask why. That someone doesn’t speak up in a meeting, is just a fact. The judgment is when you think that they’re not confident, just because it’s assumed that keeping quiet in meetings implies a lack of confidence.
Bringing ‘coaching conversations’ into organisations
Sometimes it’s necessary to be cautious openly talking about ‘coaching’ even though it happens all the time all over the organisation. For example, someone might pop over to my desk and start talking about some issues they’ve got or some challenge. And depending on the topic of conversation, I might say, “Let’s go have a quiet coffee somewhere” or we might just chat at my desk. I’ve always got my coaching head ready to engage, and I think that helps because people know that.
What I am conscious of, and there are many others who practice what I do, is that I don’t label examples I have shared as coaching either. And then when it comes to our Supervision Group and we’re asked, “So how much coaching have you been doing?” The response is typically, “Well, in the formal sense, I’ve only done maybe two or three hours since the last time we met. But actually, I’m having maybe 5 or 10 conversations a day, maybe 25 a week, which are ‘coaching’ conversations.” And so we train our managers in having coaching conversations, in having an inquisitive mind.
This also forms part of a tiered view of coaching:
It starts with coaching conversations (with some very good basic training around coaching and mentoring for all managers),
Followed by talking to them about what do they know about contracting,
Before moving into the more structured form of coaching.
Thinking back to Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership, I agree that there are times and places when you have to be directive. You can’t do anything but — if someone’s put themselves in danger – you need to tell them to stop. It’s not difficult. It’s knowing when to be directive, too. The manager needs to work out the whole platter of stopping points in between being directive to asking them one or two pertinent questions that enable them to go away and work on the answer for themselves, it’s really managers who are having a range of coaching conversations that are showing an aptitude for extending the world of coaching.
The challenge that then materializes is that we get a lot of managers wanting to switch roles and say, “I’m a coach.” Whilst the field works through professionalizing what is coaching it’s useful to use the current lens to explore some of the current perceived challenges.
Following “Coaching Conversations” training is just the beginning towards becoming an ‘accredited coach’. There’s much more to it, a wealth of training and experiences, especially around some of the basics like boundary setting and contracting. For example, someone may approach you for some advice. You didn’t actually give them advice, what you did was to help them explore options for themselves and come up with a resolution.
My response would be that the contract was kind of implicit in the question. However, if they wanted to continue that relationship with that individual, then it’s being more explicit and direct to say, “We want to then coach on a formal basis, we would then expect you to contract with them about outcomes and boundaries and all those things.”
Reflecting on how having a mindset to simply have coaching conversations can break through stereotypes
There is a whole school of thought around cultural stereotypes, company stereotypes, corporate stereotypes, corporate cultures, (Steve Glowinkowski talks a lot about what constitutes corporate culture – and how it can be changed). There is a known bias that senior leaders tend to recruit people who are like themselves subconsciously, some experts recommend for a fully functioning organization to exist and thrive they require a bit of everything, so recommend using a simple psych assessment like Myers Briggs to test this. But from my perspective and experience this isn’t necessarily true. What you need to do is treat everyone as individuals and work out what everyone is going to do. Through co-operation you do create culture.
For example, there are companies now like the BBC who recruit, first of all, based on you as a person, your ‘fit’, not on your skills. When they moved to Salford in the Northwest, their entire online portal was encouraging anyone from the Northwest to apply because they wanted local people. They said, “Go online. Do the tests.” All the tests were value-based asking simple things like, what would you do in this situation, if someone comes and tells you that one of their colleagues has been taking drugs in the toilet? How are you going to deal with that situation?
It was testing your approach to value.
And at the end of it and depending how you answered they let you know whether you’re a good fit, or not, for the BBC. If you are, then you accessed another portal which showed you which roles were currently available where there was a further screening process. Their overall argument is, “It’s much easier to train people in skills because you can retrain as an accountant or a financial controller. But if you haven’t got the right set of values, you’re going to disrupt their company ethos.”
As I mentioned earlier, having all managers have a coaching conversation mindset as part of the multitude of conversations they have every day is one of the ways we’re going to break down stereotypes and they will have an aptitude for extending the world of coaching.
Questions for you:
How do you have ‘coaching conversations’ in your organisation?
Where has it worked best?
What are some of the contexts where coaching conversations can be a limitation?
To connect with Simon:
Simon has over 20 years’ experience of service delivery and continuous improvement in a variety of roles and industry sectors. He trained as a coach and coach supervisor and as Head of Coaching at Fujitsu UK & Ireland he established a Coaching Community utilising internal and external coaches to meet the business need for performance improvement and provided a basis for establishing a coaching competency for the organisation.
He has continued as a coaching ambassador for Fujitsu, presenting at conferences and contributing to publications and professional bodies in order to promote the use of coaching for performance and particularly internal coaching as a valid and valued approach.
He is married with 2 daughters and lives in Manchester, North-West England.
I have often seen how a lot of Eastern philosophy seems to have no formal research data. However, if you look at the concepts that Eastern philosophy has integrated, and then go back looking for scientific evidences from the Western philosophy, I think there’s a pretty good integration.
And if we keep working on that integration, then I think there is some strong Eastern philosophy thinking which Western philosophy thinking can, like the yin and yang, meet up to really inform what coaching could be about.
