Last issue, Sam Humphrey and Karen Dean explored mindsets, context and purpose. This issue, they consider how to establish the culture itself

Even though we’re coaching converts, we’re curious about the utopian appeal a coaching culture seems to hold for organisations – coaching isn’t always the right response. However, if an organisation has built up a valid business case for the approach, as we explored in Part 1 (vol 11, issue 1), there is much they can do to help make it work.

Often, the first step an organisation takes toward a coaching culture is seeking out external executive coaches. These are practitioners who have been trained, have deep experience and, increasingly, are accredited by a professional body, undergoing continuous professional development and regular supervision of their coaching practice.

These executive coaches need a high degree of capability and can work effectively with a high level of complexity in the client’s agenda (‘Impact Framework’: Humphrey, Stopford, Holden and Marsden, 2010. See: To support external coaches, the organisation must define a structured approach for:

  • Establishing the purpose of coaching and its desired impact
  • Identifying individuals who are potential candidates
  • Selection of professional coaches
  • Matching clients to coaches
  • Contracting and three-way conversations for clarity and alignment
  • Gathering themes for learning within ethical boundaries of confidentiality
  • Evaluating the return on investment and its effectiveness.


As we know, coaching is quickly moving beyond the provision of external capability. In 2009, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) found that more than 90 per cent of organisations reported using coaching and that 63 per cent delivered this internally using line managers supported by trained internal coaches.

Maxwell (2011) distinguishes between four types of internal coaching:

  1. Manager as coach “a line manager who draws on a coaching mind-set and coaching skill-set”
  2. Crisis intervention “counselling at work”
  3. Coach as change agent “individuals working in a change capacity, perhaps on a strategic initiative lasting a number of months or years”
  4. Developmental coaching “an individual who offers developmental or remedial coaching to employees of the same organisation, as a recognised part of their job description”.


Where managers have been trained to coach and to offer this to other individuals in the organisation, they often find they perform their own role more effectively. They are likely to develop a deeper understanding of the system of the organisation, its synergies and challenges. They develop a community of practice with other like-minded individuals who support their work. Indeed, some organisations have further developed a dedicated team of internal coaches whose full-time commitment is the service of coaching and its appropriate deployment, development and delivery.

In our view, maintaining a cadre of internal coaches demands investment from the organisation for continuing professional and personal development. An external provider offering supervision will be mindful of the ethics and management of coaching, the quality of the contracts, while developing and supporting the coaches as both practitioners and human beings. As Cochrane and Newton describe in Supervision for Coaches (2011; “Supervision is not about coaching coaches, it is not about coaching the client through the coach. Supervision is about working with the coach in their space. In this way, developing a more polished and professional expertise, secure in the knowledge that we are working ethically and providing security for both coach and client.”

So, when we talk about coaching, we can fairly readily envisage what that activity would look and feel like. What makes this all tricky is when you add the word ‘culture’ to the mix. In most definitions of culture, there is an implied or explicit view that culture is inherent. Words such as: customs, traditions, manifestation, all feature as part of culture. How, then, do you make something, which by its essence is unconscious, into a conscious, measurable activity that has integrity and professionalism?


Means to an end

If we think of a coaching culture as the way we do things round here, do we want people to express this as a way of being, a way of doing or both? Is a coaching culture about having a set of tools to deploy in the appropriate situation or is it the subliminal mindset we want people to have in every situation with everyone?

We believe a coaching culture is a means to an end, not an end in itself, so we hold as a working definition:

“A coaching culture embraces all members of the organisation or firm, individually and collectively. Coaching is respected as a core capability and is used in conversations and debate to unlock the potential of the whole, by engaging, growing and aligning individuals and teams to deliver the organisation’s goals, aspirations and shareholder value. The stories which are told underpin the impact coaching has and its legacy for learning in the lives of all.”

As many culture change initiatives show, the way in which the written rules of an organisation are changed provides the context and mood for the unwritten rules. Again, alignment here is key – telling people there will be more coaching in the organisation flies in the face of the principles of good coaching. Permission, contracting, engagement and exploring ‘what’s in it for me?’ etc, mean that changing a culture to be more coaching-focused will take time and resources. Forcing coaching into an organisation holds contradiction and can be seen as lacking integrity.

Being clear on the consequences of coaching (or not) is also key. If there are no consequences, either positive or negative, little will happen as there is no motivation to do things differently.

Consequences, positive or negative, in a coaching culture are curious. Do punitive consequences sit easily with a coaching ethos? What positive consequences can you create beyond a link to reward structures?

This is where the title for this article comes into its own. Coaching is an emergent, relational activity and one that can only happen with permission and need. To ‘force’ coaching as the ‘way we do things around here’ runs the risk of creating an alternative tyranny.

Sincerity and authenticity are fundamentals in a relationship and these must be present in any culture change activity if people are to ‘buy’ the change being asked of them.

Where we have seen a coaching culture live well, it has been in organisations that have focused coaching on business and individual performance. Coaching is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Equipping people to be able to use and value a coaching approach and apply it, with judgement – and therefore sincerity and authenticity – has resulted in a culture where coaching thrives with integrity.


What’s in it for me?

As the coaching culture evolves, what might be the outcomes?

There will be intended – and unintended – consequences for the individuals and community that it touches. Outcomes for you as a coach will be the satisfaction of delivering great coaching conversations. You will be learning and growing and developing an increasing affinity with the coaching ethos. You will gain greater exposure to issues across the firm or organisation.

You will also experience frustration at the pace of change and have concerns over resourcing and funding. There may be a lack of understanding of, or resistance to, the initiative. At times you will feel more isolated.

