Developing a coaching culture can sometimes feel like a game of Snakes and Ladders. You take steps to implement coaching within the organisation, you experience some quick wins and feel like you are making progress and then you face an obstacle and it feels like to you have just taken three steps backwards.

If not addressed, these obstacles can very easily sabotage your efforts. Often the benefits of coaching are never fully realised because funding is cut before there is a real chance for success to be experienced. Here we will highlight some of these obstacles and offer suggestions on how to navigate them so that progress in developing a coaching culture in your organisation is not down to the lucky or unlucky roll of the dice.

In engaging with organisations to discuss their experience of introducing coaching, here are some of the obstacles raised, along with what our observations of their culture have highlighted:

“Our managers don’t have time to coach people.”

The idea that coaching takes a long time to do is a bit of a fallacy. The key is to think of it as an investment in the person over the mid-long term as opposed to a short-term fix. A “let’s fix it” conversation might take five minutes, which is very appealing when the manager is pressed for time. However, what happens the next time something needs fixing? Another five minutes, and then another and another … and all the while the individual may not really be developing significantly by being told what the fix is (as opposed to working it out for themselves) and may also not feel particularly motivated or empowered. By investing in a coaching conversation, we not only end up with a “fix” that has been developed by the individual, but we have also started to teach the individual how to think more effectively for themselves through identifying key issues, exploring options, evaluating them and ultimately making a more informed choice.

Organisations that successfully develop coaching culture treat coaching as a powerful developmental and motivational tool. They frame coaching as an investment in their people and enable leaders to open up the space and time for such an investment.

“Strong coaching relationships result in enhanced engagement, confidence and performance”

“We trained 300 managers how to coach and it didn’t make any difference.”

The use of coaching skills by managers and leaders is the fastest growing area of coaching within organisations and is a key area where coaching can have significant impact. There are four immediate considerations here:

  1. In many cases, managers and leaders receive very little formal training in coach-specific skills. Such training is often limited to something like a half-day module within a larger leadership programme, allowing minimal time to explore the competencies of coaching, let alone have the time to actually practice and receive feedback. Most leaders leave this kind of training with only a very basic understanding of coaching and no tangible experience of how to engage in a coaching conversation. It is therefore unsurprising if they simply default to their usual way of leading after the programme.
  2. We have also encountered many organisation where managers and leaders are being trained in coaching skills by inexperienced coaches or internal staff who have never been trained as coaches themselves at all. One particular example comes to mind where a group of HR professionals in an organisation were trained as internal coaches. Upon completion of their basic training, the very next week (and with only an introductory level of theoretical knowledge and a very small handful of coaching conversation experiences) one of them had designed and was running an internal coach training for managers and leaders. The trainer only being “one page ahead” is not conducive to developing managers and leaders with good coaching skills.
  3. Linked to the above point, many coach-specific training programmes for managers and leaders are designed internally without any form of recognised accreditation. Research by the International Coaching Federation clearly indicates that coaching culture develops more effectively when managers and leaders are trained on accredited programmes that follow a clear curriculum and recognised competency framework by qualified trainers who are themselves certified coaches.
  4. As with all training and development interventions, follow-up is a key part of the integration and learning process. Far too often, managers and leaders complete coach-specific training and there is little or no follow-up with their own manager regarding how they are implementing and developing their new skills. There should be accountability for using coaching as a development vehicle within their leadership role.

Organisations that successfully develop coaching culture invest in an appropriate level of coach-specific training for their managers and leaders which includes a high focus on the practical application of coaching and meaningful feedback. This feedback is given by trained and experienced coaches who have also delivered an accredited programme.

“Coaching culture develops when leaders have the skill to enable others through coaching”

“We trained 75 internal coaches: they are not being fully utilised and many of them have left the organisation.

