How to create a coaching and mentoring culture in your organisation


Most organisations of more than a few hundred people have some experience of coaching. They may have employed a professional coach to support an executive, or given line managers some instruction on how to coach. But this is a long way from achieving a coaching and mentoring culture. Indeed, we can identify four stages of a coaching and mentoring culture:

  • Nascent – some uncoordinated and ad hoc activity, little or no engagement from the top, few if any links with business priorities and values
  • Tactical – some attempt to control and coordinate coaching / mentoring activities; training programmes; focus on coaching and mentoring to support specific business outcomes
  • Strategic – a coherent plan to link coaching and mentoring with the business priorities and values, with measurement of progress
  • Embedded – an integral part of the way we do things, with top management acting as role models for coaching and mentoring behaviours

This article explores four questions:

  • What do we mean by a coaching and mentoring culture?
  • Why should we want to create one?
  • What does it look like?
  • What do we need to do to create one?

What do we mean by a coaching and mentoring culture?

A formal definition of a coaching and mentoring culture is that it is one, where:

  • Coaching is the predominant style of managing and working together, and where a commitment to grow the organisation is embedded in a parallel commitment to grow the people in the organisation.
  • Mentoring enlarges the scope of the coaching culture, so that it encompasses not just skills and performance, but the holistic development of the each individual and his or her career

Why should we want to create a coaching and mentoring culture?

The simple answer is that organisations need to be flexible and adaptable to survive and that coaching and mentoring support doing so by:

  • Creating the habit of challenging processes, behaviours and assumptions
  • Speeding up the transfer of knowledge – especially in the context of indigenisation — and the pace of innovation
  • Making succession more robust and better able to encompass changes in the internal and external corporate environment

At the same time, coaching and mentoring reduce the turnover of talent; improve employee engagement and job commitment; contribute to performance at both individual and team level (the connection with business performance is less easy to demonstrate, but is a logical consequence); and are among the most effective methods of tackling issues of diversity and equal opportunities.

Studies from the US show that the performance of top teams in large companies is strongly and positively correlated with the amount of time the executives spend in coaching and being coached, or in using coaching approaches to address issues such as strategic planning.

What does a coaching and mentoring culture look like?

In a coaching and mentoring culture, people see the value of developing themselves and others – and take responsibility for both.  They value time for reflection, with the result that better preparation and thinking around why things need to be done ensures that activity is more closely aligned with business priorities. People feel free to say what they think, rather than what is expected of them. They are more likely to seek their next job within the company, rather than outside. Coaching and mentoring are aligned – with coaching being focused more of skills, performance and behaviour in the current role (what do you want to achieve?); and mentoring focused more on longer term, career and more holistic outcomes (who do you want to become?).

What do we need to do to create a coaching and mentoring culture?

The first requirement in creating a coaching and mentoring culture is a strategic plan that explores all the potential components in terms of:

  • Applications of coaching and mentoring
  • Resources required – including education, marketing, and other forms of support
  • Timelines
  • Critical roles for HR, top management and other stakeholders

Typically, both coaching and mentoring deliver best results when they are closely linked to either a business objective (for example, diversity management, rapid induction of new employees, or to helping a new project team hit the ground running); or to a transition for the coachee or mentee (for example, from one level of management to another, or from good performance in an aspect of their work to great performance).

Some of the key ingredients of a coaching strategy include:

  • Quality and value for money in using external coaches. There is no correlation between what coaches charge, or the number of hours of coaching they have done, or even client feedback (because many clients don’t know what to look for) and quality. Accreditation is at best a sign of fitness to practice – it doesn’t tell you whether the coach is world class or below average. Wise buyers of coaching have robust methods of assessing external coaches on criteria that include how well they will fit the particular organisation.
  • Creating an internal cadre of experienced, semi-professional coaches. Well-trained internal coaches can be at least as capable as the average externally-resourced coach. Plus they have the added value of knowing the organisation. A downside may be that they may sometimes be intimidated by more senior coachees. Some companies now support their internal coaches and line manager coaches through professional supervision, to encourage continuous development in the role and to maintain standards of safety.
  • Coaching within the work team is the fulcrum of culture change. Sending people on line manger as coach courses on its own is often a waste of money, because the newly learned skills are not embedded in the team culture. Good practice is to educate the entire team about how to coach and be coached; and to provide opportunities for the team to decide how to apply their learning to improve collective performance.
  • Team coaching is an intervention by a specialist coach from outside the team, with the objective of helping the team develop its coaching culture. It requires a deep understanding of both coaching and team dynamics. Well-founded team coaching accreditation courses are now available in several countries in Europe.
  • Companies serious about developing a coaching and mentoring culture usually measure their progress. They also measure the quality of coaching within teams and by externally resourced coaches; and the impact of mentoring on both individuals and the business. A pragmatic measure of the quality of mentoring programmes are the International Standards for Mentoring and Coaching Programmes (ISMCP)
  • Top management sponsors and role models are essential in getting buy-in across the organisation – as with any major cultural change!
  • Coaching and mentoring management. A head of coaching and mentoring is helpful in achieving consistency and maximising use of resources.

Achieving this kind of culture change doesn’t happen quickly – it may take years. The investment of money does not have to be high (indeed, top down high cost training interventions have a poor track record in terms of return on investment). What works is having a coherent, long-term and practical approach that harnesses people’s energy to improve individual and collective performance.


© David Clutterbuck, 2015

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A guide to unleashing the hidden value in your organisation through high impact strategic mentoring programs.

Most human beings and organisations have one thing in common – they both want to do better. But it’s hard for one to achieve without the other. When you can harness both you can achieve great things.

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