How Building Your Organization’s Coaching “Muscles” Can Strengthen Performance


Did you know that your organizational culture can increase the likelihood of having a high organizational performance by 97%? That is, when the culture includes feedback, fairness and a future-forward focus. That sounds like a coaching culture to me! This finding is one of the conclusions from a recent research study conducted by RedThread Research, “The Makings of Modern Performance Management.” Let’s look at how taking a coaching approach to strengthening these essential cultural elements can build your organization’s coaching and performance “muscles” at the same time.

Organizational Coaching
Give (Good) Feedback Often and to Everyone
Organizations that have high-feedback cultures are 108% more likely—twice as likely!—to score high on organizational performance, says RedThread Research. Given that the half-life of a skill is estimated to be five years, and the importance of feedback in learning anything new, it’s easy to see how making feedback a way of life for an organization can dramatically improve performance.

The big question, of course, is: how do you get people to offer feedback that other people actually want to receive? Taking a coaching approach to offering feedback can help. You can encourage people to do just that by:

Helping them see that how they deliver feedback is just as, if not more, important than what they say. Feedback that is delivered with a heavy dose of judgment is rarely well received.
Teaching people to see minor disconnects as coaching moments when they can offer feedback in service of helping others learn from day-to-day challenges.
Offering feedback within coaching conversations to ensure that people are able to turn the awareness that they gain from the feedback into actions that forward the action for them.
Building these kinds of feedback skills increases confidence—and confidence is what is needed for people to choose to offer feedback to others. That’s what we found in our own research, where 96% of respondents said our Untying the Knot® approach to coaching and feedback conversations positively impacted offering feedback to others. Some of the people we interviewed indicated that learning coaching and feedback skills gave them the confidence to engage in conversations they were previously avoiding, or not conducting in an effective way.

Creating a consistent language and approach around feedback throughout your organization can make sharing feedback less intimidating, since all employees have the same tools for conducting these conversations. Equipping leaders with feedback-friendly approaches and perspectives can transform offering feedback from a risky maneuver into a healthy, productive exercise that people feel comfortable engaging in.

Integrate Fairness and Equity in Your Culture
These honest “in the moment” coaching and feedback conversations contribute to the perception of fairness and transparency in the organization. That’s really important, because fairness is the next element of culture that RedThread Research identified as contributing to having a high-performance culture.

Performance management is one area where the perception of fairness is essential. Interestingly, internal fairness is more important than external equity, which means, people believe the organization is fairer when salaries are similar between colleagues versus comparing salaries in the external market. Conversely, when people perceive that the processes used to evaluate their performance and establish compensation are unfair and inequitable, the consequences can be significant. When the perception of unfairness grows within an organization, so too can the culture of distrust and hostility—which could result in turnover or lower performance.

You can potentially increase the perception of fairness and equity in your performance management process by:

Inviting people to share their thoughts on how they would like to see performance managed. RedThread Research highlighted an organization that did just that. IBM regularly gets employee input to help redesign performance management, which results in a more nuanced, fair approach to its system. Adding an option for grievances naturally makes it more trustworthy.
Encouraging managers to take a coaching approach when people express concerns about the system or seem reluctant to engage fully in whatever approach to performance management is being used. Rather than explaining away, arguing about or ignoring concerns, it’s far more productive to ask people, “What’s concerning you about…?” Inviting this kind of “in the moment” feedback, and responding with a spirit of inquisitiveness and an openness to honestly explore possibilities will go a long way to establishing the perception fairness in the organization.
And, of course, expanding your leaders’ skills to take a coaching approach to the performance conversations themselves is crucial. That could look like appreciatively exploring what contributed to outcomes that didn’t hit the mark and offering coaching to help people learn from their experiences. When done well, these kinds of supportive exchanges give people a fair chance to improve behavior when needed, and can also be used to help people prepare for new opportunities to learn and grow.
Refocusing performance management conversations to going beyond “here’s what’s wrong” to giving more emphasis to “here’s what’s possible,” if you use the insights you gain from feedback to broaden your capabilities, seems likely to deepen the perception of fairness in the performance management process. That’s important because “future-focused”—meaning, “an organization creates the conditions for employees to develop the knowledge, skills and capabilities they need to thrive in the future”—was also highlighted by RedThread as being a major contributor to establishing a high-performance culture.

Focus on the Future
Coaching is innately future-focused when it is defined as being a process to support people to realize more of their potential. When this is the perspective that coaching is offered from, it’s natural to use “in the moment” coaching conversations to help people understand how they will benefit in the future from learning new skills. In fact, that’s a fantastic way to motivate people to stick with the learning process long enough to master the new capability. For example, a manager might use feedback and coaching to motivate someone to learn how to influence across boundaries by helping them understand how this essential skill will be valuable for resolving increasingly complex issues in the future. If your organization’s definition of coaching doesn’t support a future-focus, it might be time to upgrade to an approach that does.

I know, sometimes people say, “just tell me what to do.” They don’t seem to value a future focus. While it might seem expedient to acquiesce to their request, it’s a disservice to the person. Remember those skills that are timing out faster and faster? It’s important to expand our perception of what it means to be a good manager to include preparing people for the future. Exercise your coaching skills by coaching people to understand why learning how to learn is a foundational skill for remaining relevant now, and in the future.

“In the moment” coaching is an individual and organizational muscle that can enhance performance while building a coaching culture. Like any muscle, you have to use it, or you will lose it. The more you stretch and strengthen your organization’s coaching capabilities, the stronger your culture becomes, increasing your ability to achieve high performance.

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