Culture change is challenging. If you are managing the change you must be determined to see it through.

A coaching culture may also give rise to resistance. It may lead to the abdication of responsibility for performance conversations. Confidence may be compromised as people are expected to develop new capabilities. Coaching can also be left to the few ‘experts’. If the successes of the past and the old ways of doing things are not acknowledged it will block people moving forward.

A coaching process is designed to deliver certain outcomes:

  • Clarity – both of goals and how they will be recognised, once delivered. A drive for clarity in an organisation will enable accelerated performance, strengthened belief and commitment to making things happen. It is an antidote to procrastination and lack of alignment.
  • Defined roles and boundaries – coaching-style conversations will help determine who does what and with what resources. These manage expectations and ways of working, leading to increased effectiveness and efficient use of time. People take ownership and step up to their responsibilities. Such a contract avoids duplication and dilution of effort.
  • Acknowledgment of what is relevant – a process of validating what is said so that people feel heard, understood and ultimately affirmed in their experience. Once people feel valued and acknowledged, this frees them to move forward and create the future. Ignoring what feels real for individuals and insisting on the next best thing does not enable change and growth, it invites resistance or rebellion.
  • Ideas and options – where coaching conversations are prevalent, exploration of the art of the possible and the unimaginable becomes natural and generative. When individuals are encouraged to share their experience and ideas, which then become solutions for the business challenges, human potential is realised and confidence builds. Controlling the staff and ignoring their thinking leads to loss of motivation and apathy – with a proliferation of resentment.
  • What, where and when – a drive to action with specific expectations and deadlines means that goals are realised and make a difference. They can be monitored and aligned with HR processes and rewards. Talk without action leads to frustration and loss of time, money and energy.


A coaching culture has the potential to positively affect individuals, teams and the organisation’s performance and ultimately its engagement with partners and stakeholders with any subsequent value creation.

Measuring the impact of the coaching culture will be important for the organisation and key sponsors.

Making progress towards a coaching culture could be tracked by:

  • Staff satisfaction surveys
  • 360-degree surveys and feedback
  • Staff retention
  • Exit interviews
  • Staff absenteeism
  • Number of complaints, grievances, disciplinaries and tribunals
  • Effectiveness of delivery of individual against objectives or team goals
  • The progression of the talent pool through the leadership hierarchy
  • Communication style of the leaders – with feedback at key points
  • Longevity and quality of partner relationships
  • Customer feedback
  • Even investor feedback


It is with respectful, yet challenging, conversations that professional relationships are established and proliferate, underpinning future performance and growth.


Are we winning?

How do you know if you have created a coaching culture? Clearly, at the outset, you would set measures around the purpose and intent. As we said before, there are many ways you can track progress which are easy to communicate back into the business.

In addition to the business measures, we believe there should also be due consideration given to the integrity and professionalism of the coaching activity being undertaken. Not just doing the right things, but doing the right things right.

In managing coaching activity, attention should be paid to:

  • The process for selecting coaches (internal and external)
  • The quality and frequency of training and CPD
  • The supervision standards and expectations
  • The matching process
  • The evaluation process


In short, how would you evidence due diligence and duty of care in the coaching activities that form part of your coaching culture?

In many organisations, this can be more easily seen in the approach, processes and structures – the ‘rules’ – that surround the use of external coaches. This is a good place to look since the rules here will be a reflection of how the organisation engages with coaching and will also highlight the areas that have more weight or importance than others.

In one organisation, there were very clear criteria for selecting external coaches to the coaching pool, but they missed this point when they ‘recruited’ internal coaches. In missing this step, the organisation attracted a pool of volunteers who had very different motivations for wanting to become internal coaches and brought different skills and capabilities, too.

The longer-term effect of this is that this faculty has struggled to gain credibility as professional, competent coaches. Had this organisation mirrored the standards and process they use to select external coaches, the internal pool would have had a very different composition and could have vicariously benefitted from external coaches’ credibility.

In another organisation, the standards it set around the supervision and CPD it expected of internal coaches were far clearer and more professionally demanding than those set for external coaches. The upside was a highly motivated, engaged and relevant internal faculty. The downside was the external coaching pool stagnated.

The firm’s engagement with its external pool of coaches became distant. Instead of having powerful internal and external pools, one benefitted at the expense of the other – a win/lose rather than a win/win.

All the supporting processes and systems need to mirror the doing/being nature of your coaching culture with levels of professionalism, integrity and boundaries. Any cracks in the integrity of what you are creating can have a disproportionate impact on the outcome. In creating a coaching culture, paying attention to alignment across all activity will have a synergistic effect on success.


Top tips

  • Purpose Connect to the vision and business goals
  • Appoint someone Who will own and drive the coaching activity?
  • Identify stakeholders Develop a plan of influence
  • Secure funding As an investment, not a cost
  • Agree how coaching impact will be measured Maintain the momentum
  • Identify what people need How can they do their work well?
  • Preserve what works Core plus more – integrate
  • Source appropriate external support Develop the optimal solution
  • Build a network alliance Secure the future of the coaching culture
  • Be mindful of pitfalls Mitigate the challenges


  • Sam Humphrey is based in London and heads the coaching practice group at Møller Professional Services Group, Cambridge and is managing director of Grit. She is currently studying for a professional doctorate in supervision.
  • Karen Dean is an executive coach with 24 years’ experience and a qualified coach supervisor and coach mentor. She is managing director of Diabolo and an associate of the Møller Professional Services Group, Cambridge. Karen is the originator of me:mycoach™ for online CPD. She is pursuing MCC accreditation with ICF.
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