When it comes to culture, lasting change starts at the top with the leadership team. “Employees are ready to be engaged and empowered,” says employee and customer empowerment expert Shawn Casemore, author of The Unstoppable Organization: Empower Your People, Engage Your Customers and Grow Your Revenue. “It’s the mindset shift in leadership that is the challenge. Why? For many leaders, a coaching culture represents a change in what they have been taught. They became a leader and formed their leadership approach based on their own experiences of having been led. This type of approach challenges what they know.”
There also can be some resentment from baby boomer and Gen X leaders who worked their way up in traditional hierarchical organizations where you did what your boss told you without questioning anything. Getting past this “paying your dues” attitude requires leaders to relearn how to interact with their employees, says Casemore, adding that: “It’s really about putting people first.”
While it may be a challenge to get established leaders to change their leadership styles, it is also difficult for leaders to relinquish what they believe to be the key responsibilities of their role, says coaching culture expert Dianna Anderson, CEO of Cylient, a professional services firm that focuses on instilling coaching as a way of life in organizations. “In the traditional approach to leadership, leaders feel that it’s their job to tell people what to do, to look for mistakes and to correct employees when they’re wrong. But from a coaching standpoint, we realize that, to be a successful leader and contributor, it’s our job to help others learn and grow, and realize more of their potential,” she adds. “It’s a completely different perspective, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be instilled in leaders who don’t have a coaching mindset.”
Making the Transition
How can you begin to apply a coaching approach to your culture?
“As leaders, we need to ask more questions than give answers,” Casemore says.
Effective leaders are those who understand that they don’t have to be right all the time or have all the answers. Instead, they surround themselves with knowledgeable people, including employees who, as a whole, share experience that is deep and diverse.
How do you tap into this expertise? “In a coaching culture, leaders see themselves as a communication conduit. They’re the link between the top of the organization and what the employees are doing,” Casemore explains. “That starts to shift your role as leader away from saying, ‘Here’s what you need to do,’ to a mindset and vocabulary that asks, “How can I help you do what you need to do?’ Your role as leader then becomes to break down barriers and get the road blocks out of the way so that employees can be effective.”
When you create a dialogue between employees and leaders, the employee’s mindset also shifts from waiting to receive instruction to understanding that the leader is there to guide, not tell.
In a coaching culture, “the environment is built around the employees being empowered to deliver on their commitments to the organization, but not be under such rigid constraints that we’re not allowing them to be effective,” he stresses.
Applying a coaching approach to daily communication also has a trickle-down effect. For instance, within the contact center, as leaders begin to model coaching behaviors and have open dialogue with frontline staff, agents will begin to emulate that approach when working with customers, says Anderson. “And in a competitive environment where customer experience is the differentiator, that could be the deciding factor in whether customers have a positive experience or feel like they weren’t served well,” she adds. “Think of it not only as a functional way of communicating, but potentially as a competitive advantage.”