Corporate Climates for the New Millennium: Creating Coaching Cultures

Vicki H. Escudé, MA, Master Certified Coach, SUN Coach Trainer

Escudé is the author of “Getting Everything You Want and Going for More! Coaching for Mastery.”

Imagine being poised comfortably on the balls of your feet, able to shift directions with grace and facility, like a quarterback running for a touchdown. Success in business today is not so much about technical knowledge as it is about being able to change gears and learn new things easily and rapidly. It is about embracing and adapting quickly to change.

How do we transform organizations, businesses, and corporations that value control and authoritarian models into cultures that can only survive if they begin to honor, support, welcome and expect learning and discovery?

Three relevant topics that address current trends in corporate climate are:

  • The new millennium way to relate to work.
  • What a corporate coaching culture looks like.
  • How to achieve the transition to a new coaching culture.

Some questions executives and managers can ask themselves to determine if executive coaching fits their needs are:

The Effective Executive Self-Testã Vicki Escudé

  • I am business owner, CEO, manager or executive who wants a more balanced personal and professional life.
  • I am frustrated with the rapid rate of change.
  • I have a broad technical base, yet am not skilled in leadership. I am on the fast track, and want to continue the momentum.
  • I am a high level performer who is beginning to burnout.
  • I am a top manager whose authoritarian or controlling communication style is beginning to affect production.
  • I am ready to take my skills, performance and production to a higher level.
  • I want to know how I can turn training initiatives from one-time learning experiences into on-going commitments.
  • I want to facilitate a cultural change in an organization that will ensure collaboration, creativity, and renewed respect for the individual.
  • I want to help individual leaders to be less dependent on me.

After realizing the need for any change or shift, traditionally the corporate world has attacked this “problem” of creating a learning organization by spawning a number of extracurricular activities. For example, they schedule circus-like events of special trainings, meetings to discuss “learning,” retreats, and work-shops, all of which meet with much resistance. Employers and employees are afraid of lost productivity, an overload of yet more information, and an encroachment into their balance or personal time. They ask themselves, “How can we integrate this new information into our already over-taxed system?” Trainers are concerned that the old “spray and pray” techniques or one-time training initiatives will not stick.

It is as if learning and doing are two separate conflicting and competing activities. According to Timothy Gallwey, author of “The Inner Game of Work,” much of the teaching and coaching we do has an adverse effect on learning.

In the 1970s, Gallwey developed a method of coaching and published a book called “The Inner Game of Tennis.” He discovered this way of teaching one day when he gave up on tennis instruction out of boredom or tiredness, and noticed that when students were left to their own devices, and began noticing their own behaviors, they began to learn more rapidly.

Harry Reasoner, popular TV personality in the 1970s, heard about this Inner Game, thought it was some magic mumbo-jumbo and a hoax, and challenged Gallwey to teach someone to play tennis on video for his TV show, the Harry Reasoner Show.

Reasoner picked a very overweight woman named Molly to be the student. Molly detested the thought of learning to play tennis and had never even picked up a racket. She showed up on court wearing a long flowered muumuu with her tennis shoes.

With little or no instruction from Gallwey, Molly began playing tennis – returning volleys over the net, hitting a backhand, and moving gracefully around the court – in 17 minutes!

How did this happen? Gallwey asked Molly to pick up a racket, stand in a comfortable position, and just notice how the ball that he threw gently toward her moved through the air. Next, he instructed her to say “bounce” when it hit the court. A few throws later, he told her to say “hit” when she thought she might want to hit the ball. She began moving the racket on her own, and, within a few tries, actually hit the ball. She was not instructed in the traditional way – how to hold the racket or how to hit the ball. The instructions were revolutionary. She was told to merely notice what worked and did not work, how a good hit felt, and to adjust her swing, posture, grip and footing accordingly. In seventeen minutes, Molly achieved what would normally take six months of expensive instruction.

In other words, Molly taught herself to play tennis! And, her inner wisdom was far more effective than the finest professional instructor. Reasoner aired the now-classic video on television, and a new approach to coaching and learning was born. Gallwey has applied his learning principles to tennis, golf, and skiing.

What does this mean for the corporate and organizational world? Corporate leaders began asking Gallwey to apply his learning principles to the corporate arena, as well. AT&T, Coca-Cola, Apple, IBM, and many other companies have hired Gallwey as consultant-coach, and today use these principles in the workplace for their learning cultures. Recently, Gallwey authored his latest book, “The Inner Game of Work.”

The Inner Game supports a new way to relate to work. It is about making our work setting more satisfying and productive. Using Inner Game principles, the corporate community can foster ways to increase learning and performing, while decreasing dependence on external instruction.

In essence, it is about re-defining work. Traditionally, from the managers/owners/CEO’s perspective, the purpose of work is to produce the bottom line. It is about greater profits, service and economic outcomes. This is the Outer Game.

For others, however, work takes on a broader meaning. Yes, there is a need to make money – for the company and for the individual – however, more and more people are also concerned with their relationships at work and how they can contribute their skills in fulfilling ways. Individuals, therefore, want work to be more fully satisfying. The inner fulfillment speaks to the Inner Game.

