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Trust the Process: Elevating Your People with a Coaching Culture


woman coaching mentor

A ways to go

In 2020, Gallup celebrated a record setting achievement by the American workplace: a whopping 35% of workers were engaged — “highly involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” 

That’s right, almost one in three! 

The other 65% breaks down into a 52% not engaged, who show up and do the bare minimum, and a 13% disengaged, who are miserable and actively spread their dissatisfaction. 

Clearly there is room for improvement. 

Luckily Gallup’s study also looked at traits of companies with the highest engagement and those that improved overtime. They dubbed these companies “high-development cultures” because employees could understand how their work impacted the organization and develop their skills and passion into a career. 

In short, Gallup found high-development cultures had four things in common: 

1) Organization has a clearly defined purpose, executives embody it. 

2) Managers act as coaches, not bosses, and encourage team collaboration. 

3) Company wide communication. 

4) Everyone, even managers, held accountable with clear expectations, ongoing conversations, and full accountability. 

Organizations with high engagement have cultures where employees work for more than just a paycheck. They understand that their work matters and not only advances the company’s goals, but their own personal career goals. Most importantly, managers in high-development cultures do not occupy positions of unchecked power, but act as coaches held accountable for team performance. 

Heading in the Right Direction

Striving for 100% engagement may seem idealistic, but is also a moral imperative. Imagine the tragic waste of human potential in a workforce unable to find purpose in their work. The financial costs to businesses and the social cost of a largely ambivalent workforce weigh on our society. Clearly managers have to double down on efforts to align the individual purposes and energies of their employees with organization goals and vision. 

With disruption transforming industries, an engaged, proactive workforce is critical for staying competitive. Every employee needs to feel empowered and motivated to actively solve problems in their organizations. Managers must now act as coaches, who align team member skillsets and purposes to maximize productivity and creativity. 

As Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular write in “The Leader as Coach” in Harvard Business Review, “companies are moving away from traditional command-and-control practices and toward something very different: a model in which managers give support and guidance rather than instructions, and employees learn how to adapt to constantly changing environments in ways that unleash fresh energy, innovation, and commitment.”

But as the engagement numbers reflect, most managers aren’t doing a great job at coaching. A study of 2,761 executives published in HBR by Joe Folkman & Jack Zenger found twenty-four percent of the executives significantly overestimated their coaching abilities, leading the authors to conclude “If you think you’re a good coach but you actually aren’t, this data suggests you may be a good deal worse than you imagined.”

Elevating the managers in your organization to be successful coaches requires the right tools and habits. As embodied by executives down, it means a trust in the coaching process.   

Trust the Coaching Process

At Align, we work a lot with business coaches who help CEOs and executive teams flesh out their organization’s values, purpose, and Big Hairy Audacious Goal. By focusing on their “why”, the coaches help build a business that motivates and inspires it’s leaders.

Yet, as with any change management, leaders often have a difficult time getting the rest of the organization to align their efforts behind this new vision. If workers are not engaged to begin with, the additional effort of change management is unlikely to gain traction. 

The leaders that have success are those who implement a process for coaching the kind of motivational leadership their coach provides for them. Every manager within the organization should be equipped to communicate the company’s mission and values and keep them alive in their teams. They should feel comfortable having conversations with team members about individual career goals and how their skills can best contribute to the team.

As Simon Sinek says in Start with Why,Unless you give motivated people something to believe in, something bigger than their job to work toward, they will motivate themselves to find a new job and you’ll be stuck with whoever’s left.”

What Makes Up The Process

Any successful coaching practice centers on aligning three key components. 

1) The Why

Everybody has a purpose. Coaches help individuals find and pursue that purpose. As coaches, managers align their team behind a single collective purpose that helps individuals find personal fulfilment. Your purpose and your values should drive every other decision you make. 

2) Goals

Coaches help people define and achieve objectives. Coaches hold people accountable to reaching their goals. Coaches help push people to achieve more by fostering a growth mindset. As coaches, managers collaborate with reports to define individual and collective goals. Individual goals are aligned with team or organizational goals. 

3) Communication

Coaches frequently communicate to help keep goals on track and maintain focus on the “why”. If goals go off track, they help make adjustments to encourage progress. Coaches build trust to encourage vulnerability about what holds people back from their goals and work on how to overcome obstacles. As coaches, managers discuss goal progress, vision, and professional development goals with their teams. They foster open, honest relationships centered around maximizing personal and professional growth. 

Admitting Is the First Step

For any organization hoping to get the most out of their workforce, fostering a culture of coaching goes a long way to improving performance and maximizing engagement. 

Some managers may not want coaching about their “coaching”, and some people may resist coaching in general. But establishing a process that enables managers to be great coaches helps individuals quickly understand that their work matters. When trust in the coaching process builds, managers are able to unlock the full potential of their teams. 

As the great Tom Landry said, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so you can be who you have always known you could be.” 

We all have things we can improve on, personally and professionally. Coaches help us define a purpose bigger than ourselves and overcome barriers to pursue that purpose. As managers become better coaches with the right tools, personal and organizational growth follow.


If you’re interested in how Align can help develop a culture of coaching in your organization, talk to an advisor today!

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