Adapt to Change with a Culture of Coaching

September 10, 2019

Adapt to Change with a Culture of Coaching

Coaching is still relatively new to organizations. Although coaching came to corporations in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it didn’t become an established practice until the late 1990s and early 2000s. One thing we’ve learned, however, is that the coaching relationship is key, especially when we consider that organizations are in need of resonant leaders who can motivate and engage others. We also know that coaching can elevate the professional prospects of certain special and at-risk groups in organizations, such as emerging leaders, minority groups, and women.

Creating an effective coaching culture requires a range of management skills and thoughtful discernment—everything from assessing overall need and managing access to coaches, to centralizing coach training and certification to ensure quality. We see three basic approaches to offering coaching services in organizations:

  1. encourage and train associates to peer coach in pairs or teams;
  2. provide access to internal or external coaches (people professionally trained as coaches and typically certified by some professional group); and/or
  3. educate and develop managers and senior leaders to provide coaching to their direct reports and others.

Peer Coaching

An approach used to craft a culture of coaching in organizations is peer coaching. Peer coaching formalizes a personal, supportive connection for mutual help. The idea is for two or more people of relatively equal status to come together to help each other with personal and professional development, using a reflective process often involving recalling meaningful incidents or stand-out moments. One person selects an event of relative importance from work, presents it to the other individual or group, and together they brainstorm about how it went and what other options might have been available. This mode of review has been seen as more valuable when it involves peers talking to and helping one another, as opposed to peers being guided by an expert or “superior.”

When more than two people are involved, then you have a peer coaching group. Peer coaching can be formal or informal and can involve people from within and outside of the organization. These relationships often sustain themselves over long periods of time because the people develop deep, resonant relationships involving mutual caring and compassion, shared vision and purpose, and an upbeat, helpful mood.

Best of all, from an organizational standpoint at least, peer coaching offers a low-cost alternative for providing help to large numbers of managers and employees and can lead to a positive cultural norm. Peer coaching provides a great way for organizations to practice coaching on a daily basis and to cascade it down from managers to employees.

Using Internal and/or External Coaches

Organizations looking to hire coaches first must decide whom to hire externally or internally, and sometimes companies choose to do both. The internal option might begin with an internal training program on how to be a more effective coach. Many begin by contacting some form of coach-certifying body, which fall into two varieties. The most prevalent groups that provide a form of certification in coaching are universities and training companies that “certify” that a person has learned the institution’s particular approach to coaching, its techniques, or method. The second group comprises associations or companies that “certify” that the person is a credible coach, based on their group’s competency model.

Internal coaches may also help when there’s a unique circumstance that might take time to understand. For example, when the Cleveland Clinic, ranked as the number two hospital in the United States, wanted to develop more of its physician leaders as general managers, it turned primarily to a cadre of internal coaches. The clinic, which was one of the largest U.S. hospitals, had developed a highly effective patient-experience program that changed the culture. Meantime, it was acquiring other hospitals rapidly in many cities and several countries. While each of these aspects of the Cleveland Clinic was not unique, the combination created a situation that few professional coaches had encountered. The aggressive program of using coaches helped develop doctors, nurses, and staff as effective leaders. This expanded leadership pool enabled programmatic initiatives and growth in many areas.

Developing Managers to Be Coaches

Chris Baer, Vice President of Leadership Development and Talent Experience at Marriott International Learning and Development, took a different approach to creating a culture of coaching by developing managers as coaches. The program involved training managers in coaching skills and creating peer-coaching support groups to encourage this new mindset. Baer and his colleagues believed this would be key to exceptional results in the emerging competitive business climate where change is constant.

The larger strategic image is that if a critical mass of managers saw coaching as part of their day-to-day role, coaching would become a new norm rather than just an occasional practice. It could change an organization’s culture to one that is more developmental and compassionate (i.e., caring), which seems more in tune with the largest group of employees in the emerging workforce, millennials. According to international surveys, not only are millennials demographically as large if not larger than the baby boomers were; they are also more purpose driven and they seek development in their work.

Key Takeaways

  1. A culture of helping others develop and be open to learning would help adapt to an ever-changing world.
  2. Creating an effective coaching/helping culture in work organizations requires careful assessment of need, centralized access to and allocation of coaches, and sometimes centralized coach training and certification to ensure quality.
  3. There are three basic approaches to offering coaching services in organizations: encourage and train staff to peer coach in pairs or teams; train managers and executives to provide coaching to their direct reports and maybe even peers; and provide access to internal or external coaches (people professionally trained as coaches and typically certified by some professional group).
  4. A high-quality coaching relationship amplifies both job engagement and career satisfaction and can be leveraged to help organizations develop and retain their best and brightest talent, especially among special and at-risk groups such as emerging leaders, minority groups, and women.
  5. Peer coaching is simply the coming together of two or more people for the purpose of personal or professional development. It can be formal or informal, and within or outside a particular organization.
  6. Peer-coaching relationships blossom through caring, compassion, resonance, understanding, and shared purpose. They are durable, sustainable, and promote a positive emotional contagion that can become the basis of an organizational norm.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review Press. Excerpted from Helping People Change: Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth by Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten. Copyright 2019 Richard E. Boyatzis, Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten. All rights reserved.

The Authors: 

Richard Boyatzis is a Distinguished University Professor at Case Western Reserve University and an adjunct professor at ESADE Business School. He is coauthor of Primal Leadership, Resonant Leadership, and Becoming a Resonant Leader. 

Melvin Smith is a professor and Ellen Van Oosten is an associate professor at the Weatherhead School of Management, where they are faculty directors of Executive Education.