Susan Mawer

Coaching Culture as a Catalyst for Transformative Performance

Harnessing culture makes capital sense. Rethink the power of a coaching culture.

Culture is dead. Long live culture.

The idiom from the 1400s, “The King is dead. Long live the King.”, acknowledges the past while welcoming future possibilities. 

Corporate culture is exactly like this. In its traditional guise, rich in attractive intangibles and the unmeasurable, its days are done. But culture  carries the power and potential of renewal, so it still resonates in the rapid-paced vortex of today’s business context.

Talent leaders can no longer use culture as a catch-all to avert accountability. Equally, CEOs need to realise that a robust and relevant culture is fundamental to the company’s performance (and sometimes its very survival).

coaching culture bridges these positions. The importance of the company’s workforce is no longer debatable. Its collective talent is often the organisation’s most important asset, or the single, critical competitive differentiator. Only by shifting employees’ mindsets, and elevating their capabilities and agility, can a business survive change, thrive in the short term, and safeguard its profits and position on a longer horizon.

But people’s attitudes to employer organisations, and their views of work itself, have shifted. The Great Resignation may have been triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic – and it may now be fading in some countries and sectors – but it is symptomatic of malaise with companies that pay lip service to human-centric work.

The Quiet Quitting issue runs deeper. Problematically, at 23%, the most recent average worldwide employee engagement level is very low, and the trend shows only marginal upticks over the past 15 years. The estimated global cost of this lost productivity is $8.8tn, roughly 8% of the world’s GDP. The last, pre-pandemic gauge specifically for South Africa reflected a shocking 9% engagement level, with 45% of the country’s workforce actively disengaged. It can be assumed, then, compared to the worldwide average, that SA and its enterprises forfeit an even higher proportion of potential productivity.

The encouraging statistic is that best practice companies have hugely better engagement levels, consistently at 70% or more. They cultivate excellence precisely by embracing a human-centric ethos at the heart of their operations.

"The encouraging statistic is that best practice companies have hugely better engagement levels, consistently at 70% or more. They cultivate excellence precisely by embracing a human-centric ethos at the heart of their operations. "

So the logical culture guide is that people need to be holistically supported – their aspirations nurtured, their performance recognised, careers progressed, and their wellbeing considered. Coaching culture is the transformative solution.

What comprises a coaching culture? It is not, in isolation, mandatory training and study, watchful supervision, regular one-on-one sessions, mentorship programmes for everyone. It possibly involves all of these, and more. More holistically, it is an inclusive system which strategically embeds collaboration, connectedness, learning and improvement, both internally and in its approach to external stakeholders. The strategy aspect is key, because coaching culture has a goal: to gear individual and organisational performance and create increased, shared value.[1]

In practical terms the strategy translates into a performance ecosystem incorporating role-specific performance coaching, learning in the flow of work, career counselling and mapping, team upskilling, business development programmes, executive coaching, and employee wellness initiatives.

The ecosystem develops people towards work mastery. Emphases differ according to employee level, function and role: junior rising stars may be earmarked for mentorships; middle-management team leaders steered in aspects of collaboration; senior leadership in strategy and complex decision-making.

In his book The Fifth Discipline, MIT organisational systems academic Peter Senge notes that “[p]ersonal mastery is the foundation on which organisational learning is built”. A coaching culture, pushing the improvement and development of each employee, underpins the quest for mastery.

It also supports the motivation for change. Transformation – whether towards digital maturity, pivoting to a new business model, or to stay competitive in a disrupted industry – is top of the CEO agenda, worldwide.[2]

But the key word is motivation. This is the most significant predictor of success, according to leading psychology researcher Dr Anders Ericsson. It is in people’s nature to want to flourish, but what do we need to flourish? Intrinsic motivation flows from a combination of competence, autonomy and relatedness – that meaningful connection and sense of belonging.[3]

When intrinsic motivation knits together an organisation’s talent pool there is a far greater likelihood of a growth mindset, goal-orientation, and accountability for high performance. Motivation, overlaid with engagement, propels productivity to more than double that of employees who are simply satisfied.[4]

Real engagement

Engagement: often it is a catchphrase to paper over problems with a restless workforce. To grasp its proper meaning, consider the story of U.S. president John F. Kennedy’s 1962 visit to NASA to see how the moon mission was progressing. Introduced to the gamut of scientists and team leaders, he veered away to shake hands with a janitor. “What do you do here?” JFK asked in polite politician style. “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon,” the man replied, bemused.

The story is probably apocryphal, but it perfectly illustrates a coaching culture in operation, one in which every employee believes in the organisation’s purpose and takes pride in, and accountability for, their role towards achieving it.

It also provides a benchmark to know when a coaching culture is working: even the lowliest employees are advocates for the company.

Stories are moving, powerful even, but does culture deliver results?

The evidence confirms that it does. An Oxford University-affiliated study on listed companies concluded that those with healthy cultures are respectively 1.5 times and 2.5 times more likely to report 15%-plus revenue growth over three consecutive years, and to achieve increased market valuations each year. Intriguingly, the most significant culture inputs contributing to these gains were “a sense of community” and “executive investment in employees”. Although ranking lower, diversity, too, is one of the human-centric culture considerations driving improved outcomes.

