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Creating a Coaching Culture—Doing vs. Understanding

Two businessmen talking at a table in an office.

​Last September, I began my column by urging HR professionals to become compliance coaches instead of compliance cops.

Today's column shares an example of how HR can take things a step further. Instead of simply providing leadership training (the "understanding"), HR can help create and support a coaching culture (the "doing").

Recently, a Fortune 50 company, which requested anonymity for this article, hired Chris Coffey, a Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coach, to work with its general manager (GM) of marketing. Employees viewed the GM as an intense, difficult-to-approach, results-oriented machine; a highly knowledgeable but impatient individual; and a person who was both driven and resistant to sharing his knowledge to help others perform more effectively.

When the GM learned this information through a 360-degree evaluation, he was surprised and eager to change. He committed to:

  • Improving collaboration to enhance business performance.
  • Sharing knowledge and expertise with others.

His behavioral action plan based on suggestions from stakeholders included the following:

  • Ask good questions and be open-minded.
  • Listen authentically and fully to other people's ideas.
  • Build off of others' ideas before giving your own or rebutting their suggestions.
  • Engage in both dialogue and debate when appropriate.
  • Be more approachable and patient.
  • Be a thinking partner instead of a critic.

The process was so successful as documented by his stakeholders that the GM thought, "Why should these benefits be limited to me and my stakeholders? The entire marketing division could benefit."

At the same time, HR conducted a companywide employee survey. The results indicated a need and desire for managers to become better coaches and mentors.

With HR support, marketing leaders launched a pilot project across their division of 205 marketing employees. Coffey redesigned the coaching process to have a group-based focus instead of an individual one.

Twenty-nine marketing managers (two GMs, nine of their direct reports and 18 managers) had two goals:

  • Become a better coach and mentor to direct reports.
  • Help the managers below them become better coaches and managers to their direct reports.

After learning the coaching methodology, the marketing managers took action. They communicated their goals, engaged their direct reports and stakeholders, created and implemented action plans, shared the action plans with their stakeholders and followed up monthly.

The managers began executing their action plans and holding each other accountable to do the same.

According to an HR partner involved in the process, "it was important that HR measure the effectiveness of this coaching process. So, six months after the beginning of the engagement, we had a confidential, third-party-administered electronic survey done of division employees. It asked, 'How satisfied are you with your manager in his or her becoming a better coach and manager since starting this coaching process?' The survey measured results using a five-point scale ranging from 'highly satisfied' to 'dissatisfied.'

"The results were nothing short of astounding: 46 percent were highly satisfied, and 40 percent were satisfied. That's an 86 percent success rate after only six months!"

HR plans to conduct another survey later this year.

The marketing GM said, "The process has been incredibly helpful to me. I wasn't aware of my opportunities to grow. Now I love being seen as a trusted advisor and valued resource. And I especially love the overall impact this coaching process has had on the entire marketing division. I am hopeful this coaching process is expanded throughout the company."

The HR partner summed things up this way: "As an HR professional, I'm grateful for this opportunity to help our managers become better coaches and mentors. The better our managers do this, the better their relationships with their employees, the better we do in HR, and the better we do as a company."

Readers of my column know how passionate I am about HR taking things to a level above and beyond legal and regulatory compliance. This company took coaching to that level. It challenged managers to become better coaches and provided help to achieve the goal.

As a former labor and employment law attorney, I'll add that this approach is not only good for overall organizational health, it's also good for claim prevention, employee engagement and building bench strength. Employees who feel their boss is a coach helping them achieve their potential don't sue. They don't become compliance headaches for HR. And they do their jobs better.

Upon learning of the results from this company, leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith said, "This is especially exciting news for me. It shows how executive coaching principles—designed for external coaches—can be scaled in a much broader way using line managers as the coaches with a little guidance and support. I hope this company is able to use the example from their marketing division and continue to grow and sustain this coaching culture in other parts of their organization."


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.