5 ways to create a coaching culture at work

Piers Bishop · April 3, 2018

Creating a coaching culture at work has several benefits for you and your employees. Staff are given development opportunities and therefore likely to feel more valued and motivated. In turn, the business can mitigate the risk of high staff turnover and save money on recruitment by encouraging progression and promoting from within. But how many businesses are actually nailing a ‘coaching culture’ right now? Chances are not many.

Unfortunately creating a coaching culture is often a boardroom decision that gets diluted along the way. Well-intentioned coaching initiatives begin with the adoption of a few GROW Coaching Model techniques and, just as employees start to engage more with the business, objectives shift, managers get busy and priority deadlines get in the way. This often means that instead of making real progress creating a coaching culture the business falls back into a control-and-tell approach to training. Leading employees to disengage and all of that good work to fall by the wayside.

Well, enough already. Today we want to discuss why a coaching culture shouldn’t drop down the priority list and how it impacts those top business objectives. Before sharing some top learning and development tips that will help you create a successful coaching culture at work.  

Why is building a coaching culture important?

“The use of coaching skills in the workplace is increasingly the norm for managers and leaders who can positively affect their workforce by using skills they have learned from various coaching sessions.” Magdalena Mook, CEO and executive director of the International Coach Federation

Before we start reeling off tips on how to create a coaching culture, let’s take a quick look at why it’s a good idea to create one in the first place. Based on thousands of WeThrive employee surveys top employee desires in the workplace are:

  1. To feel appreciated and valued
  2. To gain a deeper understanding of their role in the business
  3. To feel a deeper social connection to their colleagues
  4. To achieve a greater work life balance

The top benefits to a vibrant and constantly evolving coaching culture in the workplace are:

  • Improving employees sense of purpose
  • Boosting morale and employee motivation
  • Increasing productivity through skill development
  • Improving internal communication and rapport across the business
  • Improving employee engagement
  • Improving employee wellbeing
  • Reducing the need to recruit externally for senior roles
  • Reducing employee turnover

Side-by-side you can see how a coaching culture can not only help meet employee desires but also help the business meet top objectives like improving employee engagement, motivation, retention and productivity. Approaching bottom line objectives in silos and allowing them to overshadow positive HR initiatives like creating a coaching culture, just isn’t a productive or successful strategy. Creating a coaching culture at work can help the business fire out on all cylinders and make vast improvements in those areas.

Create a coaching culture with WeThrive

Now let’s dive in and look at ways you can create a vibrant coaching culture at work.

1. Start at the top: teach senior leaders first

Even senior leaders need guidance from time to time and it is only by learning themselves that they will be actively engaged in delivering what’s needed; both for themselves and the wider business. Most importantly, engaging senior leaders will help employees follow suit, because no-one will take any real notice of leaders whose behaviour is inconsistent with their professed attitudes. And nor should they. Respect is earned.

2. Follow through: do what you say you are going to do

I am sure we can all remember that boss or manager who professed to have an ‘open door policy’ but often closed it when they were having a bad day or under pressure. Good intentions are great, but following through with action is the only way to nurture culture. If you are telling employees that you encourage feedback and honesty then provide them with the channels they need to do that. Allowing them to help shape the coaching culture alongside you, rather than feeling dictated too and losing interest.

3. Quality over quantity: don’t coach for coaching sake

More coaching does not mean better coaching – neither the number of sessions nor the length of the programme significantly affects the outcomes. A little coaching can go a long way if it is targeted to the particular needs of the employees concerned.

Use your employee survey to help focus your coaching culture strategy. Prioritising the areas that need to change the most and setting objectives on those areas before moving on. For example, if top challenges for employees are a lack of access to resources and feeling undervalued. Make reviewing your training resources and setting up 121 learning and development reviews with those employees a top priority.

It’s also important to make coaching a relatable and regular experience. Try to weave coaching elements into a normal working day so it becomes part of the culture, not a one-off attempt to make a point. This could be done with weekly or daily feedback sessions, a free flowing ideas board or a buddy or mirroring system across departments and teams. It’s about creating coaching techniques that will continually help your team learn and grow, because we don’t just learn to do something and then stop. The world changes all the time, and the moment we stop listening, thinking, learning and changing – we slowly start to be left behind and become irrelevant. That’s bad for productivity and it’s bad for us.