Meanwhile, analysts and investors are demanding more detailed disclosure and information about organisations’ cultures in corporate reporting. Culture, it turns out, is invaluable despite being – for those who don’t keep a probative, open mind – supposedly unquantifiable.

And what about, specifically, a coaching culture? It should be enough to itemise just a few of the world’s elite, 10X companies that have a coaching culture: Airbnb, Ford, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Pfizer.

Still, what’s the bottom line?

Visionary corporate leaders are able to answer the question, “Where do you see the company in 20 years’ time?”. The related, practical and hands-on leadership requirement is to guide and steer – to coach – the company along the path to get there.

Daniel Coyle, in The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, writes that “culture is a set of living relationships working towards a shared goal…it’s not something you are, it’s something you do”.

And so culture needs to work for the company. The reverse is also true: a successful, ambitious business will not maintain productivity and results without nurturing the engine of high performance – a coaching culture.

Culture is dead; it is also re-announcing itself, and businesses should listen when they hear its bell ring through corporate corridors.


[1] Gormley, H., & van Nieuwerburgh, C. J. (2014). Developing coaching cultures: A review of the literature. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice,  [Taylor & Francis Online] and Hawkins, P. (2012). Creating a coaching culture: Developing a coaching strategy for your organization. [Google Scholar]

[2] Winning today’s race while running tomorrow’s, PwC’s 26th Annual Global CEO Survey, 2023. See p4, “change”, “transition”, “disruption” mentioned as significant challenges to profitability.

[3] Ryan, R.M., and Deci, E.L., Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being, in American Psychologist (January 2000, p70, extract here.)

[4] Bain & Company and The Economist Intelligence Unit research (2015), as detailed in Engaging Your Employees Is Good, but Don’t Stop There, Harvard Business Review (2015). Productivity of inspired employees is indexed 225 compared to baseline of satisfied employees.

Share this

What to read next

Bridging the skills gap

Bridging the skills gap to unleash progress: Africa 2050

By 2050, Africa is set to boast a workforce exceeding 1 billion people, an impressive 60% of whom will be under 25 years old. This demographic boom presents a rare opportunity for businesses to leverage the world’s largest labour pool and utilise technology to amplify their impact both on the continent and in people’s lives.

Read More »
LRMG - Shaping the Cybersecurity Vanguard

Shaping the Cybersecurity Vanguard

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, our mission as leaders is clear: guide the next generation. We’ve learned the hard way, and now it’s time to share our insights. By emphasizing resilience, critical thinking, and the importance of collaboration, we can equip young minds to stay one step ahead of cyber threats. Join us in shaping the future of cybersecurity.

Read More »

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource.

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource

Fill in the form below and we will give you access to this exciting resource


Career Dreams

Fast track career growth in the new world of work:

Certified learning paths that build relevant skills and competencies

Invigorate your skills development offering:

University-certified online and blended short learning courses

Rapidly improve your scorecard metrics:

B-BBEE (South Africa) and other scorecard solutions

Trusted certification:

Digitally enabled learning solutions supported by dedicated teams of Wits, Queen's University Belfast, UFS and GIBS academics and experience managers

Real-world scarce skills training for youth:

Find, recruit and custom train youth to your demand-led specs, getting them work-ready and employable


We find the talent, match personalities and abilities to your culture fit, and then train them to meet your digital skills needs

Comply with your B-BBEE, transformation and skills levy agenda:

Rapidly improve your scorecard metrics: create a talent pipeline for 4IR, ICT and Tech-future Skills

Work-ready graduates and interns:

We find the candidates (or you find them). We train them to use your technology and digital systems within the defined roles


Sales and Unlock Customer Value

Discover why your customers buy what they buy:

Learn to meet customers’ social, emotional and functional requirements

Activate and strengthen sales team engagement:

Digital sales activation challenges

Cultivate a performance-based sales culture:

Sales leadership and culture solutions

Mobilise the right sales strategy:

Sales strategy validation and optimisation

Accelerate sales pipelines and spark growth:

Customer-centric sales strategy

Grow and sustain critical sales capabilities:

Digital learning content for Sales


People Productivity

Engage for sustainable high performance:

Human capital strategy, learning strategy and transformation

Future-fit your organisation for success:

Learning and talent assessments, talent management and people balance sheet planning

Connect learning journeys to performance outcomes:

Onboarding, talent development and learning mapped to your individual and company needs

Move the needle on learning experiences:

Smart learning and talent experience platforms, tools and digital learning assets

Upskill people with new digital smarts:

Digital learning content (customised or plug-and-play)


A Performance Culture

Talent management:

Make better future-fit data-driven decisions for your talent and organisation

Strategy and change:

Inspire your people to change and ignite their passion to deliver business results

Leadership and culture:

Enable your leadership teams to create their unique brand and to build new high-performance habits and behaviours

Digital transformation:

Enable people processes through digital technologies that transform performance

Talent assessments:

Better understand your people's strengths and your team’s productive habits to compete and win

Performance enablement:

Create a culture of feedback that actively measures performance


Leadership Perspectives

Establish a high-performance culture:

Interactive multimedia inspirational stories

Unlock new thinking and shift mindsets:

More than 13 intriguing true stories of high performance

Empower leaders and teams:

Expertly facilitated moderated conversations

Build new habits for high performance:

Smart toolboxes to activate habits for success