There’s no doubt that there’s a lot to think about when running a large (or small) organisation. Last week, we talked about a company’s most valuable asset: its people. It’s unlikely that there’s a manager, owner or leader in the land that doesn’t understand this on some level, but when competitors are edging ever closer, new products are mid-launch, marketing strategies are being overhauled and implemented throughout the whole organisation – and the canteen is being repainted – implementing a coaching culture may slip from your list of priorities.
It’s not the intention, it’s just a practicality. The theory of implementation may make financial, business and strategic sense, but is it that easy?
Just like anything in life, it may be challenging, but the end result is worth it. Though there’ll never be a ‘right time’ to look at the organisation’s culture, Emerge’s Gillian Jones, author of ‘How to Create a Coaching Culture’, says this: “Attempting to do everything at once is untargeted and likely to lead to initiative overload, without a clear, defining and robust strategy to make it happen. In many organisations there doesn’t seem to be a unifying theme that helps employees make sense
of the quagmire of processes, policies, projects and edicts, so they can apply them to their daily tasks. The shortcuts and workarounds soon undermine the strategy, and the vision becomes so cloudy that the organisation achieves anything but productivity and talent retention.”
Gillian sees the HR department as fundamental in a coaching culture – a “strategic business partner with the capability to translate the desired organisation culture into actions and quantifiable results”. HR needs to be strategic, and though some practitioners agonise over being seen as interfering or above their station, strategic doesn’t necessarily mean directing everything from the helm, or being data driven….it should simply bring purpose to decisions and actions. Knowing why an initiative or process is being applied, that intelligent decisions are being made, and how things fit into the organisation’s goals, for example.
Culture as strategy
In her book, Gillian simplifies culture in the context of business strategy as “how things get done around here”. She suggests one of two actions: either aligning culture to the business’ strategy, or treating culture AS the business’ strategy. She says, “Introducing coaching skills is not a strategy in itself; only by linking this approach with the overall strategy and values of the organisation is it elevated to the level of strategic action.”
So, what does that mean? Shoe retailer, Zappos, is a great example of culture as strategy. Their focus on delivering a great customer experience is like the blood running through the company’s veins. Every area and facet of the business aligns with purpose, so that each Zappos’ customer receives the ‘wow’ factor when dealing with the firm – even if it means they recommend a competitor’s products to properly meet the customers’ needs. These values are so strong that the company willingly pays new employees to leave after four weeks if they don’t/won’t/can’t engage with the Zappos’ internal culture and way of doing things.
Aligning culture to an existing strategy
If something isn’t broken, why fix it? A coaching culture can be put in place to further enhance policies and processes that are working well already. In this case, a useful tool is ‘red threading’; in other words, mapping everything out, using a red thread, so that you can physically see how all elements of the business link together. Broken links can also be identified and dealt with.
For companies that have been around a long time, a culture – perhaps, more than one – will have formed naturally over time. Assessing how the current culture supports or detracts from the company’s mission, strategy and values is crucial for success, yet if a culture has been in force for a while, it may be hard to initiate change. When things have always been done a certain way, people find it hard to be objective, even if the action, process or behaviour is not conducive to the bigger picture. The reasons why certain processes exist can soon be forgotten.
As we’ve mentioned, introducing a coaching culture is a supportive and vital element, not the entire solution. Using it to just deal with poor performance is similarly ineffective. The purpose of a coaching culture is to achieve high performance, across the whole company. Starting with inspirational leadership, the whole approach is to influence and motivate, and to find ways to make things work whilst developing a creative, caring, responsible workforce.
To make a strategic fit, the company must first identify and understand the existing organisational behaviour patterns and habits. For instance: how do people interact with other teams? Is information openly shared, or does such support stay hidden because of competitiveness?
Are the required values appropriate? Gillian quotes an example: “An organisation I knew had two opposing values – collaboration and competition. This presented a paradox for the employee.” It’s not surprising that they were confused!
Many times, we’ve written about coaching in a personal development context, which moves the individual from one place to another, in a purposeful, planned and motivated way. It’s easy to see why this method could prove helpful for whole organisations.
Coaching on a large scale isn’t hugely different than with individuals. End goals and reasons why something is proposed have to be ultra-clear, so that the process is focused and energising, and not chaotic or disruptive. Change isn’t necessarily what we fear – we are forever changing; sometimes, without even realising it – it’s uncertainty and loss of control we worry about. Address these issues, and the transitional period will be much easier.
Last word from Gillian: “It’s no accident that the roots of strategy are in military campaigns, because it takes military precision and tactics, along with inspirational leadership, to ensure your coaching culture delivers what you expect.”
We offer career and personal coaching, and support with the implementation of organisational change. For an informal, no obligation chat about your needs, contact us on 01329 820580, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.