The need to improve organisational cultures, people management capabilities, staff retention, and employee motivation and behaviour is recognised across industries (CIPD, 2020). This includes the veterinary industry, and I champion the attention it is receiving (British Veterinary Association, n.d.; Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons, n.d.; Veterinary Management Group, 2020). People management and leadership deficits exist in our industry (Casey, 2021). This is echoed by the fact that poor management and development opportunities are the top two weighted reasons why vets leave their roles (BEVA et al., 2019). This article seeks to shift the amount of effort you invest in your leadership, through a focus on building a coaching culture, as an antidote to both these challenges.
What is a coaching culture?
A coaching culture is an innovative strategy where the principles, beliefs and mindsets driving people’s behaviour in the workplace are deeply rooted in the discipline of coaching (Clutterbuck et al., 2016; Figure 1). Coaching is a human-relational intervention to help people achieve their goals or improve performance through structured conversations (Gormley and van Nieuwerburgh, 2014).
By making coaching the default style of leadership and employee engagement you make a clear statement that it is your intention to maximise the potential of your people. This seeds respect by sending a powerful message that you value your people as your “end product”, and not simply a “means to an end” or a skills machine for your gain only. Greater trust can only but flow from such empathetic listening to the development needs of your people, helping narrow your people management and leadership gap.
Retain and attract top talent
Embracing a coaching culture is also a great strategy to take charge of your recruitment and retention and grow your business.
As 65 percent of employees from companies with strong coaching cultures rate themselves as highly engaged (International Coaching Federation, 2014), it is suggested that this strategy helps companies nurture a culture of inclusion (Ahmetaj and Daly, 2018) and belonging to decrease turnover and drive financial performance (International Coaching Federation, 2014). With only 17 percent of HR personnel confident in improving talent strategies to retain the best people (Ahmetaj and Daly, 2018), a coaching culture will also help support your overwhelmed HR teams.
From a recruitment vantage, talent is always on the prowl for their next challenge and some locums are seeking permanent stability after a tumultuous period of Brexit, COVID-19 and IR35-induced uncertainty. Having a distinctive culture to market as to what makes you a great workplace will give you a huge competitive advantage and make you stand out when recruiting. Centring your employer reputation around a coaching culture, where a commitment to grow your organisation is paralleled with a commitment to grow your people (Clutterbuck et al., 2016), will have the most ambitious and motivated talent flocking to you.
Wider benefits of a coaching culture
Organisations are using coaching to adapt to working in our volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (Rodriguez and Rodriguez, 2015). Under pressure to do more with less, leaders are shifting their mindset away from the traditional “leader as expert” to “leader as coach” (Institute of Leadership and Management, 2011; Ibarra and Scoular, 2019). In the complexity of modern life, leaders do not, and cannot, have all the answers, rendering traditional “command-and-control”, authoritative, instruction-based leadership practices ineffective at solving the challenges of today.
A coaching “learn-it-all” growth mindset builds personal and organisational resilience, superior performance and commands greater respect than a more fixed and authoritative “this-is-the-way-it-has-always-been” aproach. In this way, coaching serves as a catalyst for organisational learning, to foster greater teamwork, to better problem solve and adapt to constantly changing environments, in turn igniting creativity and innovation.
Coaching facilitates situation-dependent learning in a flexible, agile leadership approach to personalise individual and organisational development needs. Coaching helps support and challenge, improve self-awareness, build personal confidence, build management and leadership effectiveness and increase the autonomy needed to deliver workplace goals (Institute of Leadership and Management, 2011; Passmore and Crabbe, 2021). With 95 percent reporting organisational benefits, workplaces are using coaching to accelerate personal development (53 percent) more than to develop specific areas of performance (only 26 percent) (Institute of Leadership and Management, 2011). Benefits reported include improved communication and interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, attitudes and motivation, management performance and combating aggressive behaviour. Coaching, however, is not a remedial tool to correct and manage underperformance, nor is it a way to squeeze more out of teams. Instead, good coaching is about empowering a high-performance culture.
Where to start?
A coaching culture is not the end in itself but, rather, a means to an end. You need to identify the organisational outcomes that you want to achieve first, before exploring how to use coaching to get you there faster (Gormley and van Nieuwerburgh, 2014). A coaching strategy can then be developed, grounded in your organisation’s mission, current business strategy and organisational development plan, and linked to your people development policies (Hawkins, 2012). This requires collaborative input and assumes the organisation understands the philosophy of coaching to see value in investing the resources to make building a coaching culture a priority.
This initial reflective step will expose any cultural facades and shine a light on your organisation’s readiness. A nascent infrastructure with a fixed mindset and/or cultural bias that has little or no commitment to the principles underpinning coaching is clearly not going to be compatible with a coaching culture as a whole (Clutterbuck et al., 2016; Garvey et al., 2008). Where good alignment exists, a coaching culture can steadily evolve and interweave into your wider current workplace culture.
However, this process cannot be forced or accelerated. Barriers will need to be overcome as blind spots are unmasked (Hawkins, 2012). Slowly but surely, as people adapt, so will your employer brand as your coaching culture takes hold. Having a coaching infrastructure in place is key. Governance, management and collaboration of individuals is necessary to ensure clarity of purpose and direction, and to guide resource allocation and facilitate feedback from all parties to increase chances of success (Hawkins, 2012). External coaching training initially seeds the skills that are internalised and used to ultimately increase coaching scope and availability so that your new culture permeates throughout the workplace (Institute of Leadership and Management, 2011).
The journey a particular organisation takes will be unique to their ambitions, culture and skills and the personalities involved. But trust the process and keep coaching at the helm of your focus to strengthen your leadership, build a more human-centred culture and create the ideal conditions for your people and your business to flourish.