How to build a coaching culture at work

What is coaching culture?

A coaching culture is the combination of behaviours, customs, symbols, language, values, and beliefs used by a company to help develop, train, and motivate employees. It can be easily understood as a growth plan where coaching plays a central role. 

First, managers are coached to be assigned responsibilities and lead a team. Both managers and their teams then work together to achieve the goals of the company, functioning on a trial-and-error learning basis:

  1. If the outcomes are not positive, it’s considered to be an opportunity for improvement as part of the learning curve
  2. If the outcomes are successful, the team is recognized for its hard work

Once the coaching culture starts taking root across teams and the complete company, it becomes a virtuous cycle.

  • Upon bettering themselves, employees build confidence
  • Confident employees become increasingly motivated
  • Highly motivated employees have better ideas
  • These ideas ultimately lead to enhanced employee performance
  • When employees’ performance improves, they further better themselves
  • And thus the cycle begins again

Who can benefit from coaching culture?

In their book Making Coaching Work, David Megginson and David Clutterbuck, co-founders of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), make a fundamental statement about coaching culture.

With a commitment to improving both the organization and its people, it’s clear that everyone can benefit from being part of a coaching culture, including:

  • Employees: as we’ve just mentioned, one of the main goals of a coaching culture is making employees gain more ownership and feel more confident when doing their job. As part of this learning curve, constant feedback is encouraged; and employees grow to be more proactive in coming up with and implementing new initiatives because they know their ideas will be welcomed.  
  • Managers: coached by upper-management, coaching skills turn supervisors into authentic leaders that employees respect and value. People who “supervise” instead of “leading” a team fail to efficiently delegate tasks often end up in burnout and poor results. With a coaching culture, managers learn how to divide and conquer instead of micromanaging and struggling
  • HR leaders: in a coaching culture, employee well-being increases, managers further strengthen their relationship with their team, and collaboration grows naturally. Employees soon start sharing their positive experiences with colleagues and through social media—and news travel fast. As a consequence, companies see higher talent retention rates and reach potential new hires.

What are some common leadership challenges that can be solved by establishing a coaching culture at work?

Managers who aren’t leaders 

As stated in a recent Gallup article: “the selection criteria for supervisors generally relates to their success or tenure in a front-line role, not their capacity for people management”. Simply put, supervisors manage tasks, leaders influence people. Untrained managers tend to focus on completing to-do lists, and as result, they fail to help workers meet their OKRs, build a career path, or feel motivated.  

How can a coaching culture help? In a coaching culture, managers become the primary coaches. As part of their training, managers will learn to understand the importance of nurturing well-being and how to provide all the tools workers need to thrive. 

At the employee level, managers will consider each person’s future at the company, be proactive in discussing key areas of interest, and create objectives that help achieve those expectations. At the team level, they will focus on encouraging constant feedback to make sure everyone feels free to communicate their thoughts and ideas. 

Inefficient task delegation

Many leaders struggle with micromanaging without even noticing. But the truth is employees DO notice. 

Some of the symptoms of micromanaging include:

  • Failing to effectively delegate tasks, which leads the manager to suffer from burnout as a result of dealing with a greater workload than its direct reports. This usually happens when leaders don’t put enough trust in their team to handle certain projects, or when they simply don’t understand how to split ongoing initiatives with other people.
  • Failing to effectively monitor the completion of a task. When micromanaging, managers tend to be on top of employees 24/7, continuously asking about the status of each project as if they lacked faith in their performance. 

How can a coaching culture help? In a coaching culture, managers stop giving orders and start setting goals instead. Coached leaders learn to manage expectations rather than tasks, so instead of asking “what’s the status of this?”, a manager will say “we need to finish this by EOD”; instead of saying “I’m sure I can handle all of this”, a manager will ask “could you give me a hand?”

The result? Happier employees who get to solve projects their own way instead of receiving commands; and managers who trust their team enough to delegate. 

Remote work

The feeling of disconnection. Not knowing how your people feel. Having video calls where all cameras are off. All companies consider remote work to be challenging, but businesses that are experiencing fast growth and constant changes are the ones who struggle the most. 

How can a coaching culture help? One of the aims of a coaching culture is going beyond the company vision to also consider its people. But to know how to improve well-being, you need to track it. Using online platforms that allow managers to have regular 1:1s with employees and conducting mood assessments can help you understand how everyone is coping with their work, how they are feeling, and what can be improved. 

Lack of employee engagement

Employees lack motivation as a result of failing to feel comfortable in their work environment, not being acknowledged for their efforts, or feeling uncertain as regards their future at the company. As employees feel less motivated, their performance will start to deteriorate, and they might even start looking for a new job.

How can a coaching culture help? By nurturing gratitude and recognition in tandem with improving communication and well-being. 

First, get to truly know employees. Become a great listener, ask and give feedback, always be helpful and never be judgemental: don’t say “why did it take you so long to finish this project?”, ask “how can we work together to overcome this?”. Once you have a clear understanding of everybody’s pain points and you have provided the necessary tools to solve these problems, the virtuous cycle will start. 

Don’t forget that, at the end of the day, each person is different. Take some time to understand how to best help your team thrive and how to recognize the hard work of every employee.  

How can you get started with coaching culture at work?

  • Start with simple initiatives, think of it more as a smooth transition than as an overnight change. Find how companies you admire are building a coaching culture and put their knowledge into practice. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.   
  • Foster emotional literacy, where people can express themselves and talk about creating a safe environment. Conduct regular mood assessments and analyze the results against managers’ 1:1 coaching meetings. 
  • Encourage feedback and honest conversations. Set weekly 1:1 syncs with each team member. Ask them relevant questions like “do you like your job? in which areas would you like to grow?”
  • Help managers become leaders. If you’re part of the HR department, focus on training your managers. If you’re a manager, start learning about coaching. There are lots of training programs, courses, and valuable resources out there.
  • Track well-being. Find a tool that works for you even on a remote basis. This tool should ideally help you keep track of how employees are feeling and access actionable insights on how to help them improve. For example, if during a mood assessment a person states they are feeling highly stressed, the manager will be able to reduce the employee’s workload. After conducting these mood tests over a significant period of time, the manager will also be able to identify mood trends both at the employee and team level.
  • Give praise and recognition. Don’t forget to let employees know you value their dedication. We recommend implementing a rewards system in which managers can send employees a special present to say “thank you” and “well done”. 
  • Use “we” instead of “I”. The perfect team is one where everyone is aligned: all co-workers are familiar with every ongoing project and they all work towards achieving the same goal. Showcasing teamwork is key, so start thinking at a collective level. Instead of sending an email that says “I’ve reviewed the article. It looks ok”, try “we’ve reviewed your article together with the team. We think this is ready to go”. 

Start building your coaching culture with Leanmote
Want to start working on your coaching culture? Sign up for a free trial on our platform, a unique solution where you will find all the tools you need to create a coaching culture, from 1:1 coaching meetings, mood assessments and workload tracking to a point-based recognition system where employees can redeem special gifts.