There are many significant philosophies in this idea of ‘East’ – for example, China, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka and many more… To make a start, I believe that ideas which come from Indian philosophy can be useful here.
1 Three types of existence from Indian philosophy
I would start with three types of existence that exist within people, which comes from a typical Indian philosophy which talks about the Sattva, Rajas and the Tamas. These states, or energies, exist in everyone, all of the time.
Three types of existence
Key processes in the three types of existence:
Indian philosophy does not clarify these as stages. “Yes, it can be a stage of life, but it actually categorizes more of a personality type.” Rather, it classifies people as belonging to three broad boxes.
2 Immediate connection with fundamentals of neuroscience
People can often go through a process that follows the three types of existence. This is where philosophy and neuroscience research has a lot of integration.
We begin with words that can be taken from different philosophies which help to bring together a common ground and understanding.
We know that language as a function can free itself from the cortex when it starts growing around the age of 24 to 30. It is at that age that you would be dominated by the Rajas – yet they are still not polished, and so you cannot enjoy everything life has to offer.
We know that the prefrontal cortex also has a part to play in the mental function of learning. Here you have access to your experiences, those that come from memory, your internal experiences, the top-down processing and the bottom-up processing that altogether drives the perception. These then become much more methodical and broader in the Tamas.
With this development, your thinking starts to undergo a transformation. It becomes, for example, more willing to really contribute to the society.
Does this happen because people give up? No. It happens because people have enjoyed, are happy, and now they think, “Okay, I’ve seen it all.” That’s the growth of the brain function in which you actually shift your experience and start looking at the self-directed people in society, as I say, as against experiences-directed people in society.
So the experience of neuroplasticity arrives from both Rajas and Tamas, especially when you are talking about higher levels. When you do talk about higher levels you are talking about the inner call, you’re talking about self-realization, you are looking at islands of self-motivation and stuff like that. So that is how I see these two disciplines integrating together.
3 Progress towards ‘Individuating’
One aspect of Eastern philosophy says ‘to realize’, to the extent that I know. As I accumulate social experience and contemplate the purpose of life, we are realizing our ‘humanity.’ Human Beings have largely matured. For this realization to become ‘complete’, we go through a process of reincarnation, or rebirth, again, and again, and again, until a time you are able to reach the Sattva mind set.
For me, that is individuating. You actually start looking at the experiences. You start looking at what is positive, pure, pleasurable and divine, which is Sattva as against Rajas - Rajas being more about a controlling mind set. There are also people who are very human, and full of Tamas, which can be negative, impure, painful and dominating.
And in terms of being able to move from:
- Negative thinking to positive thinking,
- Impure to pure,
- Analysing to Self-Reflection,
- ‘I-Me-Myself’ to ‘We-Us-Ourselves’
As you move to Sattva, it becomes more positive, purer, serene and more serving. You move from, I, me, myself to be ourselves and the world.
So that is individuating for me. That change of mind set is, I think, a big task for coaches to see as being both worthy and more relevant.
4 Combining modes of existence with processes
I see that my purpose is driven by Sattva. The individual starts to realize “I want to be positive”, “I am purer”, “I’m not driven by pleasure”. This seems to be the purpose and goal of individuation.
Individuating does not happen (and may be, should not happen) when individuals are driven by Tamas. One needs to first enjoy the pleasure before one can give it up! That would probable make the life transformation more complete!
Another way of saying this is if people realize that their purpose of life is broader and not simply just about existing. Connecting it to Western philosophy, we might discuss the hygiene factors, because you’re not yet in the growth factor.
We need to enjoy pleasure and pain before we give it up. As we move up, we move from Tamas, and we are able to be more accepting of the pleasures and the pain. We may even draw learning experiences from what pleasure and pain teach us.
Let me share an example …. Consider the story of Lord Buddha. He was a royal by birth. As a prince, who was still young and going through early experiences, he was often hidden from all the pains of the world. He was not allowed to see any pain. But when the prince did get an opportunity to see people suffering that pain actually created ‘insight’ for him about life. (We might consider insight as a neuroscientific explanation of the Aha moment). It made the prince move toward the Satvva state of mind. However, those people that are yielding Rajas, they use that energy to control the mind. Therefore they seek penance, deep penance, and they try to get through all the distraction that would remove you from this penance.
Remember the purpose of life is Sattva and so one must always be cautious of distraction. And the purpose of Satvva is very clear:
“The world is in us. We create the world. There is enough for everyone.” When you reach the state of Satvva, you ‘soar’ high!
And, when we move to Sattva, you will actually realize the ‘pure state’.
And just one more - a more recent example from cricket – India against Bangladesh!
(Cricket is a very important aspect of our culture!)
At the very last ball to be bowled, the skipper of India gets himself ready. The other team has to get two runs to win; one run to tie. He is absolutely focused, and very cool. He signals the bowler to bowl the ball outside the leg stump. The batsman misses the ball and he, as the wicket keeper, collects the ball that goes through to him. As the player at the other end has to run, he then runs down to hit the stumps with the ball before the other player can reach safety; the captain gets the victory, right?
The energy he shows – after this, is that he is not jumping up and down with excitement, saying that, “We have done it!” He is simply part of the crowd. He says, “We may be done, but let’s wait for the final verdict to come.” Even when the final score board says that the last one is out, he still doesn’t jump in the air. That’s clearly Sattva energy. For the Bangladeshi who had a much stronger desire to simply win aimed for the big victory, they went for the big hits – and missed. When all they wanted was singles, not boundaries from big hits.
