HR’s Role in Building a Coaching Culture


The thinking goes that, because organizations and responsibilities are rapidly changing, there is a need for employees to constantly upgrade their skills. This being the case, the trend as seen today is  that, the yearly performance review is giving way to frequent feedback and reviews throughout the year.

The core to an organizations life is its culture. We know that culture expresses the organizations goals through its values and beliefs, and these values and beliefs guide the organization’s activities through group norms. Cultural norms are the one’s that define what is accepted or rejected, what is encouraged or dis-couraged, and whether they are properly aligned with personal values and needs.

A recent HBR article had published an abstract of the work done by Edgar Schein, Shalom Schwartz and other scholars that identified four accepted attributes, viz., Shared, Pervasive, Enduring and Implicit aspects of culture. Along these, they identified eight distinct culture styles, viz., Caring, Purpose, Learning, Enjoyment, Results, Authority, Safety and Order. Of these, the Learning and Caring cultural styles closely aligned with building a culture of Coaching.

As an HR professional, you need to be constantly thinking how you can create a culture of coaching that will enable your organization to reach its highest potential. There is a need to create a climate where people learn how to:

  1. Constantly give and receive feedback,
  2. Support and stretch someone’s thinking,
  3. Challenge people’s performance levels, and
  4. Engage in development conversations that are short in length but strong in impact.

Therefore there is a need to integrate coaching as a core element of your talent and leadership development strategy. As a first step, HR needs to be equipped with coaching skills.

Usually organizations go through 4 stages in the use of coaching, or coaches. 1. Ad-hoc coaching – driven by individuals, 2. Managed coaching driven by a sponsor or champion, 3. Proactive coaching – driven by business need, and 4. Strategic coaching driven by organizational talent strategy.

When it comes to building a coaching cultures, one needs to keep in mind that, ‘one size does not fit all’  approach to an organizations coaching should be tailored to meet the needs and style of the particular organization. This results in the creation of a clear and unified coaching strategy that is linked to the organization’s mission and business strategy.

To build such a strategy,  there are three foundation pillars to build upon.

1-The coaching strategy: This is not just another policy document. This first pillar should be firmly grounded in the organization’s mission, the organization’s development plan and the current business strategy. This is developed collaboratively and is constantly updated as the context and practices change and develop. It is communicated throughout the organization.

2-Aligning the coaching culture to the wider organizational culture change effort – This ensures creating a coaching culture that is aligned to the wider changes in the organizations culture. Creating a coaching culture is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. So a key part of it is creating a culture of continual learning and development that will enhance the capacities and capabilities of its managers, leaders, teams and the organization as a whole.

3-Coaching Infrastructure – This acts as an anchor to all activities of coaching at work that establishes and maintains the necessary governance, management and involvement of all stakeholders that provides a sustainable, robust and integrated operation. Some key aspects of building such infrastructure is, a. Having a strong steering/sponsorship group, that drives the strategy, b. Having management group that coordinates and integrates all coaching processes and activities, and c. A community of practice for those who are providing the coaching. They are the true partners in creating a coaching culture.

Manager’s as Coaches

One need to understand that Manager’s can’t be great coaches all by themselves.  In a real word constant coaching is really difficult because of the manager’s responsibilities, and ever changing priorities. On a recent Gartner survey, “What are the best managers doing in developing employees in today’s busy work environment?” The survey resulted in 4 distinct coaching profiles among managers.

Teacher manager, who coaches employees on the basic of their own knowledge and experience, providing advice oriented feedback, and personally directing development.

  1. Always on manager, who provide continual coaching, staying on top of employees development and gives feedback across a range of skills.
  2. Connected Managers, who give targeted feedback in their areas of expertise. Otherwise they connect employees with others on the team or elsewhere in the organization who are better suited to the task.
  3. Cheerleader Manager, who takes a hands-off approach, delivering positive feedback and putting employees in charge of their own development.

The survey surprisingly found that there is no or little correlation between time spend coaching and employee performance. It was less about ‘quantity’ and more about ‘quality’. The survey also concluded that the best one’s are the connectors, who give targeted feedback. Here the coach remains deeply involved, identifying expertise, facilitating introductions and monitoring progress. Therefore there is a need for manager’s to adopt a ‘connector’ behavior that requires a shift in mindset. Being a ‘connector’ is more about asking the right questions, providing tailored feedback, and helping employees to make a connection to a colleague who can help them. The take-away from is survey is, when it comes to coaching employees, being a connector is how you win.

Author: Vasanthan Philip is a Certified Executive and Leadership Coach from Marshall Goldsmith and John Mattone University. He is an advisor, consultant, trainer and coach with over 30 years of industry experience. Recently he was selected to be leadership coach for IBM in Singapore. He is a avid blogger, publishes regularly in LinkedIn and is currently writing a book on “What it takes to be a great leader”. He participates and speaks in conferences on Agile and Business Agility. He has worked in leadership positions with IBM, HCL, Wipro and FIS. He regularly facilitates workshop on Leadership Development, Change Management and Business Agility.


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