What is a coaching culture?

Engaged employees thrive in a coaching culture. In fact, according to research by the International Coach Federation (ICF), 65% of employees from companies with a strong coaching culture rate themselves as highly engaged – quite a contrast to the rather dismal 33% US average. Further, Gallup’s recent State of the American Workplace 2017 report‘s six-point plan cites building a coaching culture as an imperative for organizations seeking to adapt to the new world of work.

Organizational leaders need first to get clear on systemic questions, such as who will be doing the coaching? How will they be trained and who will provide that training? What common framework will create a cohesive approach? How will performance standards be ensured? What tools and processes are needed to support coaches and coachees?

It’s important to realize, however, that a coaching culture is not merely about embedding a lot of top-down coaching tools and processes. It is as crucial to cultivate an environment that is rich in trust and respect. This foundation ensures people feel safe in the coaching relationship. Some attitudes that promote this security include those about:

  • Change. We are all capable of positive growth and change; change presents opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Contributions. Everyone has good ideas; it is not the job of the coach to tell people what to do, but to elicit their own unique contributions.
  • Creativity. We are adaptive and flexible to different ways of being and doing; there are multiple potential solutions and paths forward.
  • Curiosity. We are open and interested in what we don’t understand; we appreciate we don’t have all of the answers.
  • Connection. We have the sense of being in this together; your success is my success.
  • Commonality. We have shared values and goals; as such, we strive to collaborate instead of compete.

There will naturally be tensions between learning and performing, between trusting that you won’t be rejected for mistakes and being held accountable for achieving results, between upholding rigorous standards and understanding imperfection is part of the development process. But when we act out of shared attitudes and guiding principles, we can manage these tensions in a healthy way. Leaders who want to build a coaching culture need to begin by embracing and demonstrating these attitudes themselves. A coaching culture promotes the kind of climate and relationships in which people more readily learn and grow. And learning and growing is what businesses in this day and age need to survive, and what people are searching for in order to thrive.


“To create a high-performance team, we must replace typical management activities like supervising, checking, monitoring, and controlling with new behaviors like coaching and communicating.” –Ray Smith, CEO, Bell-Atlantic