On Creating a Coaching Culture

Here is this month’s piece from Brand Velocity, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that is putting Peter Drucker’s ideas into practice at major corporations.

Peter Drucker was the first to teach that today’s workers should be treated as assets instead of costs. And there is no finer way to realize the full value of those assets than to coach them to their full potential.

Indeed, coaching people is to knowledge-work as training is to manual work. Coaching is even better, however, because manual work has physical limits whereas knowledge work has near-infinite potential.

And then there is an added bonus: Coaching others can turn management from a pedestrian job into a personal joy. As an executive at Coca-Cola and a consultant at Brand Velocity, I’ve seen that good coaching can provide the giver with even greater returns than it does the receiver.

Coaching is most joyful when someone is stuck and we, as managers, propel that person to achieve a meaningful breakthrough.

The best coaches help others achieve their goals by sharpening their skills and providing them with direct, unvarnished feedback—while also motivating them to reach new heights.

As the late Tom Landry, the legendary coach of the Dallas Cowboys, put it, a coach is “someone who can tell you what you don’t want to hear and make you see what you don’t want to see so you can be everything you’ve always known you can be.”

Many companies credit their mentoring efforts with increasing both performance and job satisfaction. A great example is Lululemon Athletica, which preaches self-betterment through exercise and positive thinking.

The company’s employees take part in a formal goal-setting program, based on a 10-year plan, which breaks down into three areas: health, personal and career. “Goal coaches” guide them along.

As you may well know, Lululemon has been in the news of late—and for all the wrong reasons, including defective yoga pants and questions about executive bonuses. Should the company weather the storm—and I suspect it will—that will be due, in no small part, to a strong culture that has made its employees loyal and feel a true sense of esprit de corps. Much of that culture is built on coaching.

At its best, coaching can unleash the power of the human spirit—for the employee and manager alike.

My guess is that it will also help turn Lululemon into lemonade.

—Jack Bergstrand