By Charlie Lang, Managing Partner Progress-U Asia
CXO Coach & Program Director of Asia Innovative Coaching Institute (AICI)

By Charlie Lang, Founder, Progress-U, published in Human Resources magazine, reproduced with permission

  • A new generation of employees means companies need to change their corporate cultures and a vital component in this is instilling a coaching mentality.
  • Contrary to what has previously been thought, a coaching culture is more effectively developed if implemented simultaneously top-down and bottom-up.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report, which surveyed 10,000 HR and business leaders across 140 countries, 88% of respondents believe that building the organisation of the future is an important or very important issue. However, only 11% believe they understand how to do that.

It is becoming increasingly clear that, with the emergence of millennials in the workforce and in management positions, a corporate coaching culture will be a key element of the organisation of the future. Having a coaching culture has until now been seen as an added bonus, but in this new age it is becoming a necessity.

We are in the middle of a rapidly changing work and corporate environment due to changes in demographics, economic growth and massive changes in technology. The traditional way of employee conversations is gradually making way for a culture that redefines the engagement between all employees within an organisation. A well designed coaching culture is aligned to the needs of the independent-minded millennial employee who wishes to participate fully in the organisation and have a different expectation as to how they should be treated than employees might have had in the past.

Interestingly though, we have observed that employees of earlier generations tend to appreciate this kind of culture as much as millennials even if they expect it less than millennials do.

With a variety of interventions at different levels, a coaching culture has clearly proved to deliver improved business outcomes while taking care of the needs of the new generation employee.

How to create an optimal culture

To best go about corporate culture transformation, it is important to first review the overall direction of the organisation. That typically includes vision, mission, strategy and major longer-term goals. The organisation’s core values also need to be addressed as they form the foundation of the culture. It is critical that the top management team is fully aligned on these before going to the next step of defining the optimal corporate culture.

Defining the optimal corporate culture should be done in three steps:

1. Holding a workshop with the top management team to define an optimal corporate culture draft. The output is a comprehensive description of all elements that should be part of the culture as well as elements that the team doesn’t want to see in the culture (eg. gossiping).

2. Sharing and discussing the draft with “key opinion leaders” in the organisation and getting their inputs. Key opinion leaders are employees that may or may not be in a management role, but have significant influence on other employees in the organisation. They usually have the capacity to undermine any change in most subtle ways and it’s important to have them on board.

3. Holding a second workshop to discuss all collected feedback and to finalise the culture description. Once the optimal corporate culture is defined, it is important to look at the leadership competency model that the organisation might or might not have. Corporate culture is influenced largely by three things:

  • leadership;
  • Written rules, regulations or policies;
  • And unwritten rules.

It is critical that leaders are aware and capable of leading their teams in ways that help drive the desired culture. A meaningful leadership competency model designed to drive the optimal corporate culture is essential to both assess and effectively develop leaders.

A two-way approach to a coaching mentality

In Progress-U’s Annual Report on Corporate Coaching Culture in Asia 2015-2016, one of the surprise findings was that it is more effective if coaching is implemented both bottom-up and top-down at the same time. Conventional thinking is that culture change should always be top-down.

Bearing this in mind, the following initiatives serve as a good framework for HR to instil a coaching culture:

Bottom-up initiatives

1. Hold a two-day programme for all line managers below the senior management team on coaching as a leadership style, including commitment to practice. This should be followed up with regular group coaching sessions to discuss coaching practices.

2. Conduct briefing sessions with all employees about the purpose of coaching, how coaching works and how they can make the most out of being coached.

Top-down initiatives

1. Invite all senior managers to take part in a coach certification programme. A typical external programme might include both mandatory and voluntary components, leading to international certification. The idea is that senior managers should become proficient in coaching as well as starting to coach some key talents other than their direct reports.

2. Assign an external executive coach to select leaders to help them accelerate their development.

In larger organisations, it is usually advised to build a pool of fully certified internal coaches that continuously drive coaching as a key aspect of the culture.

The concentration of coaching at the top levels of organisations studied in the report probably explains why business performance emerged as the top benefit instead of employee engagement, which was the expected top benefit. That said, while 64% expected improved business performance to be a benefit, only 41% reported improved business performance as an outcome of implementing a coaching culture.

Keeping track of progress

The Annual Report on Corporate Coaching Culture in Asia 2015-2016 also found that another very important aspect of culture transformation is to continuously measure the corporate culture. The report found that it was much more efficient and accurate to regularly (eg. every three to four weeks) send out short snap surveys with four to eight questions, each related to certain aspects of the culture. Since such surveys take only a minute or two to complete, response rates tend to be surprisingly high (around 80% within five days of sending out the survey).

To complete one cycle of full culture assessment typically takes four or five months. However, after each survey, the management can see where deviations from the optimal corporate culture exist and may take immediate meaningful action. Another positive side-effect of continuous snap surveys is that it reminds all employees of these cultural elements and that they matter.

Building a coaching culture that delivers business outcomes is a medium term, continuous process. Given time to take full effect, a coaching culture can deliver direct impact on several key areas such as employee motivation, organisational alignment and eventually business performance.

Conclusion

The traditional hierarchical paradigm of coaching corporate culture is no longer effective. For any organisation to become or remain world-class, developing a coaching culture will become an increasing necessity. Nevertheless, the culture ultimately needs to be designed to enable an optimal execution of the organisation’s strategy.

Developing a coaching culture is best achieved by approaching it both top-down and bottom-up at the same time. Continuous and efficient measurement of the culture and subsequent measures to tackle culture deviations are further keys to successfully transforming and then maintaining an organisation’s culture.