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An evaluation of how the organisational context impacts on coaching and mentoring

Updated: Jan 21, 2022





“Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything for better or worse” – Simon Sinek


Organisations are a complex mix of dreams, ideas, beliefs, hopes and fears, and of course largely made up of humans. As such there are many factors that can influence behaviours and processes.


Looking specifically at some of the aspects of an organisation that can have an impact on Coaching and Mentoring (C&M) we can see that the following all have an impact:


  • Culture,

  • Structure of the business,

  • Stakeholder expectations,

  • Overall corporate values,

  • Ethics and principles,

  • Level of management and staff “buy-in”

  • Communication and reporting strategies


This list is by no means exhaustive but does elucidate the key aspects of an organisation that can influence the success of a C&M programme, for better or worse. Let’s have a look at how some of these areas can impact the process and success of C&M in more detail:


Culture


The idea of having a “culture of coaching” within an organisation has gained traction in recent years with many global companies now professing to have a coaching culture at the heart of their businesses. Even the mighty Microsoft committed in 2014 to changing its global culture from a “know it all” to a “learn it all” approach (Greg Ribiero, 2020 Linkedin In article https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/growth-mindset-coaching-culture-andr%25C3%25A9-ribeiro-mcc-icf-coach-mentor/)


Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, committed to install a Growth mindset throughout the business and also stated his ambition to change the management structure to a coaching based structure and the company has seen radical shifts in its culture in a relatively short space of time. But this is not always the case.


There are organisations who may have ambitions to move towards a more C&M style approach to their management structure but if the culture is one of autocratic, top down, directive management it would be hard to really deliver results in such an environment over the long term.


For a C&M approach to have real impact, it’s imperative that the culture of the organisation embraces this or at least commits to put in the effort to change towards this culture to maximise success.


It’s also worth mentioning that culture starts at the top so it’s critical that the senior management team approach the implementation of the C&M programme with a pragmatic and supportive approach to the initiative for it to have any positive impact.


I worked as an operations director for a wealth management firm based in Switzerland and the two owners of the firm had organised an out of office managers workshop so that the team as a whole could have a platform to share their views on the direction that the business was taking and could help refine the strategy. One of the owners fully embraced the day as an open and honest platform to create and build success, the other left at lunchtime and never came back. Few weeks later the two owners went their separate ways and one of them has ran his business into the ground whilst the other is now heading up one of the most successful practices in Geneva. The owner who had the self-awareness to listen and understand what his team were saying and adopt a coaching philosophy went on to prove successful.


Structure of the business

The structure of the business can have a large impact on the ability to successfully implement a C&M culture. If the organisation has a small team, made up largely of new employees then a mentoring programme may not be possible to implement, due to the lack of experienced and knowledgeable individuals to provide the mentor support. This would not necessarily be a barrier for coaching as an external resource could be utilised for this purpose.


On the contrary, large well-established organisations may have plenty of scope to develop a successful mentoring programme due to their access to many experienced and knowledgeable employees but it may be harder to implement a clear and focused coaching programme due to logistical issues of ensuring enough external coaching support to be able to deliver a multi-site, multi-jurisdictional programme with fully aligned goals.


Stakeholder and/or Sponsor Expectations


In their book “Becoming an exceptional executive business coach” (AMA 2012), the authors outline the importance of stakeholders in the success of the arrangement and they highlight Line managers, HR team members as well as other departments in companies designed to maximise employee potential.


The authors also suggest that engaging with and managing the relationships and expectations of both the stakeholders and/or sponsors of the coaching is a “key challenge of executive coaching.”


A successful coach will plan for and positively encourage a well-defined stakeholder and sponsor engagement process at the outset of the coaching programme to ensure that there is full alignment and support in place to allow the coachee the best opportunity for success.


Clear lines of communication need to be agreed however and the client must be fully aware of what information is likely to be shared so that there is an open and honest platform between the coach and the client. This provides the basis for a trusting and engaging coaching programme.


If there is a lack of proper alignment or engagement from stakeholders or sponsors, it can lead to diminished results, lack of follow through or the breakdown of the coaching initiative.


