Coaching Exponential Growth

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coaching culture leadership

At the recent Ultimate Culture Conference hosted by Human Synergistics, Trent Sunde of The Clorox Company gave a great presentation entitled, Going Beyond High Performance to Enable a Growth Culture. For me, the final takeaway from this case study is that for organizations to achieve exponential growth, they need to have leaders who coach. Yes, we still need managers to manage, but to move an organization forward and to achieve rapid momentum toward phenomenal growth, we need the entire workforce engaged. One leader cannot achieve this kind of success alone. It takes leadership at all levels and throughout the organization.

Leaders Who Coach

Not unlike Trent, my corporate career spanned 30 years at a successful midwestern Fortune 150 manufacturing company. I both observed and participated as we went through our own growth—managers learning to manage better, managers becoming leaders and leaders starting to become coaches. For me personally, about 20 years into this journey, I noticed that the best leaders were those who truly coached. The best experiences I had as an employee were with those supervisors who took time to coach me and develop me. These were clearly the highest growth periods in my career.

For me personally…I noticed that the best leaders were those who truly coached.

The other thing I noticed was that we began to move away from “change events” and toward an environment where change was becoming a constant. Gone were the days when new program implementations were major events. It became necessary for employees to be more resilient, and to accept and adopt change on a regular basis. This came at a cost—as employees sought to find their way, there was wasted effort, and silo thinking became a barrier to rapid change. We needed an approach to work through all of this.

These two trends are not separate, nor can they be. For employees to move to an environment of constant change, there needs to be greater interaction between the leader and her employees. This increased interaction is not to provide greater task management, but rather more coaching. This coaching is applied to helping employees see how their work fits into the larger purpose, aligning to minimize wasted effort, and engaging across the organization to rapidly recognize and extinguish cross-functional dysfunction.

Leverage What’s Positive

The Clorox journey that Trent shared is exciting. They instituted a comprehensive strategy to clearly articulate the organization’s purpose, teach leaders to become effective coaches, and drive greater human performance. My one suggestion regarding the KATA approach1 they took is that it could have focused on “advantages to leverage” rather than “obstacles to turn around.”2 In my consulting experience, it is much easier to identify what is going well with an organization and leverage it to drive results than it is to constantly be on the lookout for problems to solve.

Clorox KATA

Trent’s requirements for success are not unlike mine:

  1. Believer Sponsor: An absolute requirement is an actively engaged sponsor who believes in the work, communicates with the organizational members frequently and passionately, and regularly holds leaders accountable for setting the example.
  2. Visionary Leaders: The leadership team must clearly articulate the organization’s purpose and do it in terms of tangible outcomes. Gone are the days of glowing vision or mission statements that don’t really engage or excite employees to act.
  3. Committed Partners: I call this “aligned leaders.” It’s great to be a believer, and it’s great to have a clear purpose with tangible outcomes, but without the entire leadership team aligned to these features, your organization will struggle with rapid growth.
  4. Continuous Improvement Culture: One of the key benefits of constant change is that employees become more accepting and resistance lessens. One unintended consequence to watch for is complacency. Don’t sacrifice critical thinking, and don’t confuse critical thinking with resistance.
  5. Reorientation of Leadership’s Role: To be successful with this, the leader absolutely needs to become a coach.
  6. Culture is Not Separate: I added this one. A culture project is not a standalone activity. It must be combined with an organizational improvement need. One of my clients needed to improve customer engagement and satisfaction. They used this as a springboard to drive greater leadership accountability throughout their organization.

Clorox CEO, Benno Dorer, on their leadership model and journey

How do you get started?

Changing culture can be an arduous task, but it doesn’t have to be. Several of the elements are outlined above. Focus on these six success factors. The underlying requirement, as I mentioned before, is that leaders become coaches. For leaders new to this idea, it can begin just by learning how to listen more effectively. Here are steps I have used and have coached my executive clients to use:

  • Be clear on your purpose. Building a relationship with employees to drive culture change includes clearly communicating your intent and expressing it in terms of expected outcomes.
  • Be approachable. Drop the titles. Eliminate any air of Be genuine in your desire to learn people’s perspective.
  • Ask questions. Talk less, ask more. Use a combination of yes/no and open-ended questions. The former provide direction for the discussion; the latter provide deep insight.
  • Understand resistance. I love resistance. Without it, you might never hear about things that could go wrong.
  • Call to action. At the end of a conversation, ask for a commitment. Ask people to engage with the change, or at least to be open-minded to it. Do not underestimate the power of the ask.

This is where coaching for exponential growth begins. For one of my clients, the results included a dramatic increase in employee engagement scores, a significant drop in attrition, increase in budgets by 25%, and most importantly, marked improvements in customer satisfaction.

What’s your experience with leaders who coach effectively? Share your thoughts and comments with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.


Editor’s notes:

  • Learn more about Coach — Co-Achieving, an exercise in leadership, cooperation, and achievement designed to teach leaders how to apply Achievement-oriented thinking to coach others effectively and improve performance.


1Rother, M. (2010). Toyota KATA: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness, and Superior Results. NY: McGraw-Hill.

2Rother, M. How to Develop Scientific Thinking for Everyone, by Practicing Kata. Retrieved from

About Steve Salisbury

Steve Salisbury is a global change and transformation expert for some of the world’s most recognizable enterprises. He sets the change in motion by creating transformational capacity, galvanizing leaders, and driving accountability to institutionalize the entire transformation. In an industry where projects continue to underperform, Steve holds a remarkable 85% success rate.

Comfortable in culturally diverse settings, Steve has worked in many international companies throughout China, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Mexico, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and the UK.

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