Coaching has received much attention in recent times with most organizations implementing some level of coaching practice. This paper discusses the difficulties around establishing return on investment of coaching as well as the challenges pertaining to the establishment of coaching beyond an individual level intervention. It argues that the future of coaching is moving towards organizationally supported and endemically available and sustainable programs that provide real results for organizations, as well as coaching practices that form part of the very fabric of the organizations by way of a recognizable cultural element that is both supported and valued.
An Executive Coaching Survey, conducted by the Conference Board (www.conference-board.org) revealed that 63% of organizations use some form of internal coaching, and the rest plan to utilize a coaching approach in the future. While coaching is still a small part of the job description for most leaders (nearly half spend less than 10% of their time coaching others), it is an essential skill that every leader needs to possess. The need for a resilient and agile workforce at all levels has expanded the use of coaching from executives to individual contributors – making it an integral component to be considered as part of a successful organization’s talent development strategy.
While coaching has gained significant momentum in the past 10 years, the emphasis has mainly been in the field of individual coaching endeavor, which aligns individuals with an externally provided coach and helps them overcome their barriers to success while at the same time making the most of their strengths. With time, however, it has become apparent that individual coaching alone is unlikely to yield the potential promised benefits. This is unless coaching is considered in a wider organizational context and incorporated into an organization’s culture and there is a set of systemic support mechanisms.
Therefore, it's important to consider ways to weave coaching into an organization’s cultural landscape. Cultures take time and deliberate effort to develop: “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” (Hawkins, 2012, p.21).
It is LHH’s experience that coaching culture implementation is only likely to work if it is 1) closely tied to the organization’s strategy; 2) aligned to the wider organizational culture and 3) supported by a formal and informal structure that aids in catalyzing coaching effort and sustaining it.
It is essential that the organization’s leaders agree on the purpose of coaching, how its outcomes will benefit the business and how individual goals will be aligned to overall organizational objectives (Lawrence and Whyte, 2013). Organizational strategy and individual coaching objectives must be aligned if we are to capture value from the process. Further, the culture itself needs to be pro learning, where feedback, development and change are supported and encouraged at all levels of the organization. Finally, coaching initiatives need to be supported by formal and informal structures. Turner (2012) found that managers are unlikely to coach their staff on a regular basis following a coaching intervention unless their organization has a structured process for coaching and it is embedded as part of performance system. Individuals need to be provided with opportunities to practice their newly acquired skills at their own pace, and consideration needs to be given for potential changes in individuals’ workload and role descriptions due to newly acquired skills and behaviors.
Another significant challenge in creating a coaching culture revolves around the sustainability of coaching. Coaching needs to become more than just individuals accessing an external coach for a period of time to reach predetermined goals before discontinuing the process. Often organizations ‘train’ their leaders and leave them to their own devices. The future of coaching lies not in leaders having a coach but in every leader becoming a coach.
It becomes apparent then, that creating a coaching culture incorporates a number of steps including an individual being coached and receiving coaching training, then applying the learning and indeed becoming a coach themselves by receiving support though a 'coach the coach’ or group coaching process. The main aim of this would be to link individual coaching endeavor to organizational strategy and even performance outcomes, as well as to create a self-sustaining coaching culture inside the organization. Thus, ultimately leading to the coaching approach being implemented as an important means to foster external client relationships, thus leading to the derivation external value from the process and full cycle embedding of coaching as a cultural element.
At LHH we conceptualize the journey to developing a coaching culture in the context of a maturity/ improvement curve. Firstly external coaches catalyze the organization into generating their own coaching competency through a cascading process of individual coaching, coach the coach followed by solo coaching practices that are scalable across organizations and sustainable over time, focusing on individual and organizational outcomes.
In order to ensure sustainability of coaching and success in creating a coaching culture, developing internal coaching capability is an essential part of the process. Developing own coaches within the business has a number of benefits other than increase in self-sufficiency, including higher cost effectiveness and greater consistency in coaching methods. Internal coaches possess better knowledge and understanding of organization’s culture, values and goals, which would help to keep coaching outcomes aligned with organization’s strategy and provide more opportunities for knowledge, skill and value transfer within the organization.
Other tangible benefits of developing internal coaching capability, as McKee, Tilin and Mason (2009) found, include:
- an increase in the speed of managers’ leadership growth;
- an increase in managers’ loyalty to the company;
- improved communication among employees;
- increased ability to resolve conflicts;
- renewed passion and awareness of an ability to develop others.
Research has shown that traditional linear change management programs are not sufficient in order for organizational culture to incorporate coaching (Lawrence, 2015). Dialogue needs to happen between levels to change organizational identity and to empower emerging leaders at all levels of the organization to transfer essential internal knowledge skills and behaviors and role model the values. The key is in developing a “coaching culture” as part of organizational leadership development strategy, mobilizing the inherent leadership skills in employees at all levels. It is important to keep in mind that as long as coaching is individually based and disconnected from the organizational goals and overall strategy it will continue to be a missed opportunity both for the individual and the organization.