Article (June-2021)


Establishing a coaching culture is not impossible but difficult

Mandeep Maitra

Designation : -   Leadership & Transformation Coach, Former Country Head HR & Corporate Services

Organization : -  HDFC Bank, Mumbai


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Does Coaching really work in organisations and help transform the business?

MM Absolutely, coaching has the power to transform organisations. In my experience, organisations with their complex and multidisciplinary network don't always work as a well-oiled machinery. There are multiple businesses, several business leaders across hierarchies, organisation structures and defined roles. Behind these roles are ambitious individuals striving for larger piece of the pie - more power, responsibility, and big titles. On a strategic level if you are navigating your organisation through an enterprise level change, merger or acquisition, digital transformation, or a productivity drive it may not be necessary that all business units and their leaders be aligned to new vision/strategic goals of the organisation. This requires building a broader set of capabilities and strategic behavioural shift across large groups of people to make this transformation happen. External coaches can be of great help, because they can facilitate this shift where in-house leaders are unsuccessful.

In a strategic coaching partnership, coaches work with leaders both on an individual basis and as an executive team to align individual actions, leadership decision making and messaging overall organisational strategy. The coach can assess the team leading the change, identify what is working and what isn't, and work with that team to improve their ability to lead more effectively and better drive change in the organisation. Organisations going through massive transformations sometimes face the biggest barriers from the senior leadership. The leaders may buy into the change, but they don't always know how to change their own behaviour to effectively lead the change for the organisation.

Once when I was coaching a dozen teams within the same organisation on improving productivity and innovation through effective collaboration, I found out that in some teams the issue was with the leadership itself. The leaders of some teams hadn't yet earned the credibility and hence were unable to inspire and motivate their teams to align with the new vision of the organisation. Here as a coach I was able to work with the leaders and their direct reports separately and help them with their respective individual & team goals to see the bigger picture. This helped overcome the perceived barriers to change and make significant progress towards the outcomes expected by the Organisation. Around 24% of teams (in this particular organisation) however, made little or no progress primarily because of failed leadership styles and lack of staff engagement. It is a fact that some leaders are un-coachable whilst others need a lot more time to come around and make behaviour shifts.

In recent years external coaches have been used by several organisations to accelerate the executive leadership ability of their Senior Management teams or High Potential Talent, both seen as important catalysts to drive change and embed new strategies. The latter make a cohort which is usually driven and highly motivated to make an impact, and others in the organisation tend to take cues from them and view what they do as a path to success.

What are the coaching skills a coach should have?

MM Coaches have to be empathetic, great at building rapport, and genuinely interested in helping people develop. Having strong communication skills is very important since they may need to give difficult feedback to the coachee and that requires tact and diplomacy.

Personally for me, it matters that the Coach is mentally and emotionally strong, has high degree of self-awareness and strong work ethics. Coaches have to have the ability to develop trust and intimacy as we say in coaching parlance with their coachee. It is on the basis of all these that you can have a strong coaching relationship and there will be mutual respect between the two parties. When looking for a coach some people look for seniority and industry sector they come from but others look for someone whose personal attributes - qualifications, questioning style, personal approach and rigour that would inspire confidence and brilliance in the coachee.

All good accreditation programmes for coaches cover relevant skills like how to go about gathering information, clarifying it for the person being coached, reflecting, clarifying and developing strong listening skills including active listening. But the most important one which comes only with experience and intuition is strong questioning skills!

Once hired by the organisation the coach needs to ensure that the goals of the coachee dovetail with the organisation. The coachee needs to make substantial positive impact on the business whilst looking forward to advancing their individual career ambitions.

Is coaching required to be redefined in changed business environment? If so, what factors should be taken into consideration?

MM The effects of the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world has led to redefining the leadership paradigms and the putting it out there as how coaching can help lead a high performing resilient team that is committed and empowered. An environment that fosters independence, collaboration, agility and productivity has become the new norm. The intermittent technological disruptions have given way to the digital revolutions. This is a perfect storm. And as if this was not enough the world witnessed the deadliest of all crises - the ongoing pandemic! Almost all industries have seen business disruptions in the worst possible way. CEO's around the world are talking about putting compassion and humanitarian concerns of their people before anything else. Whilst internally employee experience, employee engagement, employee wellbeing, mental health etc. are being given precedence for the very first time, the leadership paradigm again is getting revisited because remote working, WFH requires a very different mode of managing and leading - how to be setting expectations, tracking progress, organizing, prioritizing , communicating, connecting with the team members virtually, listening to their issues and providing flexibility to employees when the latter have personal issues, or are busy with household chores, home schooling their children, taking care of the aged etc.

All this requires a leap of faith and trust on part of the managers and leaders because the employee is working remotely and to be able to drive results it is important that they are able to get the team to work collaboratively. Focus is now on outcomes achieved rather than merely hours worked. Employees on their part feel they are putting more hours even though it's WFH, they feel more stressed and are experiencing burnout. There is a lot of confusion still as over 70% of organisations (one study published recently) have yet to redesign new Performance Management Systems.

Increasingly the focus has to be on helping people deal with anxiety, uncertainty, ambiguity and stress arising because of remote working and helping organisations in engaging employees virtually, virtual meetings, webinars, conference (zoom) calls and helping communicate why digitalization efforts are being accelerated in most large organisations.

Meanwhile, there has been a surge in demand for health coaches and life coaches as a lot of people during the pandemics (lockdowns) have had time to reflect on how they would like to live their lives. Studies show that one third of the employees may not find themselves coming back to work in the near future as hybrid models get adopted by organisations. These people are seeking career advice and contemplating up skilling or re-skilling so that they ensure job safety in the future. Executive coaches have therefore various new factors influencing their coaching practice.

As always the C-Suites are busy re-jigging their strategic plans to tide over the Covid 19 crisis, keeping a check on new growth and profitability parameters and navigating their organisations through this storm whilst trying to keep an eye on employee health and safety!

How to establish a coaching culture in an organisation?

MM Creating a coaching culture is a tough ask. It basically means a culture where the prevailing mindset and behaviours of the organisation are coach-like.

When an organisation adopts this approach, organisation hierarchy gives way to partnership and collaboration, and practices of top leaders and external motivators are replaced by self-motivation for employees. Change is no longer feared but is welcomed, there is more openness and honesty, pressure of work becomes challenging work, and short-term fire-fighting reactions give way to longer-term strategic thinking.

Creating a great culture, finding the right people, managing them to do great things and solving problems creatively and systematically are challenges faced by all organisations. It requires building a culture of strong communication, excellence, integrity, discipline, trust, respect, teamwork, technology and increasingly a global perspective. When the leaders are trained in the coaching style of leadership all the above attributes can help in improved employee engagement and development of people and performance.

Building a coaching culture therefore involves using external coaches at the top of the house and developing internal coach cadres to accelerate the shift across the organisation. This is about developing coaching as an internal competency that has managers and colleagues learning/developing coaching skills and working together differently.

Having lived and worked with Companies in Singapore, Paris, London and Mumbai I haven't yet come across many organisations that can claim that they have a great coaching culture, although many are attempting to work on it.

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