Overall Corporate values


“Most coaching and mentoring relationships operate within organisational context, as well as contributing to it. The structure and culture of an organisation, therefore influences how coaching is received, perceived and supported” – Kristian Still, (Kristianstill.co.uk)


Overall corporate values overlap heavily with the corporate culture section I’ve mentioned above but Culture can reflect a different experience than corporate values. For example, a company could declare that it has a culture of open and honest communication with its employees but there could be many examples of line managers mistreating individuals because they have spoken out about concerns over company practices or strategy.


For a coaching programme to be effective, the overall values of the company (including all stakeholders and sponsors) need to believe in and embrace the benefits of a coaching philosophy if potential outcomes are to be maximised.


Ethics and Principles


The ethics and principles of organisation are another area that can influence the success, or otherwise, of a coaching programme.


If an organisation places a high regard on Ethical behaviours and sound principles, there should be a strong alignment to coaching practice throughout the business as the heart of coaching is the “enhancement of performance and learning of others” (Max Landsberg, The Tao of Coaching, profile books 2015).


Reflecting back on the Microsoft example I gave earlier, the organisation was arguably successful under the watch of the previous CEO, Steve Ballmer, but the ethics and principles, and by extension, the corporate culture, was focused primarily on how to be better than the competition and how to use financial strength to over-power weaker competitors. This led to a hostile and highly competitive working environment that (by Bullmer’s own admission) was driven largely by testosterone and machismo rather than some grand uniting vision for the group. (https://www.managers.org.uk/knowledge-and-insights/article/when-microsoft-changed-its-leadership-culture/ )


Microsoft’s current CEO, Satya Nadella, places a high value on ethical business practices and principles and has achieved a remarkable transformation of the culture and ethos in the organisation that now prides itself on its coaching and mentoring management style.


Level of management and staff buy-in


Following on from my point above, the level of buy-in from management and staff can really make or break the success of any coaching programme within an organisation.


We touched on the need for mission alignment from stakeholders and sponsors above, but it’s also imperative that the individual team member receiving the coaching, is also fully engaged by the process. This can be achieved by ensuring that the recipients feel that the coaching is designed to maximise their outcomes and that the process will be private and client focused. If a coachee felt that the process was merely a performance assessment tool, or a way for a line manager to gain third party assistance in offering feedback or challenging behaviours, then it loses much of its impact.


Communication and reporting strategies


Keep coaching/mentoring process separate from performance review to maintain the integrity of the relationship.


Complete privacy of discussions between the mentor and mentee will also lead to better trust and long-term development of the arrangement. If a mentee was to discover that their mentor had been sharing specific aspects of the conversations without his/her permission, that was have a detrimental impact on the relationship and may well bring the arrangement to a close.


Conclusion


A well-structured and efficacious C&M programme can have massive improvements in performance for organisations, as the example of Microsoft has shown us.


The success of the programme is impacted directly and indirectly by each of the areas mentioned above so it’s vital that any organisation looking to adopt a C&M culture at its core, ensures that the organisational infrastructure required to implement effectively is put in place.


In practice, this means that a coaching culture has to be fully adopted by all the senior management team as well as each subordinate leader within the organisation as whole. The corporate values need to be fully aligned to the corporate culture and each employee needs to feel that the environment has been created to provide the coaching framework for each of their benefits. All interactions between leaders and teams need to be viewed through a coaching paradigm with appropriate support and development offered to all employees.


Microsoft distilled their management ethos down to 3 core traits:


Model, Coach & Care


This provides the mental and managerial framework that each of their leaders should use when approaching staff interactions. This open and employee centred approach has been shown to provide a safe space for staff to make mistakes but then learn from these and take corrective action.



We can see from the success of the Microsoft approach, that fully embracing a Coaching and Mentoring philosophy can result in massive productivity gains as well as higher levels of staff engagement and satisfaction at their work.












References


“Becoming an Exceptional Executive Coach” (Frisch, Lee, Metzger, Robinson, Rosemarin) AMA 2012.




Max Landsberg, The Tao of Coaching, profile books 2015.



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