Now, if you see this from Western philosophy, then we’re talking about the executive function which is now fully-loaded with all types of negative neurotransmitters. These negative transmitters shut you down from thinking, which is what happens as you grow from Tamas to Rajas.
5 Applying to coaching
So as a coach, if you are able to work with a person, the inner conversation that you will have shall be driven by what type of energy? If your client is driven by desire, or by a pure, positive energy, what type of conversation should you have in response to this?
As I’m talking to you, your inner dialogue could be saying that I need to maintain the best impression of the mind. My inner dialogue proposes to me that I need to contribute my best to the coaching world.
Some of you might refer to what I’m talking about to mindfulness, for example. When we are talking about mindfulness, we’re talking about mindfulness meditation that comes from the East, from China and Sri Lanka. This mindfulness is all about being aware of the inner dialogue that is going on inside of you and through you. Please note, we are not saying that you control this inner dialogue.
And so, if I know my inner dialogue and that’s the job of a coach to show them (the clients) the inner dialogue that’s going on, it then may be possible to try to reframe the inner dialogue.
You can actually go higher. But if your inner dialogue is just going to be ‘unconscious’ because you are too busy dealing with the outer world then this “Unconscious” state shall continue to dominate and probable continue to be in Tamas.
The role of the coach is to say that, “Look, you can change your inner dialogue. And if you look, you already have been enjoying all the pure, demonic, pain, impure, negative thoughts that you enjoy. You have moved to controlling your pain, you then control selfish desire. Now, if you actually give up, and then require, which is to a large extent, the sovereign leadership counsel that you pick up, you are moving from a transactional to a transformational to a sovereign you.”
What I’ve shared is my approach, my way of connecting important philosophies that inform my coaching. You may choose other ways of thinking, such as: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam. Each and every one of us is in some way ultimately serving the world. For me, it is the Sattva energy that comes from the inner dialogue. If you’re continuously negative, you’re not going to reach the purpose of your life. We must move from a ‘doing’ state, to a ‘being’ state. That’s the true way, which is what I call “living this way.”
6 Where do we go next with these ideas?
I know how these ideas work for me in helping me work between Eastern and Western philosophies.
There is still a great amount of practical detail that has to be worked out within these broad ideas. It is important to have this view of bringing all these philosophies further together.
I am hoping to share more examples of how this works in practice.
For example, it even applies to making sense of diet – something which may or may not be very important in any coaching agenda. It may be a hidden factor/indicator of some issue which has surfaced, but has yet to be appreciated, even at this level.
To connect with R Ramamurthy Krishna
R Ramamurthy Krishna who brings thirty (30) years of multi industry, multinational culture experience. A Global Professional in Human Resources, A Professional Certified Coach from International Coach federation. He is the only Indian to be admitted to Association of Professional Executive Coaching and Supervision, United Kingdom.
Krishna bring a rare flavour of neuroscience to leadership having been certified by Neuroleadership institute, Australia. An active blogger, author and speaker. He is also one of the few persons in Chennai to run his own Executive Coaching School.
He held senior leadership position in Human resources in Multi National Organisation and presently engages himself as Practicing Cognitive Transformationsist and Perspective Partner with Potential Genesis HR Services LLP.
As more and more organisations express their interest in growing a “coaching culture” amongst their ranks, I am passionate about exploring what a coaching culture can mean practically for leaders, in their own words :
- Can they tangibly increase their teams effectiveness and deliver higher performance by adapting their style and tapping into the benefits of a coaching approach?
- What specific coaching ingredients can they bring into their leadership approach?
- What resources are required?
- And where to start this journey?
I'd like to share some of my personal insights from having had the opportunity to work over the years with Senior Leadership Teams working on organisational and cultural change projects. Whilst a broader number of dimensions were key to the execution of this sort of project, I would like to focus here on those coaching inspirations which proved decisive in creating success.
Typically it can involve a new management initiative, in for example, a large division of an organisation, that receives a strong mandate to move away from serving one type of customer with non complex needs, and step up to efficiently cover larger and more international clients, and deliver them a much fuller range of products, services and geographies.
The people's challenge
As well as recognising this new model for the organisation, the challenge is also about recognising the complexity of implementing such a change on the people's side. Making the most of it typically involves three major pieces of change :
1. “Breaking the silos” (a frequent explicit leadership challenge in large organisations).
The model needed is more one of a global team with fluid cooperation and coordination across geographies and divisions.
The starting point is an existing staff and their leadership long being used to work as local teams, with a domestic focus often limited to a narrow range of products, and no communications with the group's other divisions.
2. Building a competitive advantage through increased collective intelligence (a frequently implicit challenge)
Beyond the implementation of a new model and the related organisational changes, the intent needs also to raise the teams profile and behavioural standards, to maximise the opportunity through high degrees of cooperation, creativity and cohesion.
Typically there is a significant entrenchment, over a long time in an established culture of silos, which limits the Teams' vision of how to leverage the many diverse resources across the organisation in a coordinated and proactive fashion… let alone with the confidence that they actually have the requisite skills to perform it.
