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Posted by on Mar 12, 2015

Considerations for Building a Strong Coaching Culture

So you’re thinking about bringing coaching into your organization, but not sure where to start. How do you know what kind of coaching is right? What are you willing to do to make it work? Three coaching modalities are most prominent within organizations, including:

  • External coaches
  • Internal coaches
  • Managers/leaders using coaching skills

According to a recent joint report by the International Coach Federation and the Human Capital Institute, Building a Coaching Culture, organizations with strong coaching cultures seek to develop a combination of all three of these modalities that uniquely suit the context of their organization. When combined in the right proportion to fit the culture, engagement and performance improve compared to non-coaching cultures.

Why the distinctions matter.

The more training you have in coaching skills, the easier it becomes to work with someone in a way that seeks their input (not just give your own directives) for bringing out the best in themselves. I can’t count the number of seasoned professionals I’ve known who, after going through an Accredited Coach Training Program, have said to me “All this time I thought what I was doing was coaching. Now I know what coaching really is, and that’s not what I’ve been doing!”

Each modality below has a different level of coaching expertise typically associated with it. If you want to build a strong coaching culture, you’ll begin to invest in building both external and internal coaching capacities. Let’s begin to explore what each modality involves, as well as their benefits and challenges, in order to generate a conversation about how you could introduce coaching into your organization using the right mix. We’ll start with the most common modalities:

External Coaching: External coaches are independent professionals who are typically hired on a contract basis to work on a specific coaching program. Ask about their coaching school or level of credentialing from the International Coach Federation; they should have hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of experience. They provide an opportunity for employees to work with a well-trained, yet uninvolved third-party who supports the growth and development of the employee, in whatever direction the employee chooses to pursue. They’re not the one telling you what to work on. These coaches help you look at what is most important in any professional and personal domain, get excited about possibilities, come up with your own answers and take action.

When organizations seek external coaches, individuals often question how well the external coaches understand their company culture. For the same reason, some coachees may be less trusting of external coaches, even though they are probably the most likely to maintain true client confidentiality.

Internal Coaching: Internal coaches are employees of the organization, often called on to fulfill a range of HR roles and may or may not have a professional coach credential. Their position within the company provides important advantages and disadvantages. Being knowledgeable about company culture, they can provide a sense of empathy and understanding to their coachee, while also being able to spot organizational trends through working across departments and leadership levels. However, their position within the organization often raises doubts about their ability to maintain client confidentiality. They can be less expensive than external coaches though, and might be a viable way for organizations to provide coaching while building a stronger coaching culture.

Managers/Leaders using coaching skills: These are individuals who have a direct role in the supervision and development of employees, but who are not themselves professional coach practitioners. They may perhaps be in the most confusing category of all, not being coaches themselves, but utilizing coaching skills to improve their relationships and promote behavior change within their employees. Because managers are in regular interaction with their employees, the opportunity for Anytime Coaching is readily available, and relationships are already in place. Yet doing this well hinges on using coaching skills to fundamentally change the way interaction and growth happens between managers and their employees. Sadly, this group often finds itself with little or no training.

It all begins and ends with trust.

Coaching isn’t something you do to an employee to “fix” them. Building a strong coaching culture requires a fundamental value in fostering an environment for growth, not just directing it. No matter which modality (or combination) you use, the process rests on the existence of a trusting relationship that is safe and open enough to allow coaching. That trusting relationship is developed through the behaviors and interactions of both the coach and coachee, augmented by training in professional coaching skills.

So when you think about bringing coaching into your organization, here are a few questions to help identify which types of coaching might be most beneficial to your organization:

  • Who needs coaching?
  • Who wants coaching?
  • What challenges exists?
  • What vision of the organization’s future will coaching support?
  • What resources are available, for funding external coaching services, or training internal coaches or leaders to succeed in their coaching relationships?
  • How much time do internal staff members have to commit to a coaching relationship (either as a coach or a coachee)?
  • Which kind of coaching relationships are needed to bring out the most in your employees, so they feel interested in, and supported by, the opportunity?

While there are many considerations to building a strong coaching culture, answering these questions first will help point you toward which modalities you’d like to implement in your strategy to create a strong coaching culture.

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