“Rapid change” is the key for today’s fast-paced workplace. Technical knowledge is secondary. Technical training and workshops are often obsolete by the time they have been scheduled and administered. And, according to Gallwey, teaching does not work anyway. Knowing how to learn and change, however, IS performance. The only way an individual can adapt and change readily, is to learn how to learn, and to have a workplace that supports and values inner learning and personal development.

The truth is that people who are high-performers are those who learn faster. They learn faster when they are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and not be stuck in old habits, patterns and beliefs. As illustrated in the tennis demonstration, we all have what we need to be able to learn and succeed. We just need the atmosphere of encouragement for our own success.

The old methods of learning, i.e.: the old “spray and pray” – give them information and experiences, and pray that they will take them back to the office – actually impede learning. People try to follow directions while ignoring their own inner wisdom.

Can there be a shift in emphasis, so that both the Outer Game of profit and productivity, and the Inner Game of satisfaction and fulfillment are honored, and that both games are balanced?

The basic premise that Learning and Performance are the same is the paradigm shift corporations are being asked to accept and foster. However, learning is squelched by too much direction and instruction. Organizations are being asked to let go of some of their “control,” and encourage their employees to become self-aware, as well as aware of what is happening around them. Learning does not take place easily in situations of high stress, pressure or rigid rules.

Can organizations and corporations foster a setting that encourages learning as well as improved performance? Many people have written theories about how the workplace can be more effective and satisfying. The Inner Game outlines workable solutions and concrete ways to create this new culture. And, it has been demonstrated in the top Fortune 100 companies as not only possible, but successful.

There are several corporate trends that are excellent foundations for this shift. For example, in the past
15 years:

  • Teamwork has become common, with teams doing managerial tasks and making managerial decisions.
  • Managers are now evaluated and assessed by their employees.
  • People in sales are often allowed to make customer service decisions that were formerly made only by upper-level management.

These changes set the stage for the new shift.

What would a coaching culture look like?

  • Corporations and organizations would design a new relationship with employees that would increase their performance through an emphasis on “learning” rather than “winning.”
  • Evaluations would not be in terms of “strengths and weaknesses,” but would be a conversation between managers and employees about individual experiences with each other and in the workplace.
  • Employees would be treated as independent agents.
  • Education would be in terms of creative learning rather than teaching and directions.
  • The human spirit would be validated, rather than individuals being treated as a means to an end.
  • The business would prosper while being an arena for each person to find purpose and meaning
    in work.

How is this atmosphere created? How are learning cultures developed? By encouraging everyone in the corporation and organization to learn to think for themselves, to be their own CEOs. Coaching helps each individual to master the ability to get results and be successful – with balance and a sense of well-being and satisfaction we all want in life. In other words, the coach facilitates the mastery of learning.

The premise of coaching is that we have our own answers within us, and the ability to get our own answers. The purpose of the coach is to ask questions that promote inner growth, realizations, and actions, while mirroring back the individual’s obstacles and blind spots. What the coach isn’t? The coach does not provide solutions, give advice, nor is a consultant for another person.

Everyone in a learning environment becomes a coach – for each other. In a coaching culture, people are empowered, because everyone knows and trusts that each person has the ability to problem-solve. Learning and growing are so motivating, that the individual is motivated to succeed, while encouraging others to do the same. Competition, which creates anxiety, is seen as a deterrent to learning. Coaching partnerships encourage performance.

How is a coaching culture introduced? There is a three-step process designed to create a learning/coaching environment.

  • Step one is to create an agreement within the organization that a learning environment is also an environment of performance. This is created through training modules called “Partnership Coaching Workshops.” Workshops are interspersed with individual coaching for maximum learning. A study conducted in 1997 by Public Personnel Management concluded that training alone increased productivity by 22.4%. Follow-up coaching combined with a training program increased productivity by 88%. The Conclusion: coaching combined with training increased productivity more than 300% over training alone.
  • In step two, key managers are then coached individually by professional certified coaches for several months, to experience a coaching partnership relationship, to develop skills to maintain balance as well as learn to learn. Coaches work with the whole person – all areas of life – creating a developmental plan addressing issues identified by 360 assessments.
  • Step three is coaching and monitoring key managers to become certified as internal coaches, or coaches within the organization or corporation, so that the learning culture can be continually nurtured.

Virginia Satire, a psychologist who wrote Peoplemaking, tells the story of the old soup pot that sat on the back porch of a farmhouse. As the field hands became hungry, they would come to the porch, dip into the pot, and, being nourished, go back out to the field to work.

Corporate environments are like that soup pot. Corporations that provide a “full pot” or fulfillment opportunities for their employees will nurture the employees in their work – just like that soup nurtured the farm hands.

Creating learning environments within corporations and organizations is the key to keeping abreast of the high rate of change in today’s marketplace. Successful managers and employees are those who have learned to value change, self-direction, and self-motivation. Corporations who attract and nurture these individuals will stay on the cutting edge.