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Develop a coaching culture in your business

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By Susy Roberts is an executive coach and founder of people development consultancy Hunter Roberts


In a small business, team members are often relied on to perform multiple functions. And coaching can be wrongly put in the same category as training and seen as a time and cost-intensive exercise, taking employees away from essential tasks.
 
But ensuring that people are developed to perform to the best of their ability doesn’t need to involve costly teambuilding sessions or committing to long-term training programmes.

The following are cost-effective and easily-achievable ways to coach the SME workforce, from the top down and bottom up.

Train the top team as coaches

A great leader has many essential qualities – stakeholder management, influencing, resilience and leading with agility being just a few. But giving the top team the skills they need to coach their workforce will help them to identify and nurture each member’s individual skills, which in turn will maximise potential and performance.

A recognised company that specialises in developing internal coaches – accredited by the Institute of Leadership Management to level five or seven – can help leaders to identify how a coaching culture can benefit their business, assessing areas of focus, and giving them the skills and knowledge they need to filter down the coaching ethos.

Coaching should be instilled with an SME’s culture and reflect its values. It should be ingrained within the organisation, rather than a token exercise with no clearly defined outcomes.

Involve line managers

People managers should be able to give constructive feedback and provide clarity when it comes to performance expectations. Look at your line managers and assess whether they have the ability to support development using positive coaching styles and, if not, help them to develop those skills.

This can be easily achieved with bite-sized learning programmes and online courses. What’s important is practice and feedback, which should come from regular sessions with the leadership team but also by peer-to-peer conversations and reviews. Identify master coaches who can ensure continuous workplace learning, and assign coaching buddies to help managers support each other.


If resources allow, an external coaching supervisor could be brought in periodically to monitor progress and ensure the management team are employing positive and proactive techniques that provide maximum impact.

Establish a framework

Developing a coaching strategy and equipping managers to deploy it will be much more effective if they can deliver it to a recognised framework, such as GROW: goal, reality, options and will.

Coaching is most effective when team members have a clear sense of aspirations and are motivated to work towards them. A simple framework allows them to assess their current situation and give them clear goals in line with what’s achievable, as well as giving them the freedom to show initiative and find their own solutions within agreed parameters.

Training or coaching?

Not every member of the team is suitable for development. People who are new in post need training rather than coaching, and there’s a clear distinction between the two. Training is teaching and building people’s skills, whereas coaching is helping them to think about what they’ve learned and what they could do differently. Only those who are fully equipped to perform the role they were hired to do should be considered ready for personal development.

When a team member is performing their role well and to the required specification, they will be ripe for development – it’s these people who should be coached. People need to be stretched and challenged, and either expecting too much too soon or limiting choices will result in a dissatisfied workforce. Someone who is still coming to terms with basic training will be overloaded by extra development, while someone who is performing well in their role but not being stretched will soon seek opportunities elsewhere.


Coaching is about long-term development of team members: understanding their strengths and weaknesses, taking time to learn about their aspirations and helping them to be the best they can be.

Make it a joint effort

For an SME to grow and be agile, everyone within it needs to reach their full potential. Encouraging people to take accountability and responsibility removes reliance from managers and allows them to develop their own roles and explore new, better solutions to business problems or identify new markets and opportunities.

Encouraging the sharing of ideas, rewarding self-sufficiency and proactivity and recognising when individuals are ready to move up a notch will all contribute to a healthy organisation with the ability to grow.