Coaching culture and the digital agendas in business

Photo: Ena Richer

Organizational culture has become a buzzword recently, especially with the rise of digital transformation movements that need the cultural support for the scope of envisaged business changes. Perhaps the importance of organizational culture was best described in Peter Drucker’s famous quote about culture eating strategy for breakfast. We could say this applies to digital strategy, too.

One of the ways to align culture and digital strategy is via coaching culture. We could say it is a type of organizational culture that uses coaching as a way of working throughout the organization. What this means is that coaching becomes a strategic priority and an instrument of organizational growth. Imagine you could achieve more open communication instead of avoiding hard topics; or an increase in accountability instead of the blame game; or meaningful 360 feedback that promotes real engagement, especially for the feedback-seeking millennials. Perhaps most importantly, imagine that organizational learning starts working in such ways that it becomes tangible. As an illustration, Lew Platt, ex CEO of Hewlett-Packard is credited with saying, “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive“. Coaching culture is one of the ways to gain wider access to all knowledge, experience and creative ideas that exist in organizations.

What processes and practices need to be in place in order to set up a coaching culture organization-wide? A top management decision that coaching is needed and welcome (at least). A managerial decision to start using less of the command & control approach and more of the coaching style of leadership. This would include not only coaching sessions 1on1 to develop individual employees, but also coaching their teams. Too often we see managers required to do individual or team coaching based on a couple of powerpoint slides, without the actual know-how or practice. Training managers in individual and team coaching skills ensures there is a common understanding of terms and practices relating to coaching. Finally, in order to support a coaching culture, it needs to be integrated into wider HR practices, such as recruitment or performance management.

These are some of the usual cornerstones of coaching culture interventions, which have been around for at least a decade. But the digital age has brought some new tools for creating a coaching culture in organizations. What we have seen recently is a rapid development of technology tools that make it easier to implement coaching culture programs. A number of startups have offered HR tech solutions that use platforms to support culture management, culture strategy or real-time feedback organization-wide. These culture apps that come from startups like CultureIQq, Impraise, Tiny Pulse, Qualtrics or SQN are new-generation tools that support the coaching mindset organization-wide. They also convey an important message that coaching is no longer only a profession, but a tool employees at all levels need to become acquainted with. In a sense, the rise of these culture management platforms actually means that HR needs to disrupt itself first in order to be ready to support the digital disruptions on the way for many traditional industries.

When it comes to organizational practices in Serbia, many companies are training their management in coaching skills. They contract external coaches for more complex interventions; here and there cultural surveys or qualitative diagnostics are employed. When it comes to coach training, we have International Coach Federation (ICF) and International Society for Coaching Psychology (ISCP) programs that equip managers and internal coaches with the traditional tools and techniques. In our context, individual coaching has had some sort of a history over the last decade, while the practices of team coaching are still in the early going. That is why team coaching trainings play such a key role in successful implementation of coaching culture programs in companies that operate in Serbia. Moreover, an integrated coaching culture approach that connects it with the wider HR practices is still lacking in the majority of companies doing business in Serbia. The HR tech revolution with culture management platforms is yet to come.

We are living in exciting times for doing business. The world is experiencing another technological revolution and companies are trying to catch up with the pace of change. HR departments face a big challenge of leading the cultural shifts needed to support the digital transformations. Leading coaching culture projects to support the digital agenda is probably one of the most exciting and challenging HR functions today. The risk of not engaging in culture projects calls up the Drucker’s breakfast metaphor. But the return is also high and tangible not only businesswise, but also in terms of making workplaces more meaningful environments for people.

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