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How HR can complement a coaching culture

We’ve waxed lyrical, these last few months, on the benefits of a coaching culture within an organisation. The implementation, however, can be different from company to company, but there’s no doubt that any such initiative will be much smoother if it has the full support and focus of the HR department.

We’re sure, if we asked the question, the perception people would give of their employer’s HR team would vary a great deal. Some, if they’d had a grievance or problem, may see the HR department as a vital go-between and source of support. If an employee had little dealings with the team, they might think the opposite. Says Gillian Jones, Emerge team member and author of ‘How to Create a Coaching Culture’, “Traditionally, HR is often seen in the same league as a dentist: a painful necessity, yet HR is their first port of call the minute they get a people issue.”

ID-10034841Too helpful?

According to Gillian, it can be easy for the HR team to make a rod for their own backs. If they’re too accessible and helpful, perhaps with the intention of raising their profile or justifying their existence in the company, this can lead to problems further down the line. They’re remembered by managers as being the entity that removed a sticky situation or particular problem….and if that problem reoccurs, it’s much easier for the manager to cry for help again. Before long, this could turn into continuous ‘hand-holding’. The assistance from HR becomes reactive and transactional, rather than strategic.

Managers gaining control

For a coaching culture to work, managers have to see the benefits of ongoing support and development for their staff. And when we say ongoing, we really mean it: on a daily basis. That means relevant training plans, a supportive approach, vital feedback and continual development are all still employed when it’s busy, during peaks and troughs/seasonal pressure, and even if colleagues leave. Being reactive is necessary – we all fire-fight, and it’s what helps us deliver our promises to customers – but it doesn’t stimulate long-term growth. As the well-known quote says, “If you always do the same thing, you can only expect the same results.”

How HR can play a pivotal role

The great strength of those working in HR is their people skills. However, if they’re fire-fighting, they may find themselves giving the same advice over and over again. And when ‘reacting’, they’re unlikely to use a coaching approach, yet they’re perfectly positioned to suggest coaching behaviours.

Their support to empower managers, so that each one can coach and develop their staff ‘on the job’, should help prevent problems from occurring in the first place. This will have a knock-on effect: because HR won’t be asked to sort out grievances or be needed to hand-hold managers, they’ll be free to work strategically: to help boost the overall performance of the company’s staff, to give feedback to and help support employees looking to move up the ladder, and to help plan and steer internal restructuring. All things that will help the company progress.

It’s not all about others…

Another consequence of the HR department continually fire-fighting is that their own needs and development could become less of a priority, yet, in order to be the key resource for an organisation’s workforce, it’s crucial that they’re progressing too. As Gillian states in her book: “It’s often the HR department that has the weakest (or non-existent) training plans. They’re so busy helping everyone else that there’s little time left to look inwards and attend to their own needs. The HR role is tough and sometimes thankless; there are many times when team members find themselves approaching difficult situations that leave them wondering if they’ve taken the right approach.”

Bringing coaching skills to HR

For a coaching culture to work, it’s important that HR use a shared coaching model and approach. Because people within the organisation will be operating at different levels, it’s important to tailor the examples and exercises on any coaching programmes the HR team may undertake, so that they reflect and relate to typical experiences of all staff.


The HR department is well placed to measure the effects of a coaching culture. They can demonstrate reductions in resignations, absenteeism and grievances, for example, and can therefore be a powerful supporter of such a change. It’s not just reducing the number of people leaving, either; HR will be able to show who leaves the company, not just how many; retaining knowledge and talent is one of the many benefits of a coaching culture. HR can also be pivotal when it comes to forming policies that concern the training and development of employees.

HR as coaches

Given their role and the proximity they have to the organisation’s workforce, people within the HR department may prove good internal coaches, with the right training and guidance. The urge for HR may be to only look at current issues; however, using a coaching approach, they can help employees work towards longer-term goals and aims. They can also participate in peer coaching with managers, which, in turn, helps the rest of the workforce.

External help

It may be that some organisations are better served by introducing external coaching; in this scenario, the HR department can offer their help when it comes to choosing the right coaching service and practitioners. Their knowledge on how an external coaching company would fit the organisation’s culture, and how the provider’s approach complements other staff development activities, could prove valuable indeed.

The HR department has many functions and provides a range of support to any organisation. The benefits of turning them into a strategic business partner, rather than reactive problem-solvers, are huge, particularly when implementing a coaching culture.

If you’d like help to implement effective change within your organisation’s HR department, or the organisation overall, contact Emerge on 01329 820580, or email us at

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