“Why hasn’t my coaching culture stuck?” is the lament of many an HR director (HRD) and L&D leader in organizations around the world. Creating a coaching culture is not a project, or a quick fix, or something that can be done to people. Changing culture is hard work and needs an ongoing commitment to work with senior leaders, managers, teams, the HR department and even suppliers. It is worth taking a look at how the expectations of what a coaching culture can deliver, versus the effort it takes to create and maintain a culture of learning, seem to be leaving companies a bit cold.

What Is the Issue?

Over the last 10 years, many HRDs have revealed that having a coaching culture is one of their top objectives, which makes sense, because a coaching culture is one of the most effective ways of spreading learning throughout an organization. Combine this fact with reduced training budgets, ambivalence over using online platforms and the variable results from mobile learning means that nowadays, coaching is even more vital to developing people. It is also clearly linked to companies’ desire to empower their staff to gain greater productivity, as coaching is recognized as the key to empowerment.

However, the mistake that many organizations make is believing that teaching managers to coach is the key to creating a coaching culture. Sadly, it isn’t that simple; if it were, many organizations would already be celebrating their success and ticking that goal off the list. It goes without saying that if managers in an organization are skilled and well-developed coaches, the development of a coaching culture is off to a great start. However, creating that culture requires several important factors to ensure it is sustainable:

  • A vision for the coaching culture, linked to the organizational vision
  • Buy-in from senior stakeholders so they will reinforce the culture with their actions
  • A detailed plan based on the employee lifecycle
  • A strategic HR plan to bring together and align all initiatives that will impact a coaching culture
  • A good system to measure success and momentum
  • More than a little budget to help you along the way

Where Should Your Focus Be?

Let’s look at these factors. Firstly, the vision is critical; you need to be sure of what success looks like and why you are embarking on this journey. Can you see how a coaching culture will impact your organization and support its vision? There are many reasons this culture could benefit a company, including sharing experiences and lessons learned, reducing the training budget, and increasing quality.

For example, many organizations are now considering doing away with performance reviews. They feel that the annual employee appraisal is simply a checkbox that managers complete and that the perennial groans of “I am so busy, and I have all these people reviews to do” are not conducive to improving productivity. The goal of the performance review is to motivate people to perform more effectively, yet a lot of people find it does the opposite. Removing the performance review process could be a positive, albeit bold, move. The ultimate goal would be that without forcing conversations on people, managers would naturally have conversations with their team members to check on how they are doing, give them positive feedback and improve their performance. However, it would be overly optimistic to think that the organization could guarantee that managers would have these conversations organically. Without a coaching culture, you would struggle to achieve this goal.

Gaining Management Buy-In

What about the commitment of the senior leadership team? Often, a well-structured coaching culture crashes and burns because middle managers buy into it and are willing to develop new skills and adopt systems, but the behavior of senior leaders is in direct contradiction to the coaching message. The cynicism caused by mixed messages will be more impactful that any work you do to shift the culture. To truly embed a coaching culture, the whole company needs to see a congruent and consistent message from the top down.

Failure to Plan Is Planning to Fail.

To succeed in creating a coaching culture, a detailed plan based on the employee lifecycle will ensure that it feels cohesive and touches a variety of HR interventions, such as:

  • Interviewing
  • Hiring the right type of new managers
  • Setting objectives (including an objective for coaching teams)
  • The performance review system
  • Lessons learned
  • Peer and on-the-job coaching
  • Exit interviews

There changes are small but powerful and can be made at each stage of the culture change, which will make a difference to how that culture is embedded. There needs to be coordinated effort from all HR and L&D professionals, including creating a strategic HR plan to bring together and align all initiatives that will impact a coaching culture.

How Do You Know It’s Working?

You might have a great feeling about the new coaching culture, but is it providing the required results? Often, when people say that a coaching culture isn’t working, it’s because they didn’t define strong and relevant messages at the beginning. A good system to measure success and momentum is necessary.

HR and L&D departments now realize the need to put significant effort into culture change and are coming to terms with the fact that it takes years to change a culture. But even once you have made the change, you need to focus on maintenance. Like a beautiful garden, the hard work is not just in clearing out dead wood, turning over beds and planting new shrubs; the real effort is in continuing the weeding, watering, clearing and trimming to maintain the garden. The same happens when you create a new culture, especially a coaching culture: If everyone is not making a constant effort to maintain it, it can soon dissipate.

If you want to be one of the few companies that can celebrate and publicize a successful coaching culture, returning to these basics can give you some leverage and momentum.