Why Don’t Coaching Cultures Catch On?

In my last blog, I described Cylient’s perspective on what a coaching culture is. Now, let’s look at some of the reasons that coaching cultures don’t always catch on as we want and need them to.

Reason #1: People Don’t Practice, Practice, Practice

Coaching that delivers the kind of enduring change that coaching cultures are founded upon requires significant behavior change on the part of the coach. To fully embrace a coaching approach to leadership people need to be able to do things like:

  • Recognize opportunities to coach in day-to-day interactions, rather than just reacting to problems.
  • Let go of their judgments of others people’s perspectives and appreciate that whatever people do, it makes sense to them.
  • Enable others to envision and try out new ways of doing things, rather than simply telling them what to do.
  • Be present in the moment so they can perceive these things, rather than being so amped up they have difficulty perceiving their own thoughts and feelings

These are complex behaviors that require a lot of practice to acquire. In fact, becoming competent at coaching-based leadership takes as much practice as it would to learn to drive a car for the first time, or learn to play a new sport.

If you wanted to learn how to play basketball, you wouldn’t go to a one-day training program, then throw your basketball in the closet and expect to become a decent basketball player. Yet that’s often what happens with coaching skills training programs. People go to the class, but they don’t consistently practice their coaching skills afterward. As a result, they often slide back to their old ways of doing things.

What to Do:

  1. Ensure that people understand how much practice it will take to become competent at coaching-based leadership. It’s important to set realistic expectations throughout the organization about what it takes to become a competent coach. It’s common for people to think that coaching is “easy” so they aren’t prepared to do the diligent work needed to fully embrace this leadership style.
  2. Provide structured ways to keep people in the learning process for the 4 – 6 months it takes to fully engrain coaching-based leadership. That’s one of the driving reasons we build full digital learning of our courses, as well as offering a full suite of other reinforcement options, so our clients can build networks of reinforcement that work for them in their organizations.

Reason#2: It’s Too Risky to Try—and Possibly Fail

How risky is it for people to try something new in your organization? The riskier it is, the less likely it is that a coaching culture will catch on.

The organizational risk of transitioning to coaching-based leadership is higher when:

–       There is a low tolerance for learning in your organization, which means people are shamed and punished, sometimes in subtle ways, for making mistakes or doing something in a new way. People are going to make mistakes while they’re learning to coach. If missteps aren’t embraced as part of the learning process, people won’t take the risk to learn anything new.

–       Coaching isn’t visibly and meaningfully rewarded. When people with directive leadership styles that “get it done at any cost” are rewarded and promoted, people who are motivated by achievement won’t go near a coaching approach to leadership.

–       Coaching isn’t consistently viewed as a strategic imperative. The business case for coaching-based leadership needs to be consistently shared by highly respected leaders throughout the organization. When coaching is viewed as being “soft” or “nice to do if I have the time” people don’t take it seriously, so they never find the time to do the work needed to become proficient at it.

What to Do:

Step back and notice if there are dynamics in your organization that may discourage people from doing the work necessary to fully engrain coaching as their leadership style of choice. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • Will the managers of the people going through the coaching skills training be prepared to fully support them when they go back to the job?
  • Are we actively rewarding people who embrace coaching as a leadership style?
  • Are your most influential leaders talking about why coaching matters from a business perspective?

While you can’t mitigate all of the risks, it’s likely you can reduce some of them, often by making people aware of how the “forces” highlighted here can discourage them from taking the risks necessary to become competent coaches.

Reason #3: People Don’t Understand Why Coaching Cultures Matter

Motivating people to put in the considerable effort needed to transition to coaching-based leadership is an essential, but often overlooked, element of cultivating a culture of coaching.

People change to attain the things that matter most to them. What’s truly important is different for different people. Some people want to hit their numbers and get promoted, while others get excited about helping people develop and grow. Still others just want more time to do the work they truly enjoy.

Coaching-based leadership can deliver in all of these areas, and more, although people may not know this unless the personal and business benefits for instilling a culture of coaching are readily apparent.

What to Do:

Consistently share clear and compelling reasons why it’s a strategic imperative for individuals—and the entire organization—to transition to coaching-based leadership. Not sure what those are? Check out this blog to learn more.

Be sure that people understand what’s in it for them to do the work necessary to become competent at coaching. One of the best ways to do that is to provide ways for people to share their own learning experiences so they can support and inspire each other through every step of the learning journey.

Reason #4: People Aren’t Speaking the Same Coaching Language

Creating a unified coaching culture requires a shared coaching language. When multiple approaches to coaching are used to instill a coaching culture, it’s like your organization is speaking different languages.

Research shows companies that use informal emotional approaches that focus on instilling a few critical behaviors are significantly more likely to experience behavior change that lasts. Sustained behavior change is the foundation of a coaching culture. So choosing a simple approach to “in the moment” coaching that can be used by everyone in the organization makes it far more likely that a coaching culture will stick.

What to Do:

The coaching approach that your organization selects becomes the “seed” of your coaching culture. So choose carefully, because you can’t plant one thing and expect something different to grow.

Choose a simple, yet comprehensive, approach to coaching that engrains transformative behaviors such as igniting insight that is grounded with meaningful action, expanding worldviews to embrace new possibilities, and harnessing people’s inner motivation to change.

Transformative behaviors beget transformative cultures that enable organizations to thrive in times of tumultuous change. That’s the essence of a resilient coaching culture.

Reason #5: Not Approaching Creating a Coaching Culture as A Transformation

Establishing a coaching culture requires making fundamental shifts in how people think, communicate and lead. For coaching to catch on as the preferred leadership style in your organization, a significant number of people will need to make the following transitions:

From To
Telling people what to do Engaging others to think for themselves
Insisting upon “right answers Iterative learning to discover possibilities
Getting caught up in limiting stories Appreciating the unique perspectives and contributions of others
Fighting for control Reaching to create connections
Focus on fixing “things” Realizing potential people and situations

These are significant and complex changes that require consistent attention over time, like seeds that need to be nurtured and cared for until they reach maturity and bear fruit.

What to Do:

While it would be ideal to have a full change management infrastructure in place to guide and support the creation of a coaching culture, the reality is, most organizations aren’t quite there yet. In true coaching fashion, start wherever your organization is, work with what you’ve got, and build from there.

I suggest that you care for as many of the change dimensions as you can. In addition to the initial coaching skills training, consider how you can include the following in your efforts to create a coaching culture:

  • Consistently communicate the intentions for instilling a coaching culture before the initiative begins, and throughout the change effort
  • Provide a comprehensive network of support to keep people practicing their coaching skills for 4 – 6 months
  • Recruit influential champions to inspire and coach others
  • Align rewards with the expectations of coaching-based leadership
  • Learn from the process as you go, and adjust along the way
  • Celebrate the learning process AND the outcomes
  • Reach out and invite other parts of the organization to partner with you in making coaching a way of life

Want to experience our new Coaching in the Moment® video-based digital learning? Sign up to receive a free introduction.

Dianna Anderson, MCC
CEO, Cylient

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