Cultivating a Coaching Culture

by Ellie Eckhoff

There is a growing movement among organizations to cultivate a coaching culture, as more companies realize the value of such a strategy. Traditionally coaching has been used as a development tool for leaders, in many organizations access has expanded to individuals at every stage of their career.  Through internal leadership development programs,  bringing in external executive coaches, and implementing online coaching platforms, companies are focused on embedding a coaching methodology and developing the necessary skills that result in improved performance for all employees. 

On October 18th, ClearRock hosted a panel discussion inclusive of Stephen Barrett, VP of HR BMC HealthNet; Ethan Gottlieb, Senior HR Business Partner, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care; Jennifer Harnden-Koehler, Senior Director Talent Management Ironwood Pharmaceuticals; Marianne Monte, Chief People Officer, Shawmut Design and Construction; Geralyn Gray, Executive Coach ClearRock; and Lisa Zankman, Executive Coach ClearRock. These highly regarded Human Resource leaders are currently focusing on embedding a coaching culture within their organization.


Ellie Eckhoff, Senior Vice-President at ClearRock, kicked off the session with this statement: “When I say coaching, you say ________. “ Here’s what we heard:


  • Coaching is a “partnership – it is, and needs to be a 2-way street.”
  • Coaching is “change; it’s a vehicle – a coach helps you get from where you are to where you want to be”
  • Coaching is “dynamic, ever-changing, out of the box thinking.”
  • Coaching is “personal and professional growth.”
  • Coaching is” a timeout, a safe spot to learn and grow.”

Over the course of 90 minutes, our panel responded to numerous questions, and shared some common themes which are captured below:


What does coaching mean to your organization?

  • It differentiates us as a forward-thinking business. Our leaders are formally trained to coach, and external coaches are hired for key leaders.
  • It grows and expands the leadership footprint, moving from a “fix it” approach to a grow and develop people mindset.
  • The growth of an organization depends on each person’s individual growth; coaching is the vehicle that allows this to happen.
  • It’s about maximizing potential between employee and manager and providing timely feedback to all employees.
  • It’s less about assessment or rating scales and more about having authentic dialogue.
  • It’s about Improving the level of feedback and alignment between individual and organizational

What has changed most as you’ve moved to a coaching culture?

  • Annual reviews are now integrated into the coaching conversations.
  • The numeric rating component has been removed. The type of feedback has changed; instead of telling an individual how they screwed up it’s now a conversation about growth and development.
  • Conversations and bonuses are now based on the what and the how.
  • New reward system provides an easy way for managers to provide rewards in a timely fashion.
  • Building more resiliency so that people can fail and recover quickly.
  • The development of a mentor program which allows leaders to come forward at will to pass on experience.

What are the derailers to successfully implementing this change?

  • Losing focus on the coaching work because of the needs of day to day business.
  • Removing the “old” appraisal system and determining a new way to measure success.
  • Challenges with the availability of resources; time and budget.
  • A lack of accountability and limited support from the senior leadership team.

What are ways to overcome obstacles?

  • Remind people that the practice of coaching does not need to go outside of usual routine.
  • Coaching with a big “C” intimidates people, coaching with a little “c” gives people a learning nugget.
  • Brief conversations are well served when goals are established, and ongoing conversations exist within that frame.
  • Whatever you do, keep it simple – it does not need to be overly complicated. Six coaching conversations designed around: Goal setting, development planning, merit conversation, after talent review, bonus and year-end.
  • Managers are afraid to give feedback because they are unsure how to do it without negative repercussions. By teaching managers how to ask the right questions, they will help employees arrive at more of their own “aha moments.”

How do you measure coaching’s success?

  • External coaches should have measurement built into coaching methodology – 360 assessments and the coaching approach should be connected to the organizational priorities.
  • Measure the frequency of feedback pre/post coaching initiative.
  • Measure employee’s perception of their individual growth.
  • Look at turnover rates before and after coaching.
  • Ask employees if conversations are happening and if they are occurring at the frequency that is needed.

How do you sustain a coaching culture?

  • Create safe spots to practice so that it spreads.
  • Link this strategy/approach to the bottom line (lower turnover)
  • Leverage different modalities of communication. Ex: Put reminders on hallway monitors, internal newsletters, lunch and learns, etc.…
  • Invite senior leaders to model coaching behavior and talk about it at employee meetings.
  • Build it into talent management processes and fundamentals training.
  • Build accountabilities into executive incentive and all staff bonuses.
  • Invest in software to track engagements.
  • Start an employee committee and create a survey.
  • Celebrate success.


Things to consider:

  • Look at the readiness factor in your organization – is it front line, is it top leadership. Go where the appetite is. Where is the need, where is the pain, where is the sense of urgency?
  • External coaches add an unbiased approach. Senior leaders tend to get less feedback than others, and an external coach can provide honest feedback and a place for a leader to brainstorm.


International Coach Federation / Human Capital Institute Resources

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck


Coaching Methodologies

  • Mind Gym is an excellent resource that Marianne Monte recommended –
  • Ellie shared the GROW model for coaching: Goals (what do you want/need), Reality (what is), Options (what could be), Way Forward (what will you do).


Interested in cultivating a coaching culture at your company?

Reach out to us here!