While Coaching in sports and academics has shown tangible value, I have often wondered, what is the real value of coaching to an organization, its culture, and delivering value to the business? This power talk by business leaders from two highly respected organizations – Google and Microsoft that have embraced coaching, addressed this as part of ICF Coaching Conclave 2021, India. 

Madhuri Duggirala, Senior Executive, Google India, has 23+ years of technical experience across the globe, with strong experience in managing, building, and delivering end-user products and services, cloud platform solutions, and Ads media services that serve millions of customers resulting in higher revenues for the organization. 

Miss Madhuri initiated her talk recollecting a quote by Bill Gates (which he famously gave in a TED talk), “Everybody needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you are a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player”. We all need people who give feedback to improve. Coaching enables better performance. She narrated her personal anecdote. While she was in a leadership coaching session with a few directors around her, the coach asked how many of them wanted to be CEOs in the next 10 years. Surprisingly, only 20% rose their hands. Later the coach explained, the question was how many WANT to become CEOs. The question wasn’t how many WILL become CEOs. She realized we limit our beliefs; our dreams have to be skyrocketing. We need to aim for the sky and that is where we wish to be. ‘How to reach?’ is the path, do not worry about the path. From then, she was the first to raise up while she was asked similar questions. The reason she believes is the Coaching she has undergone. She has received coaching from leaders, peers, executive coaches. 

The shift in the belief and the outlook that a simple coaching conversation can bring about is incomprehensible.

Google and the tryst with Coaching

She shared key aspects of coaching across organizations including Google. Many organizations aspire to include the culture of coaching in organizations. The complexity increases as organizations scale up. In Google, the approach is with a notion of building a coaching culture amidst an ever-changing business and ever-growing employee population.

It’s not enough to develop a culture, it’s important to sustain the culture by developing a coaching mindset and applying coaching skills regularly.

She shared some of the learning beliefs of Google that capture how learning is a process and how actually learning happens in real life. Hearing about a successful organization like Google & its learning philosophy was extremely insightful.

People are the biggest asset to any organization. Coaching has to be an integral part of an organization for the employees to thrive. Since coaching culture helps people at all levels. They may have excellent vision and bold goals but for the people to achieve them, a coaching culture is necessary. Coaching culture develops bonds between people, establishes open communications, and increases employee engagement. Therefore the implementation of a coaching culture not only helps the individuals but also the organizations to succeed.

Coaching for the VUCA World

I sense the urgency to deploy Coaching enterprise-wide because it enables dealing with the unknown. The workplace is very volatile. Not everyone possesses the expertise to deal with the VUCA world. The beauty of coaching is we do not need everything to be effective. We have coaches, leaders around who motivate us to deal with the world, clear the mist, bring awareness, and voila! We are not afraid of dealing with the unknown. 

As I was listening to Madhuri, all the ideas of how Google furthers its employees to look inward, look outward, and look forward to aspiring and achieving their personal and professional goals, I was appreciating the vision of the leaders at the helm to create such a supportive culture. No doubt, Google innovates at supersonic speed!!!

I truly feel that organizations can take a leaf out of Google’s enviable culture that tops up the training with group coaching, executive coaching, and wellbeing initiatives. The reason I say this is because while Organizations want a collaborative culture, they get stuck with back-to-back training programs. A wholesome program that wraps wellness and healing initiatives, team and peer coaching is the need of the hour. 

Quoting Google’s philosophy:

“We want employees to come to work and thrive at work; not survive at work”. 

Miss Madhuri attributes her success to executive coaches as well as her manager and leaders who have shaped her into becoming an impactful leader 

Irina Ghose was the second speaker of the session, She is the Executive Director of cloud Solutions, Microsoft India. She has led the Specialist teams for both Azure and MS 365. Irina is a marathon runner, music lover, D&I champion, and won the ‘Inspirational Women Award’ at Microsoft. She is also the founder of MyLittleBit that supports underprivileged girls, Trustee in SonderConnet, the foundation for women entrepreneurs.

