Improving Your Culture: Do You Need Coaching or Consulting?

May 17, 2022
May 17, 2022 Jamie Notter

If you want to improve your workplace culture, you either do it on your own, or you get the help of an expert. And when you’re getting expert help, you have essentially three options: training, coaching, or consulting.

Training is the DIY approach, and it’s the most clear-cut. Find out what courses the culture expert offers, take the courses, and then apply the learning inside your own organization. At PROPEL, we offer that service in our online learning platform, PROPEL Plus.

The difference between coaching and consulting, however, can be less clear, simply because the culture experts out there all have a different approach to how they do the work. What one expert calls coaching, another might call consulting.

For example, I’m a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. Many of my colleagues there are leadership coaches who I have seen define coaching in terms of helping their clients come up with their own solutions, as opposed to consulting, which they categorize as experts telling the client what to do.

But telling clients what to do is simply one TYPE of consulting. As a consultant, I am frequently helping my clients develop their own solutions, particularly when it comes to culture (it’s their culture, not mine!), though I do tell them what process to use to come up with their own solutions, and that’s the key distinction here.

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When it comes to culture, consulting involves taking clients through a structured process that results in them designing and changing their own culture. Coaching, on the other hand, involves work with a single leader or a leadership team to help them figure out what they need to do to design and change their culture. Both culture coaching and culture consulting are based in the expert’s methodology, and they both result in an intentionally designed culture, but coaching will allow the client to pick and choose which pieces to employ at what time. Consulting is for clients that see the value in the process that has already been designed, and they want the consultant to implement that process.

That’s why we at PROPEL have options for both.

We’ve been doing culture design consulting for years now. Our process takes six to twelve months, including a culture assessment and creating an internal team to develop a set of culture priorities and then a playbook of action items that will move the culture in the direction of the priorities. That’s consulting: use our process, that we facilitate, and you’ll start building a culture that makes you more successful.

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More recently, we’ve been engaging in more culture coaching projects. Here we work with individual clients, either one-on-one or with the management team, to come up with a roadmap for their ongoing culture management. It may start with a look at the existing culture patterns, but it could start with working on a new performance management system, or even in strengthening the connection between strategy and culture. We have a methodology that supports clients in all those areas, but in the coaching process the order in which we tackle them is customized.

The jury is out as to which will be more popular moving forward, but my suspicion is that today’s environment, where the only new normal is abnormal, the coaching choice might become more prevalent.

But whatever you choose, I am strongly encouraging all clients to step up their efforts on culture right now. You don’t have to fix everything all at once, but if you’re putting culture on the back burner, you may fall victim to this great resignation.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is a co-founder and culture strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders create amazing workplace cultures that drive greater performance and impact. He brings thirty years of experience to his work designing and managing culture, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is the co-author of four popular business books, including the award-winning Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement, and his fall 2023 release, Culture Change Made Easy. He holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.