Steps to Create a Culture of Coaching

Even as employment numbers inch upward, most companies continue to ask their employees to do more with less, and these additional responsibilities often cause more stress at all levels in the organization. One way to ease some of the workload and anxiety is to help transform managers into coaches. Workplace coaches help organizations achieve their specific business results and demonstrate a clear commitment by the organization to employees’ career development and future success.

John Wooden, Sports Illustrated Coach of the 20th Century, once said, “Knowledge is not enough to get desired results. You must have the more elusive ability to teach and to motivate. This defines a leader; if you can’t teach and you can’t motivate, you can’t lead.”

Coaching can be focused on improving skills, developing new skills or correcting poor performance — and it’s an essential skill for managers to learn. Coaching requires both skill and time but can enhance employee development and achieve positive long-term results.

When managers do not coach, it’s usually for one of three primary reasons: they don’t see the value or importance of coaching; they don’t possess coaching skills; or they lack the time. Here are five steps to overcome these barriers and transform managers into coaches:

Build the personal case for coaching. Coaching isn’t effective when it’s forced on managers who don’t see its relevance. To build the case, they need to see the “what’s-in-it-for-me” element. Pointing out that the strongest and most successful leaders are also excellent coaches can help managers see the personal relevance of becoming an effective coach.

Establish firm expectations. If firm expectations aren’t established, companies will fail to see the desired results — that’s why it’s important to make it clear that coaching is a primary responsibility of all managers within the organization. It should be a key element of the company’s culture as well as part of every manager’s job. One way companies can do this is by making coaching a topic of discussion at every performance evaluation, new management assignment and promotion opportunity. Enabling managers to develop their coaching skills and allocating time for them to learn and apply their skills is key.

Teach coaching skills and put them into practice. Coaching does not necessarily come naturally to managers. In fact, before they become managers, people are generally rewarded for their skills and ability to get tasks done on their own or in small teams. Becoming a manager can represent a difficult shift in what managers do and how they allocate their time.

Core coaching skills — such as listening, questioning, observing, building rapport, constructive analysis and feedback, empathy, supportive encouragement and holding others accountable — are all skills that can be enhanced or taught in various ways. Whether it is in workshops, mentoring relationships or modeling of strong coaches, managers can improve their coaching skills and proceed to put these skills to use in their daily work. This means allocating time for them to practice these skills when “coachable” moments occur — and creating coachable moments or situations, such as delegating tasks or responsibilities that will result in coaching opportunities.

Give a manager a coach. To transform managers into coaches, give them the chance to experience coaching firsthand. Having a manager coached by another executive achieves two things: 1) It builds a commitment to coaching by enabling the manager to experience the benefits of coaching as a method for developing others; and 2) it provides a model of how the manager can provide coaching for others. Organizations that don’t have skilled coaches can consider hiring external coaches to work with key managers.

Reward the best coaches with the best jobs. Managers who demonstrate the strongest coaching skills are likely to be the organization’s strongest leaders. Placing these managers in key roles and crediting these assignments — at least in part — to their excellent coaching skills will send a strong message to others that coaching is a critical skill for all successful managers and strong coaches are often rewarded with the best jobs.

Mike Noble is a managing partner at Camden Consulting Group, providing executive coaching and talent management services. He can be reached at