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Fostering a Safe and Trusting Environment for Coaching in Organizations

Posted by Michelle Wu, ACC | February 8, 2018 | Comments (0)

Ten years ago, the Harvard Business Review conducted a survey with 140 leading coaches which found that the top three reasons why organizations hired coaches were to develop high-potential talent, act as a sounding board and address behaviors. Coaching was a tool that organizations leveraged to address performance, development and career trajectory.

Fast-forward to 2018 where coaching has been “democratized.” It’s no longer a tool exclusively reserved for the C-suite or high-potentials. Coaching is now described as a culture that organizations are developing to encourage passion, openness and curiosity.

Interestingly, a coaching culture in organizations has various interpretations. The Behavioral Coaching Institute defines “a coaching culture as an organizational development model that defines how organization’s members can best interact with their work environment.” A 2011 article by Bill Pullen and Erin Crane in The International Journal of Coaching in Organizations describes the outcome of a coaching culture as an “environment where employees feel supported, while at the same time being challenged to grow, learn and deliver.”

I know what a coaching culture in an organization feels like firsthand, having worked in a multinational conglomerate for the past 17 years. What I observe is that when managers embrace coaching as a creative exploration process with their employees, all parties feel open, safe and trusted.

So, how do we foster a coaching environment where employees and managers feel safe and trusting?

I believe there are two factors that create trust and safety: coaches who show curiosity through powerful questions and are genuinely dedicated, and sufficient understanding of coaching structure and expected outcomes among individuals receiving coaching.

Curiosity and Being Genuine

In a May 2016 article, “Ahead of the Curve: The future of Performance Management,” McKinsey & Company shared that helping employees “find meaning—seeing purpose and value in work—is the most important factor that motivates and fires up the best employees.” Organizations can consider leveraging coaching to support employees’ self-exploration, and to move them forward toward their goals.

For employees to open up to coaches and talk about their goals, a safe and trusting environment is a must. A coach needs to be authentic and curious about the employee. And, to do so, asking powerful questions and being fully attentive are important attributes to demonstrate the coach’s genuineness and willingness to partner in organizations.

ICF defines Powerful Questioning as the “ability to ask questions that reveal the information needed for maximum benefit to the coaching relationship and the client.” Asking powerful questions requires a coach’s full attention in order to actively listen to the employee, reflect what is said and not said with honesty and sincerity, and help them move forward toward a goal.

Another important way to demonstrate attentiveness: Eliminate all digital distractions during a coaching session. Silence notifications and put your devices away, close your laptop or turn off your PC monitor.

Coaching and Session Expectations

In order for an employee to maximize each coaching opportunity, clear expectations of coaching can help them prioritize forward-looking goals, while also providing a sense of trust.

I often find that employees in organizations are not aware of how coaching sessions are structured and what outcomes are expected. I recommend that managers be clear and share that a typical coaching session consists of these elements: setting and prioritizing goals, exploring meanings of these goals, creating an action plan together, and committing to being accountable.

Trust and Safety

“The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust.” —Abraham Lincoln

Studies have shown that a coaching culture in organizations significantly reduces staff turnover and increases productivity and employee happiness and satisfaction. A coaching culture can only be possible when there is trust and sense of safety in the system.

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Michelle Wu, ACC

Michelle Wu, ACC, is vice president for digital technology and chief information officer at GE Power Services - Middle East and Africa. Michelle is a coach and a certified 200-hour yoga instructor. In 2014, Michelle founded KRMW Consulting, LLC, a boutique coaching service firm focused on supporting people during periods of personal and professional transition.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

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