Many organisations who use coaching start to develop internal coaching communities. There are several aspects to take into account for this to be successful. Our experience indicates that many organisations take a somewhat short-term view by agreeing to fund training for internal coaches and then failing to put in place the ongoing mechanisms for those coaches to be fully utilised. Important examples are:

  • Ensuring that the organisation knows what coaching is, and how to access their internal coaching community.
  • Enabling and supporting internal coaches to allocate the time to coach, thereby making it a formal part of their role.
  • Providing ongoing support and development for internal coaches through supervision, mentoring and other opportunities for them to maintain and enhance their coaching skills.
  • Actively using internal coaches as a strategic resource that is allocated to major change initiatives or projects. Research shows that coaching facilitates successful change. However, we often see coaches leaving organisations when major change occurs, which is when they are most needed.

Organisations that successfully develop coaching culture don’t just train internal coaches, they proactively create an internal coaching service which is communicated, promoted, supported and tracked. Internal coaches are also recognised, encouraged, supported and developed as coaches over the long term.

“Working with my coach allows me the time to reflect and reach important decisions in my role. I could not do this so easily without the space and support that coaching provides me as a leader”

“We have spent a fortune on coaching in the organisation and can’t see the return on investment.”

This issue is closely related to the previous point and comes back to tracking and measurement. How can a return on investment be established when no clear measures of success were established in the first place? This may seem so obvious and yet in practice we notice that this is often the case. It is quite curious how significant sums of money can be found to introduce coaching and coach training as the organisation sees the launch a coaching “project”. Then, at some point, someone asks to see the return on investment and suddenly none can be found … this questioning of the value of coaching often comes at a time when budgets are being cut, perhaps because of some strain or major change within the organisation. Once again, the coaching initiative gets pulled at the very time when it is most needed. We have shared more about measuring coaching initiatives in our coaching culture series, and this is a critical part of the process.

Organisations that successfully develop coaching culture proactively assign a budget that has been calculated based upon some key plans and goals which have associated targets and measures so that a clear return on investment as well as a return on expectations can be seen.

“Coaching enables you to get clear on what you want to achieve and then build strategies to get there, addressing blocks along the way.”

As coaching becomes increasingly “mainstream” in organisations, the benefits could be experienced, not just by large organisations with “money to burn” but also by small-medium sized organisations who have more limitations on their resources. The benefits of coaching and coaching culture are available to all if it is carefully planned and thought-through.

Tracy Sinclair, MCC

Tracy Sinclair is a multi-award-winning Master Certified Coach (MCC) with the International Coaching Federation (ICF). She is also a trained Coaching Supervisor, Mentor Coach and ICF Assessor. Tracy trains coaches and works with managers and leaders to develop their coaching capability. She works as an international Corporate Executive and Board Level Coach, a leadership development designer and facilitator working with a wide range of organisations. Tracy also specialises in working with organisations to support them develop coaching culture. Tracy has co-authored a book Becoming a Coach: The Essential ICF Guide published in 2020 which provides a comprehensive guide to coaching for coaches at all levels of skill and experience, the psychology that underpins coaching and the updated ICF Core Competency Model. In this same year she founded Coaching with Conscience which exists to have a positive impact on society and our environment through coaching. As part of this work, she collaborates closely with MIND, the UK’s leading mental health charity and the British Paralympic Association (BPA). She also offers pro bono personal development and coaching programmes to young leaders (18-25-yrs). Tracy was named as one of the Leading Global Coach winners of the Thinkers50 Marshall Goldsmith Awards of 2019 and was a finalist for the Thinkers50 Coaching and Mentoring Award in 2021. She won the ICF Impact Award for Distinguished Coach in 2023 and is a member of the Marshall Goldsmith 100 Coaches. She was the President of the UK ICF from 2013-2014 and was an ICF Global Board Director since 2016, serving as Treasurer in 2017, Global Chair in 2018 and Immediate Past Global Chair in 2019 and Vice Chair and Director at Large on the International Coaching Federation Global Enterprise Board in 2021.

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