It’s evident that a coaching and mentoring strategy – especially if the aim is to create a coaching and mentoring culture – requires the sustained support and energy of an organization’s leaders. In our interviews on this topic with both HR professionals and leadership teams, a number of themes recur frequently enough to warrant inclusion in practical guidelines.
In no particular order of importance, these are:
- Taking the leadership’s perspective, how does a coaching and mentoring culture contribute to achieving the key business priorities? Following the chain of influence, how does a coaching culture support the priorities of each of the major business functions, from finance and IT to sales? (It doesn’t always follow that functional priorities are fully aligned with business priorities and indeed, this may be yet another area, in which a coaching style of management may be productive.)
- How does it resonate with existing, powerful organisational narratives? With core organizational values? What would it take to make coaching and mentoring integral to the organizational narrative?
- How sustainable are the benefits?
- What are the personal benefits to the leaders?
- What is the personal cost to the leaders of creating a coaching and mentoring culture? Are they really capable of the considerable change required to become role models for coaching and mentoring?
- It’s important to sound out potential champions individually before you ask them for support in a group. People often like to see who else is on board before deciding to opt in themselves. In your initial conversations with them, get them to talk about their own experiences of powerful developmental relationships.
- Ask leaders and potential champions bluntly about their fears with regard to creating a coaching and mentoring culture. Doing so brings likely resistance to the surface so that you have time and space to address it. Moreover, the fact that they have voiced their concerns may stimulate them to look for ways to overcome them.
- Ensure your line manager champions get to the top team before you do, with a clear brief to demonstrate how a coaching and mentoring culture is important for them and their areas of the business. (They may have greater credibility in this context than HR.)
- Choose your time. Take soundings as to when is the best time to present your strategy when they will be most open to new ideas and commitments.
- Be prepared to smart small with pilots, to provide proof of content
- Expect coaching and mentoring to fall off the leadership team radar at some point. Keep them informed and involved to delay this point. Have a rolling programme of additional initiatives, which will help maintain interest.
- A training programme is not a strategy. Make it clear from the start that there are many elements that need to go into a coaching and mentoring strategy to create a coaching and mentoring culture. Many coaching and mentoring strategies have been seen by the leadership teams as failures, because, for example, the leaders think they were promised that a line manager as coach initiative would deliver more substantial change than was realistic.
Above all, remember that creating a coaching and mentoring culture is the leadership team’s responsibility, not HR’s. Allowing them to abdicate that responsibility creates an environment and expectations almost guaranteed to lose their support in the medium term. Instead, HR can assume a coaching role with the leaders, helping them to reflect upon how they will lead and energize the gradual change to a coaching and mentoring culture.