Develop a coaching culture in your organization

By Matthew Philpott

As a manager, you may be tempted to give employees precise directions and closely oversee each project and interaction to get everything exactly how you want it. But that approach can prove exhausting and counterproductive.

Coaching your team members to find their own conclusions is a better strategy — it fosters growth and sometimes can uncover hidden insights, said Melisa Galasso, CPA, CGMA, founder of Galasso Learning Solutions in Charlotte, N.C. She spoke Thursday at the AICPA ENGAGE 2019 conference in Las Vegas.

Galasso explained that coaching is more than giving advice and providing direction. Building a coaching environment means emphasizing self-awareness and personal growth to help your employees realize their full potential. It creates the type of environment where employees can discover solutions to problems on their own.

“A lot of times it gives them a feeling of ownership over the answer,” Galasso said. “And it empowers them to use that thought process the next time around.”

Not every organization can dedicate resources to a full-time coaching program, but there are a few best practices managers can follow to create a coaching culture in the workplace. Here are some Galasso recommended:

Ask powerful questions. Instead of merely telling employees what to do, a coaching environment is centered on helping them find their own answers. It emphasizes “pulling” rather than “pushing” conversations.

“Coaching as a culture is asking the questions that encourage conversation and reflection,” Galasso said. “That’s what we’re focusing on: the self-discovery that leads to engagement.”

Galasso suggested using nondirective lines of questioning, treating training as a dialogue rather than simply leading others to what you consider the correct answer. Ask questions the person being coached wouldn’t think to ask themselves, work to find blind spots in their reasoning, and make sure to give them space to respond, she said.

“Instead of telling them what to do, ask questions that let them realize they have the answers already,” she said.

Practice proactive listening. After asking powerful questions, Galasso said, comes the part that might prove the most difficult: keeping your mouth shut.

Once you’ve asked a question, she said, don’t hurry to fill that silence. Give the other person the opportunity to consider an answer or ask a follow-up question. Leaving that silence encourages reflection, allowing them to think for themselves and build skills to take away from coaching and incorporate into their day-to-day tasks.

Build trust. Though all companies want trust as a key element of their culture, trust is particularly important to coaching, Galasso said. Helping your employees find their own answers can only work if they are confident in the process. Be available to ask questions, and make sure your employees understand the purpose of coaching is to help them discover better paths, not to punish them for exploring what may turn out to be dead ends, she said.

“Be reliable and nonjudgmental,” Galasso said. “If you’re judging them on their answers, that’s going to lead to someone not wanting to come into the process and be engaged.”

Take care to give your employees the benefit of the doubt, and make sure they know they have it. Starting from a place of generosity, from the assumption that everyone is earnestly working their best and with the best intentions, lets employees know they are free to explore ideas with confidentiality and without judgment, she said.

Matthew Philpott is a freelance writer based in North Carolina. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Ken Tysiac, the JofA’s editorial director, at

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