How HR Can Establish a Successful Coaching Culture

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How HR Can Establish a Successful Coaching Culture

Organizations often think of coaching as a development tool but it’s more than that, it’s a mindset. In this article, we’ll look at the coaching culture. We’ll share a definition and describe what it can look like, and we’ll touch on what HR traditionally has been doing in terms of coaching. We’ll also look at the ROI of coaching and how technology can support HR in building a successful coaching culture. Here goes!

What is a coaching culture?
What does a coaching culture look like?
What has HR been doing so far in terms of coaching?
The ROI of coaching
Coaching metrics
Technology to support coaching efforts

This article is a round-up of a great conversation I had with Ozlem Sarioglu, a longterm coaching expert and Founder of digital coaching platform Sparkus, during a recent episode of AIHR Live. If you rather watch the video, you can find the entire interview here:

What is a coaching culture? A definition

In order to define what a coaching culture is, we first need to define what coaching is, generally speaking. Most of the time, organizations know about coaching as a development tool but it’s more than that, it’s a mindset. The way the International Coach Federation defines coaching is as follows:

Coaching is partnering with another person in a thought-provoking and creative process so that it inspires people to maximize their personal and professional potential.

A few elements can be distilled from this definition:

  • Trust. When it comes to coaching, there is partnering involved. This means that there has to be trust in the whole idea of coaching, the organization, and, of course, your coach.
  • Thought-provoking and creative process. This means that there has to be curiosity, people need to be open to new ideas and have a growth mindset.
  • Potential. Throughout the coaching process, there needs to be a belief in the human potential.

So, when we’re talking about a coaching culture, we’re talking about an organization where people trust each other, where people have the ability to question the status quo and the willingness to co-create together. This is regardless of their position in the organization. Anybody can make themselves heard and give some contribution to the work the company is doing. Individuals have a growth mindset and, on top of that, they should have the willingness to grow each other. Managers have the willingness to grow their team members and peers also want to grow peers.

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In other words, trust, the willingness to learn, curiosity and a growth mindset are all combined in a coaching culture.

What does a coaching culture look like?

From an HR perspective

HR generally reads if there is a coaching culture or not. First from the engagement reports. There are always questions in these kinds of surveys that ask things like ‘Do you trust others in the organization?’ or ‘Do you feel like your manager supports you when you’re growing?’

For HR, that’s the first place to look. If they see that these areas get good scores, they can assume that they have a good coaching culture or at least a good start for a coaching culture.

Another thing is having a growth mindset. This means that there is learning agility – the willingness to learn – in the organization. Also, are people willing to support each other in joined training? This too indicates that the organization has a coaching culture.

Trust also plays a role here. If HR is holding a company-wide survey for instance, and people are hesitant to join it, then there could be a certain level of mistrust in the organization. These are all signs that HR can read to determine whether there already is a coaching culture or if this needs to be established.

From a business leader pespective

From a business leader perspective, coaching is very much related to performance. While coaching can sometimes look like a very soft process, it actually involves some level of exploration and taking action. There is a level of accountability, taking responsibility, and owning the work altogether.

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A lot of research has been done around this. One of the main things that have come out of it is that if there is a level of trust in the organization, the business performance and results are three times higher than in companies where you don’t have the trust. So from the business leaders’ perspective, coaching is a very important area to invest in, especially in this VUCA world we live in.

From an employee perspective

If the employee feels like they’re being seen, like their contributions do matter, like they can grow in the organization and that people support them, this makes it clear that there is a coaching culture in the organization. In these kinds of companies, people generally are engaged simply because of the culture itself, everything else comes second.

What has HR been doing so far when it comes to coaching?

What we’ve encountered over the years is that organizations that want to build a coaching culture have gone until ‘the limit of Coaching Culture’ as you can see in the image below (click on the image to enlarge it). They start with coaching for their top management or people that they choose. They can also try to extend it for some teams that they feel need some support.

However, in order to turn coaching into a culture in the organization rather than just a tool to develop someone or solve a problem, the second level comes when HR starts being a coach or when HR can select some people to be internal coaches.

Click here to enlarge the image.

Then, organizations get to the point where they see that people are benefiting from coaching and want to extend it to more people. This is often where coach-like manager training comes into play, where we start training managers to become coaches.

Traditionally, this is where the coaching culture efforts were stuck because when organizations train managers, they expect them to be perfect coaches immediately. However, when people go home – or offline – after their training, they can very easily fall back into their old habits of telling people what to do, not really listening, etc., especially when there is a crisis situation. So traditionally, this was the limit of the coaching culture.

What is possible now, in terms of expanding the reach of your coaching efforts are two things. First, when there is an internal coaching pool, we heard from a lot of companies ‘We trained all those people, but a) we don’t know if they’re giving sessions and b) what if everybody asks for a session, how would that be possible?’.

In these cases, we are using technology to scale the coaching programs. this means that we’re coaching more people with a limited use of internal coaches. The main thing here is that they are able to support more people so when the basics of the coaching process are handled by the technology they can then provide more impact in a shorter period of time. That’s one way to make more people acquainted with coaching, to scale coaching.

