Three Steps To Beginning A Positive Coaching Culture

April 26th, 2013 | Posted in Coaching | Comments Off on Three Steps To Beginning A Positive Coaching Culture

Many leading companies already know that building a high-performance organization depends on establishing a positive coaching culture.  But recently, we’ve been working with some companies that are at a very early stage in their coaching evolution.  In these organizations:

  • There are very few conversations about performance.  Employees might go five or six months in between performance conversations with their manager.
  • There is very little coaching that takes place on a regular basis.
  • Coaching focuses almost entirely on improving poor performance and fixing problems.
  • As a result – and not surprisingly – the word “coaching” has a negative connotation.  It is used most often in connection with “coaching and counseling” or “coaching for corrective action.”

If your company is at an early stage in your coaching evolution, how can you start to build a more positive coaching culture?  Here are three high-leverage steps that you can take – quickly and inexpensively – to achieve the greatest impact.

Step 1: Talk More Often About Performance

It’s been said that measurements drive performance, and what gets measured gets done.  That can be true – if managers and employees understand what is being measured, why those measurements are important, and how their own behaviors produce the measured results.

But many employees – and a surprisingly large number of supervisors and managers –cannot connect the dots between their own behaviors and the impact on customers, results, and the goals of the organization.  This connection may seem intuitive or even obvious to you and other leaders of your company.  But it is not necessarily intuitive or obvious at other levels of the organization.

If you want to create a culture that focuses on improving results, the first step is to build a solid understanding of those results.  Don’t make assumptions about what people might already know.  Start at the beginning.  Communicate frequently about performance.  And make sure that people at every level can connect what they do and how they do it to the success you’re trying to achieve.

Step 2: Increase The Communication Of Positive Messages

Every communication or interaction has the potential to have a positive or negative impact on a person’s emotions.  And it turns out that those positive or negative impacts can have far-reaching effects.

In his book To Sell Is Human, Daniel Pink reports on the positivity research conducted by Barbara Frederickson of the University of North Carolina.  Frederickson found: “Once positive emotions outnumbered negative emotions by 3 to 1 . . . people generally flourished.  Those below that ratio did not.”

Frederickson’s research has been extended to consider an array of target audiences ranging from married couples to high performing teams.  In those studies, the ideal ratio of positive communications and interactions to negative ones turned out to be at least 5 to 1.

So the second step in starting to create a positive coaching culture is to communicate positive messages much more frequently.  Catch people doing something right.  Recognize what they’re doing well.  Celebrate success.  Share best practices.

Step 3: Teach And Practice Appreciative Inquiry

Effective coaching depends on many skills.  The International Coach Federation outlines 11 core competencies, each comprising multiple skills.

With such a robust list, it’s hard to know where to start.  As step three in building a positive coaching culture we recommend teaching and practicing appreciative inquiry.

Appreciative inquiry is a focus on increasing what a person, team, or organization does well rather than trying to fix what’s done badly.

As the term suggests, appreciative inquiry involves two key elements – appreciation and inquiry.

Appreciation means recognizing and valuing what someone is doing well, and helping that person increase their awareness and understanding of their strengths.

Inquiry means asking curious questions to learn more – and to help the other person gain insights and learn more – about how he/she is able to do something effectively.

Like many powerful skills, appreciative inquiry is an approach that you can continue to develop and master for a lifetime.  But it’s not hard to get started.

For example, let’s say you’re working with an employee who has been struggling in a particular area and has now started to make some progress.  As you’ve already seen (in steps 1 and 2) it’s important to notice the improvement and recognize it in a positive way.  Make the connection between the improved performance and the positive impact on customers and key results.  Then, ask curious questions.  For example:

  • What have you been doing differently to improve in this area?
  • How did you figure that out?  What led you to try that?
  • What can you do to continue and build on what’s working?
  • How can you do even better?

Getting Started

The road to a positive coaching culture is long, but the journey is worthwhile and the rewards are substantial.  You can start today by taking these three steps.

If not now, when?

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