5 steps to creating a coaching culture in L&D

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At a time where upskilling and reskilling are critical for future-proofing organisations, building a coaching culture in the workplace better positions companies to grow and nurture talent. It helps people recognise and develop their own strengths, target and improve weaknesses, improve their outlook in their working lives and improve their leadership skills. It unlocks potential in individuals, resulting in a more motivated, skilled and productive workforce.

For you as an L&D practitioner, assuming the role of coach provides a way to support and encourage employees throughout increasingly self-led learning journeys.

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What is a coaching culture?

What do we mean by a ‘coaching culture’? Let’s break it down into simple definitions:

  • Coaching’ aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction or confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period of time or forms the basis of an on-going management style. (CIPD)
  • Culture’ is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterises an institution or organisation. (Merriam-Webster)

A coaching culture is more than just ‘the way things are done around here’. According to Ed Parsloe, Chief Executive of The OCM, a coaching culture is about “delivering results, improving performance and making the most of people’s potential. The emphasis is on delivering results and making each other (and the wider organisation) stronger and more capable”.

It’s something that perfectly aligns with a solid culture of learning.

5 steps to creating a coaching culture

It’s important first of all that you understand that developing a culture isn’t something that happens overnight. A shift in culture takes time, but the rewards are significant. A research project by Gallup in 2017 involved studying companies who had incorporated a coaching culture into their management process. Of the groups studied, the majority saw the following performance benefits:

  • 10% to 19% increase in sales
  • 14% to 29% increase in profit
  • 3% to 7% higher customer engagement
  • 9% to 15% increase in engaged employees
  • 22% to 59% fewer safety incidents

These can be used as key ROI indicators in alignment with organisational strategy, helping you promote the establishment of a coaching culture to the C-suite.

So, what are the five steps you can take to create a successful coaching culture?

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1. Identify pain points in your current culture

As an L&D professional, you are familiar with asking questions, uncovering needs and offering solutions. Before you begin creating a coaching culture, you need to start by identifying the current challenges that are preventing your vision of success from becoming a reality.

For example, are people afraid to share ideas? Are people ‘told’ what to do and just get on with it? Are employees disengaged with their work?

Identifying barriers is your first step to understanding how to lift them.

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2. Make your leaders your ambassadors

The desire to create a coaching culture should ideally have a clear sponsor who is well-revered within the business.

Start by getting your business leaders fully engaged and on board with coaching. To grow an effective coaching culture – one where staff are supported to learn new skills and become greater assets to the company – engagement needs to start at the top and flow through the rest of the business. If you can demonstrate value and provide relevant examples, you can encourage your leaders to act as positive role models for change.

Remember to include line managers in this process. As the people who spend the most time with employees on a day-to-day basis, your line managers play a key part in the learning transfer process and help create behavioural change. Equip them with the skills needed to coach effectively and you’ll enable them to support learners with trusted, regular input and feedback.

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3. Identify a coaching model

Coaches use different models to support their work, but if coaching is new to you we suggest starting with a simple framework. Models such as GROW and OSKAR are a good place to start and can help ensure that everyone in the workplace is familiar with the approach and a shared language.

For example, the GROW model will provide you with a simple framework for taking an employee through the process of goal-setting, establishing where they are in relation to their goals, exploring their options moving forward, and concluding with a commitment to action.

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4. Involve your HR department in coaching activities

People professionals play a key role in planning and managing coaching within the organisation. The CIPD factsheet ‘Coaching and Mentoring’ states that “the quality of coaching and the results it delivers depend on identifying performance gaps, choosing appropriate coaches and mentors, managing relationships and evaluating success.”

We’ve previously explored how HR and L&D can work together to deliver a greater ROI for training and development in the organisation. HR is invested in the individual development of learners, playing a key part in identifying skills gaps and assigning the relevant coaching and training. This helps L&D to support learners to achieve their potential with a solution that is relevant, appropriate, and aligned to individual and organisational needs.

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5. Encourage open communication

Encouraging open communication is instrumental in building a culture where people are keen to develop and are unafraid to ask questions. Consider the following:

  • Does your organisation have an open, inquisitive culture currently?
  • Do employees continuously ask questions and seek ways to improve?
  • Are employees comfortable giving and receiving constructive feedback?

To foster a more open culture, encourage everyone to share ideas, identify problems and investigate root causes in order to resolve them. Encourage others to see failure not as a sign of defeat, but to instead recognise it as “a necessary by-product of experimentation”. By doing this, employees will be far more comfortable contributing and experimenting with their own ideas.

If an employee asks you for a solution to a problem, ask them about what they think will work. You can then follow this up with asking why they decided on this approach, what the pros and cons are, what barriers they may face and how they might handle these should they arise. This demonstrates that you not only value their ideas and decisions, but also encourages them over time to come to you with suggested solutions instead of problems.

But what if your employees are remote?

There is a misconception that technology acts as a barrier to communication, but with the right tools, it can be your enabler. With many employees now working remotely, your LMS can act as your go-to tool for enabling a coaching dynamic in a digital environment. By providing discussion spaces, it incorporates conversation and shared learning in one easy-to-use and accessible online platform.

In summary…

In the early stages of creating a coaching culture, you may have to rely on external coaches. However, by putting the steps above into practice you will begin to develop your own cohort of internal coaches that support and encourage each other to continuously improve.

Remember to measure and iterate throughout as you employ your strategy – for example, if the organisation wants to see improvements in customer satisfaction scores, how has coaching helped your customer service team? Compare results before and after, digging deep to reveal what worked, what didn’t, and where to improve.

As your organisation strives towards achieving its vision of success, coaching brings with it those lightbulb moments that emerge from an environment of continuous development. It should eventually become a natural and habitual part of how the organisation works.

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