Creating an effective coaching culture

10th January 2022 |   Claudia Filsinger

Creating an effective coaching culture

How embedded is coaching in your organisation?


In the past few decades, coaching has become an established professional learning method.

Some sales organisations have dedicated staff coaches, but leaders tend to underuse coaching to tap into the full potential and motivation of their teams. Frequently job ads for sales leaders include the requirement to coach; however, many feel underequipped, typically being offered only short coaching skills training but little continued coaching support. Many companies have the ambition to create a coaching culture, but underestimate the complexity and resources required to achieve it. This article explores best practices for creating an effective coaching culture and further gives recommendations on maintaining and evaluating it.

Let’s explore the fundamental question first: does coaching work and is it worth investing in a coaching culture? The use of coaching has increased, complementing established learning interventions and the research evidence of its effectiveness is robust. A recent review of quantitative studies concluded that workplace coaching does show a good effect size and on a variety of job-related outcome variables, as well as on resilience, confidence and career satisfaction (De Haan, 2021).

These findings are mirrored by numerous qualitative studies. In the context of sales, leaders have observed increased win rates and revenue, improved forecast accuracy, and a talent-retention effect amongst salespeople being coached. Sales coaching studies have also reported positive coaching outcomes, such as increased productivity and growth (Chapman et al, 2020). Oliver Tate, VP for Revenue Enablement at THG Ingenuity confirms these research findings with his own observations: “Mooney and Brinkerhoff (2008) showed how ineffective ‘sheep dip’ training and development experiences are: we need effective support and reinforcement for any behavioural change to stick. The most effective development is coaching, though combined with a learning programme with agreed outcomes and a supportive manager we provide the best chance of success.”

A study found sales managers’ motivation to coach was higher in organisations with long-term goals and behaviour-based performance measures.

What is a coaching culture?

A coaching culture is defined as coaching being the predominant style of managing and working together, with the organisation’s growth being embedded in growing people (Clutterbuck and Megginson, 2005). This understanding is aligned to contemporary leadership approaches such as servant and participative leadership.

Coaching assumes the coachee has the resources to find their own solution and the coach takes a facilitative approach. This is achieved through listening and questioning to raise self-awareness and critical thinking, tapping into best practices of how adults learn by using their motivation, playing to their strengths, and creating accountability.

Often leaders think they are coaching when they are in fact mentoring, meaning they pass on their own sales knowledge and experience. Both approaches are on a spectrum and sales coaching can contain an element of both, the skill here being the situational decision on what approach is most effective. The belief leaders hold about learning and their own potential to change influences their inclination to coach (Filsinger, 2016). Generally, the coaching potential in an organisation tends to be underused as it is a long-term investment in people development that has more potential to scale, yet takes more time in the short term.

Moving to a coaching culture is complex as it needs to be approached as an organisational change project aligned to organisational strategy, in order to increase the collective coaching capacity of the organisation (Lawrence 2015). Using a coaching culture model can help in identifying an organisation’s current coaching maturity and identifying actions towards embedding coaching into the business. Clutterbuck and Megginson (2005) offer a four-stage model as a road map:

  1. Nascent: coaching takes place but is often remedial in nature; not linked to business strategy; “nice-to-have”; mainly delivered by external coaches.
  2. Tactical: 1:1 coaching used to contribute to performance; managers get coach training; coaching led by HR.
  3. Strategic: managerial coaching is measured; coaching is main driver of performance; coaching widely used in teams and projects; peer coaching.
  4. Embedded: Coaching used for organisation development; driven by senior leaders who seek feedback on their coaching; coaching is the way business is done.

The diagnostic of the current and desired coaching maturity stage of an organisation can be undertaken by inquiring into and setting actions for improvements based on whether:

  • Coaching is linked to business drivers;
  • Being a coachee is encouraged and supported;
  • Coach training is provided;
  • Coaching is rewarded and recognised;
  • A systemic perspective of coaching is taken; and
  • The move to coaching is managed.

(Adapted from Clutterbuck and Megginson, 2005.)

Coaching modalities

The most used coaching model is GROW (Goal, Reality, Options, Way forward) as it is easily learned by the coach, can be used for short coaching conversations or spread over a number of coaching meetings, and is solution-focused (Whitmore, 2017). For the delivery of the coaching, companies use one or a combination of the following modalities:

  1. Leaders-as-coaches who use a coaching approach as part of their daily work, eg one to one or at team meetings.
  2. Internal coach pools made up of volunteers who coach colleagues from other teams in addition to their day job.
  3. Full-time staff coaches who are dedicated to coaching and are part of sales, eg in inside sales teams.
  4. External professional coaches who are contracted for a fixed number of coaching hours to work on agreed coaching objectives with individuals or teams.

Which combination an organisation uses depends on organisational goals and business drivers the coaching culture is in service of, as well as available resources (see Figure 1).

Coaching Culture Table
Figure 1: Characteristics of the four coaching modalities.

Whatever the modality of coaching, it is critical to position coaching as a talent initiative to avoid it being seen as remedial. Further, offering training for internal coaches to develop essential coaching and reflective thinking skills is essential to equip them for building trusting coaching relationships and achieve successful coaching outcomes. Marie Louise van Deutekom, Head of HR for the Global Customer Organisation at SUSE suggests: “While the best results are obtained in teams where all leaders adopt a coaching style, results can be achieved whilst focusing on first-line managers first.” The upfront investment required pays off, as the communication and thinking skills internal coaches develop are core leadership skills also benefiting customer interaction.