Coaching: A pivotal element at Microsoft 

Miss Irina Ghose explained the timeline of Microsoft starting from Personal Computing, Server Products, Solution Transformation to the final cloud First Mobile First. She explained how the business transformed, the relevance of coaching and why coaching was pivotal for Microsoft. Over the years of transformation, they understood the importance of internal drivers as well as external drives that were changing. 

Miss Irina expresses tremendous happiness while sharing how the entire organization transitioned under the leadership of Sathya Nadella. It was a different journey undertaken in every aspect, how he brought a change in things that mattered the most internally and externally to Microsoft. The company focused on becoming customer-centric. The coaching culture was created when Sathya Nadella became the head. They realized that change was necessary not in the talent, but in how existing talent imbibed the culture to create the future. Taking the Fixed mindset across to a Growth mindset was the cultural transition at Microsoft. 

Coaching Culture: A culture of Transformation

We all have heard, read, and seen the significant shift Satya brought and accelerated Microsoft to the next orbit, the cultural values were streamlined and well embraced by the teams alike. As a young leader, I was baffled at the way this was done at a company with the scale of Microsoft. Irina answers a part of it below:

The Managers were the Pivot for Change, who followed a simple philosophy –

How can the managers as leaders show up to be a model and lead the way! How can they create a culture of Coaching! How do they achieve it in a manner that the employees feel they are cared for!

Coaching culture was driven by business.

The coaches/managers must “Create Clarity, Generate Energy, Deliver Success”.

A culture of transformation ensued: 

  1. This brought in a lot of cultural transformation. For everything that is done this is a story that is shared with customers. From the digital transformation that was talked about, the first pillar while discussing digital transformation is People Centricity, the investment in people. 
  2. Coaching later expanded to customers and partners. In the era of the internet world, everyone has access to information. How could the organization, on meeting the customers and partners, create the trust to attract more of them. 
  3. Drawing inspiration outside-in. Instead of speaking, a habit of listening has to be inculcated.
  4. Thinking about the smallest executable step that should be taken for the next two weeks and as well for a measurable period of time, shows success.
  5. Placing many bets and trying many ideas. Sathya Nadella says, “Everyone bets on a lot of ideas. Some make it, some don’t. It’s the law of averages and one who makes it, really count”
  6. Driving Creativity and Innovation at all levels. This pertains to who people become in the way of taking up the entire journey. They become more inclusive.

I was impressed by the vision Microsoft had to embed coaching as a part of the culture. Their program titled “Super Coach Training” paves the way for this grand vision. The motive was to have a definite number of Super coaches in Microsoft worldwide who in turn would become coaches internally and ensure that they help others who like to step into the Coaching arena. Such a supportive, involving, and the progressive system is in place to put Coaching first in an organization. 

Lessons from the Journey 

The journey of transformation looks beautiful and inspiring but what are the toughest challenges, failures, and learnings?

We need to be patient and tolerant of failure. When one is changing the culture towards becoming a coach, managers are still in the dilemma – how to manage a business and hire to ensure coaching drives business. Nobody can be successful on the first go. Leaders must walk the entire journey with them is critically important. They must share their stories of failure and help in setting realistic, timely goals and milestones to measure success. 

Which is better for the organization – In-house coaching or external?

Miss Irina says, at Microsoft, they adopt both. In-house coaches have perspectives, based on the development that coaching demands. Also, it is important to have an external coach, because they can identify the blind spots with a neutral perspective. In addition to Irina, Madhuri feels the decision is dependent on the situation.

What is the starting point for coaching?

Miss Madhuri feels coaching is learning for herself; after coaching someone she always walks back with new insights. That is why she motivates all to be coaches. However, for one to be a coach, he/she needs certain experience and expertise. She has set a standard for promotion, which depends on the number of people they have mentored or coached within the organization. Coaching is beyond a leadership activity, anybody can be a coach. If someone has the skill to offer, he/she can share it and help others rise.

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