(Photo by Eoneren/iStock by Getty Images)

Throughout this year, several crises pushed U.S. companies to reexamine their ways of doing business, from moving employees to a remote-work environment to increasing their commitment to anti-racism in the workplace. For some companies, this transformational time provided an opportunity to make systemic change.

But how best to do it? When a company tackles a deep cultural shift, it has to go beyond the Human Resources office or directives from the C-suite. And it can’t be taught through training alone. There’s another way: coaching, when deployed in the right way and through the right framework, can prove to be a highly effective solution to drive systemic behavioral and cultural change.

That’s what an expert panel of coaches gathered to talk about in a webinar hosted by From Day One and AceUp, a company that facilitates a culture of coaching. Paul Tripp, an executive coach with AceUp, likened effective coaching to the narrative quality of a Disney ride. “As the individual grows, so does the company and their training,” he said. “It’s a bit like a ride where you go along and see different things as you move.”

Companies often start with the idea that they want individualistic coaching, according to Tripp, but he views coaching in three parts: as a company priority, a learning-and-development priority, and an individual priority. “Often the entryway is through the individual, like turning someone from a subject-matter expert into a manager,” he said. “But I think it’s more synergistic that that–when you deploy coaching it’s important to look beyond the individual.”

Our speakers, clockwise from upper left: Paul Tripp of AceUp, Belinda Tribley of Aclero, Kvon Tucker of Consciously and moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company (Image by From Day One)

Kvon Tucker, CEO and founder of Consciously, a purpose-driven leadership coaching firm, put it this way: “When I think about coaching and using it inside of organizations, I think of it as a strategic lever for the broader change the organization wants to create.”

Coaching should be utilized as one mechanism for company change, but “it cannot be the only thing that creates that shift,” explained Belinda Tribley, the founder of Aclero, a human-capital consulting and coaching firm, and executive coach for AceUp. “You have to tie in all sorts of underlying infrastructure as well.”

The buy-in has to come from the top, panelists stressed. “I want to know, where are the leaders at?” asked Tucker. “In my opinion, if they’re not personally invested in this change, if their purpose or their values are not attached to what they want to accomplish, then that systemic change isn’t going to happen.”

Once a company prioritizes coaching as an important component for the courageous conversations that lead to broader culture change, it can be utilized in multiple ways. One of the most important elements is finding the most influential people in the company, who are not necessarily the ones at the top of the org chart. Tucker said he listens for the employees mentioned most among the company, then works to get them on board with a coaching strategy.

Tripp seeks out a diverse range of employees beyond senior leadership, including the “steady Eddies,” the “high-risk, high-reward” employees, and organizational influencers. Tribley added that coaching within teams offers opportunities to establish clear communication structures based in respect, which can impact the broader company.

Coaching can effectively complement training, including diversity and equity training. Tripp shared a saying from his colleague: “Training without coaching is entertainment.” He followed with a story about a three-hour training session he led at a technology consulting company on how to onboard a client. He followed the session with group coaching–and found the real needs of the team were to figure out roles and responsibility. “The coaching really allows people to talk and identify those systemic things that come forward from training,” he noted.

Tribley noted that coaching effectiveness can and should be tracked with various tools: board reports, turnover statistics, shifts in employee competencies that are of strategic importance or represent the company's cultural values. Engagement surveys can measure “how comfortable people feel bringing their whole self to work,” she said.

Still, all the panelists stressed that coaching is not a cut-and-dried procedure with the same outcomes over the same timeframes. It’s a more fluid, bespoke experience–one that Tucker called a journey–which looks different for everyone.

“The relationship with the client and the organization is most important,” Tucker said. “At the tail end, when the client knows how to use the coach more effectively, you can run even faster whether it’s the organization or individual.”

Tucker cited a successful coaching relationship with a company that had a prevalence of fear in the workplace. Through coaching, the company committed to shifting toward a culture of courage. Tripp talked about utilizing coaching to help a Fortune 500 executive, a white man in his 40s, to kickstart a companywide conversation in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“It affected hundreds of people,” he recalled. “When the coaching conversation has the ability to touch upon issues that are difficult, that we haven’t talked about before in Corporate America, either through awareness of participation, that’s success.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this webinar: AceUp. Thank you as well to everyone who attended this webinar live. If you missed it, feel free to check out our replay here and visit our conference page to register for more upcoming events.

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.