3. Maximising everyone's contribution (a very frequent execution challenge)
To succeed, the implementation of the new model has to be owned by the teams, who would make it happen on the ground.
This very articulated vision can be compelling but has to translate to what it means in day-to-day business terms for the staff and existing leadership : what exactly needs to be done differently ?
How people were engaged
The key actions to engage people that I aim to bring are:
- Sharing vision :
The new strategy and vision need to be quickly and consistently shared across the leadership by a series of face-to-face workshops and phone/video based follow-ups.
- Involving the wider Leadership :
During those first months, all the senior leadership and a large portion of the management need to be invited to contribute to establishing the medium-term strategic plan that would support the strategy. This approach enables both quality input and a high degree of buy-in, creating a solid bedrock for the change.
- Energising and sustaining the effort :
A strong emphasis needs also to be placed on energising and creating engagement and complementarities across the teams, between those who know the organisation from the inside and the key external hires helping to bridge the gaps in terms of knowledge and experience of the desired model. This will help creating a robust foundation and securing quick wins needed to buy the necessary time with the involved stakeholders.
This sort of initiative typically indeed takes place over a substantial time period – generally a few years of sustained efforts and consistency to deliver the bulk of the value.
For example, during the first stages of the plan, the leadership must remain committed to:
- keep sharing motivating vision and purpose,
- maintain energy and engagement levels
- set clear expectations and boundaries, and enforce them when needed
- encourage empowerment across the whole command chain
- dramatically increase the pace of exchanges
- create forums for teams to communicate, exchange, voice concerns and help each other,
- adapt compensation to reward the higher engagement and performance
- Developing individuals and teams :
A number of key individuals in the Senior Leadership Team need to set the example of deliberately encouraging a genuine team coaching approach. This involves considering also a number of individual coaching relationships and the design of bespoke development efforts to address specific gaps as they are surfacing.
For example, following various feedback sessions and a purposeful use of talent reviews, specific coaching/training series are designed to:
- foster more cooperation,
- create empowerment and leadership across the client service teams,
- overcome cultural differences and work efficiently as a global team
What success looks like for this type of project
- Within the time needed – which may be over several years, the P&L impact will prevail as a key measure of success (I have seen examples in which the income in scope increased multiple-fold and made qualitative leaps, shifting from mostly an addition of uncorrelated domestic revenues to the desired internationally balanced and cross-fertilised set of revenues).
- To use a sport's metaphor, the teams' credibility swiftly changes leagues, with a significantly increased recognition externally as well as internally across cousin divisions.
- Many individual profiles in the staff switch from individual domestic performers to internationally mobile team leaders, or from experts/producers to respected leaders, setting as many attractive examples of internal promotion success and boosting employees morale and engagement levels.
- As a result, talent retention dramatically increases - I have seen cases with no single talent loss over long periods - achieving a quite unusual retention success in the particular industry.
So, what sort of resources need to be tapped into in this sort of project ?
From my experience and observations,
- The senior leadership team need to maintain their confidence, their usual great competitive spirit and an unalterable faith in the success all the way through the project... Combining this with an overall unassuming leadership style and a real care for their teams and their success is a winning game.
- Staff and managers need to tap into their courage and openness to change to take the leap of faith. Some, by leaving good positions in other organisations to join the project; others, already present in the organisation, by accepting to challenge the status quo and reinvent themselves, doing many things differently.
- Everyone, regardless of roles and seniorities, has to keep working hard but differently. The most decisive change agents are the individuals and the teams who manage to make the time to reflect and be creative, observe, be agile and learn all the way through.
- Many, in particular those leading virtual and transversal teams, need to learn to take more of a coaching approach with their colleagues and pass on the empowerment they are personally receiving. For doing so they have to shift their mindset and become confident that by giving they wouldn't lose anything; they are investing to reap the benefits of more collective intelligence in return.
What specific coaching ingredients help to make the difference ?
In this sort of change project, I identify at least 7 decisive coaching ingredients that work each time they are used, in different combinations and approaches :
1. Consciously creating space to dedicate quality time and attention to the different teams and individuals.
2. Providing clarity and certainty by “contracting” :
a. Setting clear expectations and targets, involving the teams inputs
b. Sharing clear progress markers and measures of success across the timeline
3. Showing appreciation, attention and consideration :
a. Dedicate quality management time to individuals and teams
b. Making every virtual leader understand what was their role about, and realise how much more senior and motivating it was than what they initially thought
c. Giving them wider public recognition within the organisation
d. Deliberately celebrating all progress as they were being made and regardless of their size
4. Accentuating the positive, encouraging and stretching :
a. Deliberately giving encouragements, acknowledgements, accentuating the positive as often as possible
b. Stretching individuals and teams to grow and go bold, demonstrate responsible but ambitious leadership
5. Giving autonomy :
a. Empowering teams and individuals, so as to ensure there is Leadership across the whole organisation
b. Giving space to express themselves within clear boundaries with clarified roles and rules of engagements
6. Fostering cooperation :
a. Making sure everyone involved would be recognised
b. Communicating about the differences and making them all understood
7. Encouraging learning:
a. Last but not least, accepting the principle that there will be a learning curve, and spending dedicated, personalised leadership air time whenever and wherever a gap needs to be bridged
b. The latter makes great impact whenever the leadership identifies that individuals and teams each are presenting different strengths, challenges and needs in the change process, and manage to adapt the support given accordingly
What I take away
@@A considerable amount of intuitive learning exists and is waiting to be extracted from live, practical experiences of change.@@ This particular summary supports in my view the evidence that Leaders can successfully draw on a more coaching orientated approach to contribute to change.