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The other process is integrated more into the culture. Going back to the coach-like training, what we found out over the years is that it basically has two limits. The first one is managers generally go through training to coach people but they haven’t received coaching themselves yet. As such, they don’t really grasp what it means to be coached, what it feels like when you hear a powerful question to search inside yourself and find an answer, they haven’t got that experience. So for them to become better coaches, they need to be coached first.

The second limit is, even though managers received coaching, their employees have no idea about coaching. So once the manager starts asking questions, employees are like ‘Why is he or she asking me that? Am I on a test?’ So they come into the coaching process with some kind of resistance and this makes it very hard to coach them.

As a result, managers who just received their coaching training all of a sudden bump into this barrier and internal resistance from their employees. We’ve learned that it’s also very important to support the coach-like training for managers with a program where employees are learning about coaching.

This is also where technology can come into play and we can give employees digital exercises on the coaching platform so that they also start experiencing the coaching process and get excited about it.

That is the breaking point and then more and more it trickles down from the top management to the mid-management, first-line managers, and then all levels of employees. Of course, this is not a one-year thing, this has to be a phase by phase process but then it can be integrated into the whole culture.

How can HR prove the ROI of coaching?

It’s always difficult in learning and development and in all kinds of, let’s call them softer places, to prove the return on investment. In coaching, this is even more difficult because in coaching, for people to trust the process there should be some level of confidentiality in the dialogue. This means that it basically is a black box and that you have no idea of what’s going on inside it. This makes it even harder to prove the ROI.

I always start by asking organizations what their strategic goal for the coaching process is. For some, it is behavioral change. For others, it’s about doing career coaching for key employees so they can have a good career path in the organization. The way you define or measure the ROI of coaching varies from one organization to another.

A simple example. Sometimes organizations just want more of their employees to get acquainted with the coaching so ‘How many people do we coach’ can then be a good criteria.

For other organizations, it could be based on innovation. A question like ‘Has there been any kind of innovation going on in the organization?’ is then another example. We can also use 360-degree feedback to see how the development of a person has changed.

As I said earlier, engagement surveys also shed a light; if engagement scores are going up, if people say there is more trust, that their managers are supporting them better, then these things can be an indicator.

We can also use the technology to gather the relevant data and do some cross-criteria checking; if people have gone through a coaching process, their performance levels have gone like this and that, they’re engaged in the process, etc. Even the correlation between who we call a ‘talent’ going through the digital coaching exercises gives us an indication about are they really a talent, are they really motivated to invest in themselves? Or, are they just being chosen by their manager because they get along well with them?

So even though it really depends on what the organization wants to measure, it is possible to use technology to set the criteria upfront so we can start measuring, gathering data and then we calculate what your results are based on this strategic goal.

Upskilling employees

What are some common metrics organizations use to measure their coaching efforts?

The engagement rate for sure. The Net Promoter Scores can also be important. Sometimes there is an interesting result which is the turnover rate. I say interesting because sometimes if people are more engaged, the turnover rate starts going down but, if the organization doesn’t have a coaching culture in place and people are experiencing coaching for the first time, the the turnover rate may actually go up.

When organizations are a little reluctant to invest money in coaching for this reason, we always say to them that it means they don’t have engaged people but that they just have loyal people who can’t find another job elsewhere. So turnover is tricky because yes, it may go up, but employee happiness may also be going up so you’re just parting ways with people who weren’t a great fit in the first place.

How can HR use technology to support its coaching efforts?

People will hear more and more about digital coaching but there are different tools in that regard. There is, for instance, a distinction between tools that do and tools that don’t have a human touch. There are some chatbots where there is no human element involved. This is a very scalable but limited solution.

There are other digital coaching solutions that can be used if, for instance, you have one leader to coach or if you’re looking for a team to coach. These are more the kind of on-the-point solutions.

At Sparkus, we constantly look at how do we keep it scalable but also how do we keep the human element involved. We’re digitalizing certain parts of the coaching process. We start by going to the organization, understand what their target audience is and what the entire target audience thinks about. First-line managers, for example, all have a delegation issue so we need to first work on that.

We integrate these kinds of common themes into digital coaching exercises. Then, they come together with either a professional coach or a mentor or an internal coaching pool of the organization, this means that the human element comes afterward. So there is this option of integrating the technology with the human and to scale it to more people.

Of course, when you have the technology, you have the ability to link it with the LMS system of the organization, you can integrate it with assessments, you can integrate it with performance development tools that the organization has and of course, you can create a lot of reports, and generate data out of the coaching process.


What is a coaching culture?

When we talk about a coaching culture, we talk about an organization where people have a growth mindset, trust each other, where people have the ability to question the status quo and the willingness to co-create together.

What metrics can HR use to measure their coaching efforts?

Examples of metrics that can be used to measure the effects of coaching include engagement rates, Net Promoter Scores, and turnover.

How can organizations scale their coaching?

Organizations can increase the reach of their coaching efforts by using technology to digitalize certain parts of the coaching process. They can then, if they want to, add a human element to their coaching to integrate the technology with the human.

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