Maintaining a coaching culture

Leader-as-coaches are core to mature coaching cultures and sales professionals appear to like informal managerial coaching (Dixey, 2015). However, leaders of virtual teams generally have less opportunity for informal on-the-job coaching (Filsinger, 2016).

A study found sales managers’ motivation to coach was higher in organisations with long-term goals and behaviour-based performance measures (Pousa and Mathieu, 2010). However, ongoing budgets for managing the coaching infrastructure, development and supervising of managerial coaches are often lacking – this is detrimental to maintaining a coaching culture.

Ethically, managerial coaching is the most challenging coaching context due to the requirement for managers to flip between a coaching and more directive performance management style. This can make maintaining confidentiality at an appropriate level challenging, but coaches can develop this skill with the help of an experienced coaching supervisor and through peer learning groups.


Organisations tend to do better with evaluating interventions they have funded with budgets, meaning external or staff coaches. Still, evaluating coaching delivered by leaders and internal volunteer coaches is equally important to get a full picture of the maturity of the coaching culture and to reveal potential issues: for example, research on mentoring has revealed the potential for learning relationships to go toxic.

Typically, the focus in measuring learning outcomes is on business results. However, these outcome-based, so called “lag measures” are often not controllable by the individual and would take complex research studies to isolate the effects of coaching. More viable measures are input activities, so called “lead measures” as KPIs. This goes for both the coaching input activities (such as number of coaching meetings, hours of coach training) as well as the quantitative job-related lead measures of the coachees (such as number of customer interactions and accuracy of related data).

Qualitative measures are also important as they influence the effectiveness of the interaction: for example, what is the quality of the coaching or customer interaction regarding communication, preparation, meeting management and post-meeting activities? With whom is time spent? Are coachees staying in their comfort zone or is the customer network expanding to important future stakeholders resulting in new pipeline?

The topics discussed in coaching are additional indicators of how the coaching culture is maturing. It is common practice for external coaches to share coaching themes with organisations whilst maintaining anonymity of the individual coachee. This is an impactful way to evaluate progress on organisational strategy and contributes to organisation development.

Kathrin O’ Sullivan, a Silicon Valley–based executive coach with a sales background working primarily with senior leaders in the tech industry, recommends that “giving people permission to be vulnerable with managers can contribute to creating a coaching culture and growth mindset. A primary focus on sharing successes makes employees and leaders feel great on the surface, but it doesn’t leave room for discussing what is hard or where people feel stuck. If people are encouraged to share their struggles with their managers they can get to the heart of their issue and co-create solutions that will allow reaping the benefits of a true coaching culture: more trust, better relationships that lead to increased employee engagement and retention, more substantial buy-in into the company’s vision, mission and core values, and accelerated employee growth.”

Therefore, to evaluate how the organisation is doing overall, coaching should be made part of organisation development KPIs. Marie Louise van Deutekom, Head of HR at the Global Customer Organisation at SUSE suggests: “Results in a sales organisation are of course reflected in the attainment of targets, but employee survey results from questions on manager support and effectiveness are a good additional source of evidence of success.”

In addition, self-reported qualitative measures by the employees are important to consider, such as managing fear of failure, increasing confidence and self-awareness, as these are common factors impacting performance. Further, 360-feedback data from colleagues and customers on quality of communication, collaboration and behaviours in line with competency frameworks and organisational values are also useful qualitative KPI measures.


There is robust evidence for the effectiveness of coaching. Creating a coaching culture is a complex change process and should be approached as such. The coaching culture model is a useful tool to diagnose the coaching maturity of a company and to identify steps for increasing collective coaching capacity.

As coaching can raise ethical dilemmas, we saw that regardless of the coaching modalities an organisation works with, coaching infrastructure support is required. Ongoing coach development and support with individual and group-based reflective practice groups, as well as overall evaluation, maintain a coaching culture.

Offering a coaching development path for those especially passionate about coaching can be an employee motivator: for example, supporting internal coaches with accreditation by a professional coaching body.

Developing a coaching culture and the coaching capacity of employees are valuable for leaders and sales professionals working in the current context of high complexity and uncertainty, as it raises self-awareness, self-coaching and critical thinking capacity that benefits not just the organisation but also partners and customers.


David Clutterbuck and David Megginson, Making Coaching Work, CIPD, 2005.

Tim Chapman, Lynn Pickford, Tony Smith, Coaching Winning Sales Teams, Emerald Publishing, 2020.

Angie Dixey, “Managerial coaching: A formal process or a daily conversation?” International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 2015, Special Issue 9, pp.77-89.

Claudia Filsinger, “The remote line manager as coach – How to square the triangle of coaching direct reports across geographies and culture,” Future of Work Hub (online), 2016.

Erik de Haan, What Works in Executive Coaching? Routledge, 2021.

Paul Lawrence, “Managerial Coaching: A literature review,” International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 2017, Vol. 15(2), pp.43-69.

Tim Mooney and Robert Brinkerhoff, Courageous training: bold actions for business results, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2008.

Claudio Pousa and Anne Mathieu, “Sales Managers’ Motivation to Coach Salespeople: an exploration using expectancy theory”, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, 2010, Vol. 8(1), pp.34-50.

John Whitmore, Coaching for Performance, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2017.

Founder at Moving Maps Ltd | + posts

Claudia Filsinger is the Founder of Moving Maps Ltd, a business consultancy offering emerging experiential learning and coaching methods that change mental maps. As well as being a workshop facilitator and accredited executive coach herself, she also trains and supervises other coaches.