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Developing a Coaching Culture

By Professor Peter Hawkins and Barbara Walsh

In spite of the current economic challenges, research statistics reveal that worldwide more organisations are either maintaining or increasing their investment in coaching activities.

In the recent report compiled by Bersin by Deloitte, “HR Technology Disruptions in 2016 – How the World Has Changed”, the research reveals the reason for this:

  • Culture and Engagement is the number 1 Top Talent Challenge in the Global Human Capital Trends. Number 2 is Leadership Gaps, and number 3, Learning and Development
  • 95% of candidates believe culture is more important than compensation
  • Performance management is being radically reinvented into a process of continuous management and feedback

This being the case…

  • Coaching is identified as the number 1 process of the Top 22 Best Practices most highly correlated with impact

While the need for developing effective leaders and having an engaged workforce has never been stronger, the resources available to spend on interventions like coaching are diminishing. At the same time it is no longer an option to sacrifice people development, as would often have been the case in the past – to neglect this would be tantamount to self-sabotage. Rather, what organisations are experiencing is in line with the research, is that more coaching needs to be done, at more levels of the organisation, and at less cost. As a result, expenditure in this context is now more likely to be carefully assessed for the return it provides.

As the use of organisational coaching evolves, there is a significant shift in where the coaching investment is made, so that coaching becomes more widely accessible at all levels of the organisation. Until fairly recently, coaching in organisations was mostly focused on developing key individuals for senior leadership positions. A much-needed systemic approach is now being adopted, as coaching is embraced as a primary enabler for high performance at all levels.

Transitioning the current culture into that of a coaching culture is the focus of many global organisations, and the requirement to instil this is being included increasingly as part of the performance requirements of leaders. A coaching style approach for “doing business” is being implanted in how they manage, lead, hold team meetings, interact cross-functionally and engage with stakeholders. Organisations in South Africa are just beginning to follow the global trend in this regard.

Similar to the definition of the term ‘coaching’, there are many interpretations of what a ‘coaching culture’ actually is. Most definitions are useful in that they point to areas that the organisation wishes to address. The danger is that they can either end up as a generic list of good managerial practice or they predetermine a generic ‘end-state’. When this happens, the initiative generally loses momentum and dies, in the same way that so many other ‘flavours of the moment’ have.

The fact is that the journey towards a coaching culture needs to be uniquely defined, strategized and designed for each organisation embarking on this journey. Coaching should deliver much larger gains than only the personal development of individuals as was the tendency in the past.

As Professor Peter Hawkins points out in his book ‘Creating a Coaching Culture’, a coaching culture approach should deliver team and organisational learning, aid effective cultural change, increase the engagement of staff and stakeholders in the enterprise of the organisation and support the delivery of the core strategy. It’s a process that takes time and careful planning to implement successfully. It usually requires a partnership between external specialists in change and transformation and key change champions in the organisation. External specialists bring their expertise in transformational cultural change management and an ‘outside-in’ viewpoint. Internal champions bring their knowledge of the organisation and an ‘inside-out’ viewpoint.

There are five main pillars to consider in creating an effective coaching culture development strategy:

  1. Start with the end in mind: What are the organisational outcomes that the business is trying to achieve, and how can coaching contribute to these?
  2. Stages of implementation: How will the transition be managed and measured?
  3. Internal and external resources: What resources are needed to deliver the desired outcomes, and what would be the right mix between internal and external resources at each stage?
  4. Create a coaching culture for the organisation: How will coaching be implemented throughout the organisation so that it becomes a part of ‘how things are done here’? Consider the behaviours of a coaching culture, together with formal and informal coaching conversations. How will the new culture be extended to include all stakeholders?
  5. Harvest organisational learning: What processes will be used to harvest the learning that emanates from the thousands of coaching conversations taking place? What will be done with the learning?

It is heartening to see such an increase in the number of companies who recognise that learning at all levels is key to their future success.

Professor Peter Hawkins is Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School in the United Kingdom, and a Non-Executive Director of Metaco Consulting in South Africa ( He is the author of several best-selling books on the topics of Systemic Leadership and Coaching.

Barbara Walsh is a Director, Coaching Consultant and Executive Coach with Metaco Consulting. She has an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change, is a Master HR Practitioner (SABPP) and a credentialed Neuro-Semantics Meta-Coach and Coach Trainer.

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