As I am reflecting on it, two key learning points stand out for me :
1. Leadership presence :
The coaching ingredient that I see as a the most important for Leaders to reflect on is the notion of Leadership Presence :
Great Leaders set a clear vision and share it widely. And when it comes to execution, I believesustainable success requires they too avoid the pitfall of arriving with a fixed, unique agenda for everyone. Instead, Leaders who are eager to seek inspiration from coaching can reflect on :
- What conditions they need to create, so they can trust their teams for having the capability to become change agents, in their own style and at their own pace?
- How they can give them the quality space to unpack this capability?
That quality of Leadership Presence, consciously ensuring that as much space as possible will be deliberately created to dedicate quality time and attention to the different teams and individuals, is I believe the first enabler to a coaching culture.
2. Collective intelligence :
Great Leaders seek to make a positive difference by winning both the hearts and minds. I believe Leaders will powerfully increase their chances to achieve this, if they consciously invest in fostering more Collective Intelligence by :
- Growing the teams' systemic awareness of their internal and external interactions
- Leveraging the different forms of intelligence and skills as much opportunities for cross-fertilisation
- Fostering fluid collaboration and synchronicity
- Calling out teams' wisdom and showing trust on their ability to self-organise within the agreed boundaries
- Encouraging the emotional connection to the vision as a means to sustainable performance
Other things to consider that’s beyond the scope of this paper :
Whilst this paper aims at sharing insights and observations from practical experience and to help to make the concept of growing a coaching culture more palatable to Leaders, it is important to point out that differences obviously exist between the respective roles and positions of Leaders and Coaches and their ethical implications. I look forward exploring in another paper these differences.
Let me leave you with some questions to reflect on…
If you read this as a Practitioner, a Leader or an Executive using Coaching to accompany change,
- What are those practical situations you have experienced ?
- What worked well, that helped implement successful and sustainable change, and was inspired from coaching approaches ?
- What did you observe, that helped ensuring that the exact needed level of attention would be dedicated to everyone whilst coping with the overall volume of the projects, size of staff, etc ?
- How do you think leaders can increase their own awareness of their existing coaching strengths and get hungry for growing them more ?
- Given they are in a different role than the one of an external Coach, what ethical safeguards Leaders should have in mind when they apply coaching-inspired approaches ?
How to connect with Laurent Terseur:
Laurent Terseur is a former senior executive with a genuine care for people and over two decades senior experience in multi-cultural, highly competitive corporate environments, first as a group treasurer in pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, then in sales and leadership roles in the corporate and investment banking divisions of Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Barclays.
Laurent is an APECS Accredited Executive Coach and an ICF Professional Certified Coach. He coaches individuals and teams, English as well as French native speakers. His practice integrates insights from cognitive neurosciences and systemic coaching, and is informed by his track record in building highly collaborative and effective teams, his business acumen, and his multi-faceted understanding of matrix organisations.
Hecan be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coaching culture is a hot topic for professional bodies in 2015, and the majority of the research has been carried out in organisations who have bought into the 'coaching culture', especially where there is - it would seem - a strong internal coaching department. An important and growing trend in the sustainability for coaching overall.
Instead of looking outside and observe how they are managing the coaching culture alongside their companies organisational culture, I thought I'd begin by looking inside coaching and what coaching culture means for professional bodies. How is 'coaching culture' being driven from the centre - wherever that might lie - top down, bottom up, somewhere in between?
As I mentioned in my last blog (Observing the Unobservable), we do not have a clear consensus or agreement of what is 'coaching culture'. The authors refer to descriptions such as the coaching style, the coaching approach, the coaching behaviour and so, and I thought a useful starting point that best represents these descriptions is the accreditation/credentialing process carried out by the professional coaching bodies. After all, if any organisations are going to role model what's coaching culture or coaching cultures that would be the first place to gather such information.
The two professional bodies I'm going to compare are the ICF and APECS, bodies whom I have engaged with since becoming a coach. At the ICF, I was one of the Founding Members and Company Secretary for the Hong Kong chapter that follows a franchise model. At APECS, I am a member of the Accreditation team and project manager for one of the biggest event, the APECS symposium.
I share my top 3 comparisons between the two bodies (open/download table for more details):
1. Minimum requirements for being labelled a professional coach - where's the starting line?
ICF: To call oneself a professional (certified) coach one needs to have “a clear demonstration of coaches’ experience as a direct result of coach-specific training approved hours of coaching and emphasize currency of client-coaching hours to ensure that coaches who earn ICF Credentials are currently practicing”.
APECS: To call oneself a professional executive coach, an executive coach needs to demonstrate that executive coaching forms at a minimum: 40% of their practice over five years, at least five years of organisational/executive experience and a Masters degree (or equivalent): “In making an Application to have your expertise recognised you are required to reflect on your Executive Coaching practice. You will be asked to identify specifically how you meet the APECS Professional Standards.”
