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How coaching can help develop a culture of humility

Sam Isaacson Sam Isaacson

Re-acting to recent world events, we've seen our clients evolve to take a more collaborative approach and demonstrate greater humility to their colleagues. Sam Isaacson spoke to IBM's coaching lead about holding deeper conversations and how they can be used to drive cultural change.

Jennifer Paylor is a 2020 Gold Stevie Award winner and Global Coaching Leader at IBM Enterprise Operations. As a patented and published inventor of an innovative coaching system, her current responsibilities include overseeing the world’s largest internal coaching practice across more than 170 countries. 

At a recent online event, Jennifer shared insights on coaching strategies and how they can unlock diverse and emotional conversations that drive change.

Improve organisational culture through coaching 

Coaching empowers people by enhancing their insights and capabilities. During lockdown, co-operation and curiosity are key elements in driving culture and both are a product of humility, geared toward building healthy relationships.

For coaching to be effective and truly drive positive change, it must echo throughout the entire organisation, at every level and in every conversation. Coaches should focus less on driving a 'coaching culture' and more on improving culture through coaching, which will help solve some of the greater challenges we face. 

For example, Jennifer meets with senior executives twice per month for the first six months, and then once per month for 12 months. That is reduced to once per quarter thereafter for 'maintenance'. It's always good to have a clear decision and plan over whether to continue, close or maintain the engagement.

Intellectual humility and curiosity

Across all sectors, your current challenges are increasingly complex and require a collaborative approach. But, how do we have the right conversations to crack the humility code in ourselves, with our leaders, and with people outside of our organisations?

Recent events have pushed many of us to have conversations around emotional and psychological health, and humility is the key starting point. Coaching can support a shift from a 'know-it-all', to a 'learn-it-all' culture. This means being curious and excited about learning, taking perspective, and admitting that we don't know everything.

Martin Luther King Jr said:

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”

We're all interconnected. We might not be able to connect the dots, but we do impact each other. And for coaching, it's really important to connect with people as human beings. If we're not creating the connection or creating the change, then we're not meeting each other's needs.

Cracking the humility code

Emotional conversations are becoming more common in the workplace, but to handle these, we have to be careful about releasing built-up emotions before we're ready. We often suppress emotions because we haven't built up the coping mechanisms to deal with them.

We can use the Cracking the H Code model to help leaders have the right conversations. This will be expanded on in Jennifer’s upcoming book on coaching, but as an overview, the model consists of:

Creating connection 

  • Scratch the surface - start by getting to know the other person, raising awareness and understanding what their point of view is
  • Beneath the surface - get curious and go further in creating a connection; start having a deeper level of conversation 
  • Connect the core - have one of the strongest conversations, understanding the emotions and consciously choosing how deep of a connection you want to create

Creating change

  • Navigate the system - have a conversation around the systems, and figure out which pieces are working together
  • Disrupt the system - ask how you disrupt the system and what that looks like when you're trying to create change
  • Dismantle the system - take action, creating change through what you’ve learned together

These paths don't need to proceed in parallel, as they form part of a much-larger model with several features that can be applied in various contexts.

Coaching conversations using the framework above are particularly helpful when there isn’t a clear goal or intention going into the conversation. This is a way to identify the goal or intention of the conversation before you enter into it, either to create a connection or create change. It's most effective to make one choice for each conversation.

Also, there is no requirement to 'create the connection' before starting with the levels in 'creating change'. As a matter of fact, when you're coaching transformational leaders or passionate change agents in an organisation, a lot of time can be spent figuring out how to 'navigate the system' and 'creating connection' can lead to disengagement if they want to 'create change'. Clarifying intentions at the outset leads to increased buy-in and better outcomes.

Blue Core Coaching 

Coaching culture is impacted when organisations are not able to see freedom as closely tied to the existence of a human being.

IBM has created a culture where conversations are held to create change. This underpinned the IBM Blue Core Coaching Programme, in which IBM employees self-select to upskill themselves as coaches in a transformational experience.

The coaching environment is designed in a way that provides a level of psychological safety, sanctuary, relief and freedom from busy everyday life, where they can bring their whole selves. People practice heart-to-heart conversations in a space of freedom, where they can be their authentic self. 

Conversation is innate in a human being, yet many people don’t have the opportunity to talk. And so, this entire programme was based, at the very core, on the power of conversation.

By giving employees the freedom to be a part of the programme, those that joined it started to feel like their talents matter, which has created change at all levels. This freedom, alongside having a level of human humility, enables conversations that move both the individual and the wider organisation forward.

If you'd like to discuss how to develop humility through coaching, contact Sam Isaacson

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