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Using Coaching to Impact Organizational Culture


CEOs and leadership teams are charged with the management of people in complex organizations. Great leaders create a culture in their companies that drives the results they want to achieve. It is the leader of an organization who is in the best position to influence culture change.  No one person, however, can change an entire culture. Influencing culture requires obtaining the trust and enhancing the motivation and capabilities of those who follow.  The leader has the potential to create the setting that becomes a powerful source of identification and commitment for employees (Schein, 1992). Coaching can help leaders achieve this.

The attitudes, assumptions and beliefs that guide a companys characteristic way of doing business define a companys culture. Organizational culture can be a major factor in a companys success or failure over time. Cultural characteristics and principles may be obvious or not so obvious.  Sometimes they are the least obvious to those who are embedded within the companys way of doing and perceiving things.  Also, culture in large institutions is complex because there may be sub-cultures that operate in different parts of the company.  On an individual level, it is not always apparent to leaders how their own behavior (or that of their managers) models, teaches, and reinforces the company culture.  

In coaching, it is often necessary to assess and change the companys culture over time so that business goals can be achieved and high performance reinforced at every level. The CEO may request a coach to help design a plan for culture change, define key characteristics of the desired future culture, and solve problems related to the barriers and resistance to change. Cultural change is also facilitated by coaching key managers in other areas of the organization, particularly in large and complex corporations. Coaching for culture change at multiple levels should be coordinated at the level of top leadership and very tightly linked to strategy.  In other situations, coaching may occur at a department or sub-unit level to bring its culture into alignment with the overall culture of the company.  An important benefit of coaching is the increased effectiveness of leaders to coach those who look to them for mentoring.  

A companys culture impacts bottom line financial outcomes and in some cases is cited as the key factor determining the failure of a merger. In a large-scale survey (Galpin & Herndon, 2000, p. 236):

  • 57% of companies cited resistance to change as a risk to their mergers success.

  • Seventy-three percent (73%) cited leadership as being the reason for the success of their merger and acquisition and

  • 35% cited cultural compatibility as being the reason for the success of their merger and acquisition. 

Other data (Denison, 1990) suggests that certain cultural indices, such as mission (a meaningful long-term direction), involvement (strong capability/ownership), consistency (values and systems) and adaptability (responsiveness to the business environment) are significantly related to a companys return on investments, return on assets, sales growth, customer satisfaction, and other outcomes.

A few examples of coaching leaders to promote culture change include: (1) enhancing employee commitment and involvement in a company with an increasingly challenging marketplace;  (2) anticipating problems from integrating two companies with differing cultures, and planning strategies to address conflict and competition for control;  (3) assisting a new CEO to define his or her vision for the company when the former CEO and founder departs; and (4) increasing employee focus throughout on profitability, efficiency, and collaboration.

In other words, executive coaching can play a powerful role in changing organizational culture.  Finding executive coaches, like Industrial and Organizational Psychologists, who are both interpersonally effective and also are trained and experienced in group dynamics, leadership development, and program design for assessing and measuring both individuals (e.g., attitudes, motivation) and business organizations (e.g., results, culture, climate) is particularly important to ensure there is a link between coaching activities and organizational outcomes.    


Galpin, T. J. & Herndon M. (2000). The complete guide to mergers and acquisitions: Process tools to support M & A integration at every level. Jossey-Bass. 

Denison, D. R. (1990). Corporate culture and organizational effectiveness. Wiley.  

Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership. Jossey-Bass. 

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