2. Credentialing/Accrediting for professional standards based on the coach’s experience (input vs. output) - who's the market
ICF: Focuses on the skills and competencies necessary to be a certified coach (Associate, Professional, Masters) against the 11 core coaching competencies and codes of ethics. Demonstration that a certified coach has met the minimum requirements shall be validated after successfully completing the Coach Knowledge Assessment, and a performance evaluation (audio recording and written transcript) by ICF assessors with little/no feedback from the coach and coachee.
APECS: Based on meeting the minimum requirements in which the market i.e. the clients have validated the coaches practice, the applicants are asked to ‘articulate the detailed rationale, philosophy and pattern of their Practice’ against the 7 pillars framework which includes supervision, CPPD, APECS ethical guidelines, and Professional liability insurance. They share this articulation in their application and during the accreditation dialogue with trained APECS accreditors (APECS peers) who share their views and opinions, and aligned with ISO 17024.
3. Appreciation of culture and identity - A nod to diversity and inclusivity
ICF: Skills and competencies are considered universal.
APECS: An appreciation of how the executive coach works effectively within different cultures and how it influences their identity as a professional coach is explored in the application form, the accreditation dialogue and CPPD.
Comparison Table: ICF and APECS (Click to open 3 page pdf)
On further reflection, as I compiled this table together it became clearer to me there’s a difference between reading and living in something that encourages quality dialogues. Without a doubt, each professional coaching organisation (of which there are many) has its strengths and limitations and have entered the market that represents different stages of learning and development of the coaching maturation cycle. And so they work along, in my opinion, across a continuum in which they are the current bookends.
To conclude, for now, I believe when most people talk about coaching culture it is a hypothesis of what could possibly happen when coaching (which is to be defined and agreed amongst all the bodies) becomes part of or even embedded as part of organisational life. To date there are insufficient practitioner case studies to validate the realness of this term, however, with the advent and emergence of team coaching and the growing in strength and number of internal coaches, we may begin to understand more of how coaching is really demonstrating its impact, which can be observed and felt as a part of the adoption of that organisation’s culture.
It’s definitely something any association should really commission and carry out some robust studies on what is it for coaches and their organisation.
I leave you with some questions, and always interested in hearing what you think?
- When does coaching culture mean to you?
- How do we emphasise the diversity and inclusivity in coaching culture?
- How do you observe coaching culture?
Please share because as I'm interested in hearing what you think, and what your peers think.
 Quick comment on my comparative approach: I've taken the words directly from their website and where appropriate, and based on my experiences, I've added my interpretations /opinions of how it influenced my behaviour, and can be read in detail in the table.
Thinking why? Mastering 6 areas in leadership thinking
In my work with senior and middle managers, I find that with today's pressures of workload, complexity and forever pressing deadlines, the majority of my clients are struggling in some ways with their leadership role. With the pressure of daily demands, unless they hold their own clear picture of their bigger priorities, they can stay in reactive mode, and end up feeling stressed from pressure and feelings of underachievement.
My focus in this blog is sharing the areas and lines of questioning I find valuable to help my clients to get to a bigger perspective about their leadership priorities, and themselves as leaders. One of the outcomes I seek is the Client’s realisation that they already know a great deal. Apart from this being a factual truth, this awareness and affirmation is a boost to their confidence and accelerates their learning and growth as leaders. I find this particularly relevant for managers transitioning into more senior roles, where there can be a confidence crisis as they move into unknown territory – definite feelings of ‘conscious incompetence’. At this stage, managers have to learn to let go of some of the ‘doing’ capabilities that have got them to where they are today. This can be a scary step into the unknown.
The following key focus areas in Coaching and lines of questioning can help clients step up in their leadership thinking and contribution:
1. Organisational context – building a bigger picture of their role
- What’s the overall purpose of my role? How does that contribute to the overall Unit / Department / Organisational goals?
- Do I have an understanding of the priority goals for the levels above me / for the shareholders?
- If not, what sources of information can I tap into that are easily / publicly available? Who else could I speak to as a source of valuable perspectives?
- What are the wider market and environmental influences
- Do I know how the organisation is perceived externally?
- How do these additional perspectives inform my thinking about my priorities?
- What others do I now want to have conversations with to add to my perspectives?
2. Setting Direction
- What is my assessment of where my Department/ Unit / Organisation is right now? A classic but nonetheless very effective framework to use for this is SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) – assessing both internal and external factors
- What do I see as the priority objectives in my role?
- 2 years,
- 1 year,
- The next 6 months?
- What will success look like? What will be happening? What will people be saying?
The Client’s thinking on this will evolve as they progressively build their picture. The Coach’s role is to help stretch the clients thinking and imagination – what would be a bigger goal?
3. Key Relationships – mapping the territory and influencing priorities
In organisational cultures that are overtly ‘Task’ focussed it is easy to lose sight of the reality that Relationships are core to achieving any meaningful leadership objectives. Leadership is about getting things done through others. Key issues that the Client can be encouraged to explore:
- Identifying important stakeholders
- Prioritising relationships for attention
- Exploring the priorities and agendas of key others – do I understand the agendas and priorities of our most important relationships identified for achieving our objectives? Do I understand what others need from us? What are the skills, knowledge, expertise we have that others could benefit from? Are others fully aware of the strengths we have to bring? How can we help them help us?