4. Avoid relying solely on external training resources

“Historically, organizations used external coaches who focused their efforts on the C-suite or other organizational leaders. However, organizations are realizing that coaching can have a significant impact in developing employees outside its leadership ranks – such as when used with Millennials, who may expect feedback beyond an annual performance review. They also are viewing it as a way to deal with the ‘looming productivity crisis and labor shortage’ that is expected to continue for the next 10 to 15 years… Internal coaching also is less cost-prohibitive than hiring external coaches.” Amy Lui Abel, Managing Director of human capital at The Conference Board.

It is almost a reflex for many organisations to get in external support when problems arise. Probably because there so many third party training providers offering to swoop in and save the day. However, while there is short-term value in external training resources, it’s actually counter-productive to creating a coaching culture long-term. Like a one-off knowledge makeover employees will get a boost of feeling good, but like the make-up the magic will soon fade.

Having said that external learning and development consultants can offer a lot of value long-term if you enroll them to help you implement a coaching culture strategy and build a coaching culture. Ultimately, the point is not to rely solely on one-off visiting external training resources and instead to find and develop the right people to be your internal coaches. Not only are they more effective, it’s also good for their own personal and professional growth. In particular, creating a mentorship programme in the business between senior and lower level employees can really help boost engagement and improve retention. As supported by a Deloitte Research Brief that found retention to be 25% higher for employees who engaged in company sponsored mentoring.

5. Provide feedback to employees in the right way

We’ve never understood the popularity of 360-degree feedback. Feedback has to be given in the right way and at the right time to have a useful effect, and involving more people in the feedback process is going to make that harder. The evidence is clear time and time again when we run our employee surveys: ’NOT providing 360 degree feedback has a large positive effect on coaching outcomes’.

To provide effective feedback to employees there are a few rules of thumb that have proved successful in our experience and for many of our clients making progress with building a coaching culture, they are:

  • Make feedback timely so people can remember the event and incorporate the feedback into their learning
  • Start with something positive, to generate a positive mood and make people more receptive
  • Frame advice positively so it is more likely to be heard and followed
  • Choose only ideas that are actually achievable for employees

Beyond surface employee wants and needs, our employee survey app WeListen also uncovers subconscious factors impacting employees. This will help you offer further guidance and support to help employees make changes that improve the way their own needs are met at work.

Create a coaching culture with WeThrive

Creating a coaching culture begins with the right questions

“We get wise by asking questions, and even if these are not answered, we get wise, for a well-packed question carries its answer on its back as a snail carries its shell.” James Stephens, Irish Poet.

Anyone can setup processes or a bunch of training sessions and say they are nurturing a positive coaching culture. However, you first need to understand your employees unique needs to truly make progress. That’s why asking the right questions in the right way really is the only route to finding out where to start with your coaching culture strategy.

Standard employee surveys cover the surface, they ask if employees are happy, motivated and what they would like to change. All helpful stuff. But what about the underlying motivators and needs even they are not consciously aware of? Important factors that will help you make greater strides forward with your coaching culture strategy and meet those top HR objectives for the business. 

Sounds impossible? Don’t worry we have it covered…

Our employee survey app WeListen helps solves this problem by diagnosing what is frustrating employees and restricting their ability to error well. Including all the practical, cognitive, social and emotional factors hidden beneath the surface. Beyond discovering what’s wrong, when used in combination with our newest product WeCoach, you can also access deeper data insights and coaching recommendations that enable constructive conversations with staff right away.

Coaching based on the action plans from WeThrive gets straight to the causes of frustrations and underperformance, with direct results on personal performance. Not convinced? Personal Group found a 15% increase in average daily productivity from sales teams after using WeThrive in their coaching programme.

Find out more about WeThrive employee engagement software.

Not ready to thrive just yet? If you enjoyed this article you might also like our recent blog on why overworked employees are less productive.

Employee Engagement Guide