Creating a STRONG coaching culture: How organisations can implement strengths-based coaching cultures

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Coaching is arguably the most vital part of an organisation’s learning and development strategy today. It has numerous advantages to accelerate learning and performance, including the highly contextualized and personalized nature of the approach to meet vastly differing learning requirements and styles. Coaching can also bring about a more empowering, inclusive and innovative culture where the full value of employees’ strengths and talents are unlocked and people take greater responsibility for finding their own solutions.

Given the importance of coaching to performance improvement and growth, many organisations are attempting to create “coaching cultures” where coaching is an integral part of day to day management practice and is deeply embedded in regular check-ins and performance and learning conversations. However, there still appears to be a big ‘gap’ between theory and practice and most organisations are struggling to create a culture that supports constructive and regular coaching.

A key part of any organisation-wide change process is to ensure managers, in particular those in mid-level positions, have a positive mindset, which engenders positive emotions and outcomes, including a sense of powerfulness, purpose and self-worth. Where leaders and managers get mired in problems, issues and weaknesses, negative emotions such as mistrust, fear and pessimism result, which in turn lead to ‘stuckness’, isolation and a sense of learned helplessness. This doesn’t mean that coaching should ignore weaker areas and performance risks, any development should follow a balanced approach, ensuring strengths are optimised, while at the same time reducing risk areas.

A lot of business coaching is still largely based on theories and approaches that have their roots in traditional weakness or pathology-based models of human functioning. Deeply held weakness-based beliefs, attitudes and practices on both sides, many of which are subconscious and programmed through years of learning and socialization, affect the learning experience from the outset if they are not addressed by coach and client during the coaching.

An alternative approach to coaching that is based on refreshingly different assumptions – that authenticity and strengths optimisation lie at the heart of performance excellence, growth and personal wellbeing. A strengths-based approach to coaching helps people approach change (personal and organisational) in a more positive, empowering and solutions-focused way. A strengths-based model that helps people to explore this approach practically is Strengths Partnership’s STRONG methodology a mnemonic that stands for Set Goals, Translate into Strategies, Release Productive Strengths, Overcome Performance Risks, Nurture Progress, Get Commitment.

There is already a high level of usage and belief in the power of coaching and most organisations already see it as an essential part of their learning and development mix. But how can you create a STRONG coaching culture and integrate coaching into the DNA and daily practices of the organisation?

  • Mindset shift – Shifting focus from problems to solutions is needed to bring about lasting change in behaviour and organisational performance.
  • Striking a balance – between ensuring individual and team strengths are optimised, while at the same time mitigating for their performance risks, be those weaknesses or over played strengths.
  • Top leadership buy-in – It is important to ensure top leadership are all on board and supportive of any coaching intervention, especially if this involves a significant paradigm shift, from a deficit-based to a strengths-based approach.
  • HR supporting management – HR also need to ensure managers at all levels understand their role as strengths coaches and workplace energisers.
  • Embedded into all your processes – It needs to be positioned as part of a wider culture change process to ensure top talent is attracted, developed and retained by the company rather than a ‘nice to have’ or an exclusive programme reserved for a small talent pool.

By identifying these key steps towards a STRONG coaching culture, companies can ensure that coaching not only accelerates learning and performance, but also becomes a key driver to bottom line growth and competitive advantage through people.

Zara Bates, Head of Consulting and Training, Strengthscope

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