Coaching with exploratory questioning can help extend the Client’s thinking and help them become more aware of the assumptions they are making, and question them. The resulting increased knowledge and awareness can prompt wider and deeper thinking. The right open relational approach leads to more productive and open conversations. This models the leadership behaviours that are needed in today’s organisations. For example exploring differences in assumptions, opening up knowledge, and identifying opportunities for collaboration and mutual benefits.
4. Self – the Leader as an instrument of change...
- What are my personal longer term career objectives? How can my current role contribute to this? What experience / skills will this role help me develop?
- What difference do I want to make?
- What do I stand for? What is my personal leadership approach, and my core values? By making this more explicit to myself this will bring greater confidence in how I communicate and add to my personal presence
- What are my strengths
5. Leveraging Impact – involving others in building the bigger picture
- How am I passing on my awareness and knowledge of the wider context for our work to the team?
- Do I set a clear direction for my people? How do I help them connect this direction to how they set their priorities and help them think about how they best share the bigger picture they’re building with their people?
- How am I encouraging my people to take a bigger perspective on their work, encouraging them to make their own judgement calls, stepping into their own leadership and authority?
- Am I giving the right level of individual attention to my people,
- How do I treat mistakes? Do I treat them as opportunities for learning – what are the points we’re taking forward from this, rather than get drawn into the defensive ‘blame game’?
- Am I creating the space for us as a team to have the bigger conversations about our overall strategies, and exchange the real learning, information and experience, relevant to our collective purpose? Do we have a shared Team Agenda rather than simply operating in our individual silos?
- How can we ensure our Team Meetings are focussed on the bigger issues rather than the day-to-day minutiae that can be better handled elsewhere?
- Am I supporting my team, or getting in their way?
6. The Strategies to accomplish Bigger Objectives
- What would it take to accomplish our goals?
- How are we going to work in our team and with key stakeholders – see 3) above
This is really the point at which the team should do most of the work in the context of a framework of agreed goals. The focus has shifted from the manager to the manager and their team. At this stage the focus of coaching is often around helping the manager enable and help individuals in the team on their priorities and issues. In addition there may be particular issues involved in managing upwards and outward facing key relationships. In all of this, managing themselves of course which they bring into coaching as, if done well, it can be very personally demanding!
Many of the above lines of thinking can readily be incorporated by an enlightened manager into collective thinking and ways of working with their team. Thinking more deeply and wide is not just the domain of the senior management team, but is increasingly required at all levels of the organisation.
Coaching, as an approach, both with individual and the Team, can be a key enabler. It provides the right stimulus and ‘space’ for thinking and working more strategically. It’s a place where managers can evolve, test out and refine their thinking and approach in a safe space. The Coach models the kinds of behaviours required from managers to create the environment that will enable their people to think more widely, deeply and the longer term.
I welcome hearing from other Coaches’ their favourite approaches to help their clients bring a ‘Bigger picture’ perspective to their leadership approach.
To contact Sue Young for more details:
We are different - observing the unobserved in coaching cultureCoaching culture is like a layer of film that has been rapidly spread over an uneven surface, and as soon as there is a slight change in temperature the film starts to crease, rapidly folding into itself until it has shrunk and lands on a spot that definitely wasn’t where it started. It is a word, trendy some might even say, that has been bolted on with only light consideration of the existing coaching knowledge. And importantly how can anyone (everyone not just the experts) observe that this really exists and is not simply this organisational cycle’s catch phrase, especially as it’s a hot topic amongst organisations to attract and retain the right employees, and people believe it has a direct impact on financial performance.
[Read more about this in Charlotte Rydlund's The Power of Culture and how influential this is for motivation.]
Time to break it down.
First what is culture?
Culture is a word that can mean everything and nothing at the same time because it is used in many different contexts, situations, and disciplines. It’s a bit like ‘creativity’! You would think that after completing a Masters in Anthropology I would know better! Happy to say that some of my learning has paid off, and I came away with a better understanding and description. Culture is the study of human society and how society works i.e. relationships among social roles (e.g. husband and wife, parent and child) and social institutions (e.g. religion, economy, politics) and how people express a view of themselves and their world through symbols and values. And so culture is about what people say, what people do, the social environment, and its impact on their feelings, attitudes, behaviours, etc. Now we can see what cross-cultural means in this context, the comparison of cultures that is typically international in scope.
When did culture become part of the business lexicon?
Four best seller books publicised and popularised the concept of corporate culture because organisations, like a small-scale society, exist under certain rules and policies established by the government or industries. Moreover, they can be observed:
- William Ouchi (1981) Theory Z
- Richard Pascale and Anthony Athos (1981) The Art of Japanese Management
- Terence Deal and Allan Kennedy (1982) Corporate Cultures
- Thomas Peters and Robert Walterman (1982) In Search of Excellence
Culture was now something that could be shared via words to describe the complexities of what’s happening inside an organisation… and not long after the term knowledge management became popular in business.
“…starting from a fact that we can know more that we can tell.” Polanyi
So, what is coaching culture?
A quick google search shows that the term was first mentioned in 1994 by Barry in “How to be a good coach” without describing what it is.
The second time it was used was in 1999 by King and Eaton “Coaching for results”: “A good coach can also be instrumental in spreading a `coaching culture’ throughout the organisation. That is, having coached the individual manager to hone their skills in a more effective way, that same manager can be coached in how to coach others.” (pg 147)
Today we have a few more interpretations:
“An organizational setting in which not only formal coaching occurs, but also, most or a large segment of individuals in the organization practice coaching behaviors as a means of relating to, supporting and influencing each other.”
E. Wayne Hart, Ph. D.
"A coaching culture exists in an organization when a coaching approach is a key aspect of how the leaders, managers, and staff engage and develop all their people and engage their stakeholders, in ways that create increased individual, team, and organizational performance and shared value for all stakeholders.”
“Coaching is a predominant style of managing and working together, and where a commitment to grow the organisation is embedded in a parallel commitment to grow the people in the organisation.”
Clutterback and Megginson
I’ve highlighted what I’ve considered to be the key facets describing a coaching culture. From the descriptions it’s also clearly a numbers game! Time is another important factor, and a coaching culture is not something that happens in isolation, there are also other influences (related and non-related) at play.
However, even with these early attempts of imagining what is a coaching culture, I’m no closer to understanding what it is because the manifestations of coaching behaviours, approach or style, will always vary depending on the individual’s state, the situation, the content, the location, the time and that’s just for starters. I think what is being broadly hypothesized is the possibilities of the impacts of coaching when it’s scaled up from an individual to the whole organisation. Everything else that falls in between is less obvious which raises the question, and something not yet answered in agreement amongst the coaching community, if coaching is a means to an end or an end to a means?
For most cultures to be called a culture implies that it’s typically something that exists for many people and can be readily observed (because it happens naturally). For now, coaching culture is a more nebulous term that needs time to develop, and advancements in team coaching and internal coaching may provide us with those case studies to observe and decipher what this could really mean. So whilst coaching culture is a hot topic, be careful it doesn’t just evaporate into hot air!
What do you think?
Barry, Tom. "How to be a good coach." Management development review 7.4 (1994): 24-26.
Clutterbuck, D. et al. (2006) Making Coaching Work: Creating a coaching culture
King, Paul, and John Eaton. "Coaching for results." Industrial and commercial training 31.4 (1999): 145-151.
Tian et al (2013) General Business Anthropology, North American Business Press, 2 edition
Hart, E.W. (NA) Developing a Coaching Culture, CCL
Hawkins, P. (2012) Creating a Coaching Culture
Bersin, J, (2015) Culture, why it’s the hottest topic in business today
 Polanyi, (1966) The Tacit Dimension
PropelICT Entrepreneurs Panel Discussion at Volta - photo by Gillian McCraeWhen starting a business, there’s usually not much focus on building a company culture. The focus is on finding product-market fit, finding the right people to join your team, getting customers and of course cash flow. Nowhere is there this “thing” called company culture. But, at the same time, it’s there.
It’s been on my mind because of the constant change I see around me at the startup incubator www.voltaeffect.com that houses and helps tech start-ups get off the ground. There are many micro-company cultures within the building, as well as a special culture within the Volta space as a whole. Having spent seven years in the corporate world, I always found culture an important and core component of a company and I’m always on the look-out for inspiring stories of companies that do it well, and that I can reapply in my own way to my own company. Just like it’s never too early to start talking to customers, it’s never too early to start building a strong company culture. This is because, in my view, company culture has the power to keep people motivated and engaged (and also attract great people to join the team).
Competitive advantage of Culture:
Whereas a company or organizational culture “encompasses values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization”. Company culture defined only by a plaque on the wall or a catchy slogan can have the opposite effect of what is intended. For a company culture to be a competitive advantage that others simply cannot copy, it needs to be genuine and engrained in every person who joins the team. It’s great for building a strong team, and it great for protection from competition.
HBR had a great article about definitive elements of a winning culture. I’ve heard many varying degrees of agreement or appreciation for company culture. Some people will be skeptics of the ‘soft’ side of values and culture, while others will take it to heart. I for one, believe in the power of a strong company culture.
A year ago, the whole world of Startups and startup culture was new for me. There were new phrases and terms (pitch, demo, SaaS), and I found the whole culture surrounding startups fascinating and different from my corporate days. From my point of view, startup culture involves reliance on a good and fast internet connection, an unlimited supply of Red Bull, moral support from fellow startups and founders, and tireless dedication (grit and hustle) to getting the company off the ground seven days a week. While I didn’t mention integrity, honesty, collaboration, agility, performance or results, they’re being acted upon every day. How does that compare to your experience of company culture?
Stories of Culture:
I came across the Netflix story of company culture, and they clearly illustrate how they live their company culture and values: “Like every company, we try to hire well, unlike many companies we practice: adequate performance gets a generous severance package so that we can open up a slot to find a star for that role”. Another company, Fibernetics, has a fantastic story of how they completely turned around their company culture to one that leverages passion and gets people engaged with the ‘I’m In!’ mantra.
Creating a Culture:
What’s on my mind is how we can build a company culture while we’re still a small budding company so that as we grow it grows with us. While I’m still working through it together with my team, here are some questions that I’ve put down for myself to help and guide us through all the possibilities towards defining our culture:
- Why are you doing what you’re doing?
- What impact can you have within your industry, nationally, globally?
- What values do you apply when making important decisions?
- How would you describe your company if it were a person?
- How do your every-day actions reflect the strategy and vision for the company?
What questions would you ask?