'What's your advice?' Creating a coaching culture in public sector comms

Those three simple words are among the most empowering you're likely to hear in the workplace.

'What's your advice?' is the most empowering thing you can say to your comms team, argues Chris Wynn
'What's your advice?' is the most empowering thing you can say to your comms team, argues Chris Wynn

Sadly, we don’t hear them nearly enough in the communications profession. Leaders in comms are expected to have all the answers. To hesitate may suggest uncertainty – or worse, weakness.

Leaders need to take the big decisions on strategic direction or in the heat of a crisis, but what about the day-to-day decisions; those where the reputation of an organisation isn’t at stake?

Modern leadership tells us that creating 'command and control' regimes isn't the way to get the best out of a team, particularly in public-sector comms. 

Teams can feel micromanaged, distrusted and unmotivated. It doesn’t encourage independent thinking and can destroy creativity. 

So, is coaching the answer? 

Well, coaching shouldn’t be confused with mentoring, which is about telling people what they should do.

Coaching is fundamentally the belief that the person being coached already has the answers. 

It’s the job of the leader, or the coach, to ask the right questions to tease them out. So, "What’s your advice?" or "What are our options?" are simple but effective questions to start a coaching conversation and empower teams. 

Of course, the person you're coaching must be a willing participant. 

And if you’re used to telling people the answer, it can feel a bit odd for a team at first. 

If you’re met with silence when asking for advice, your team should feel able to take some time to come up with some options to solve a problem.

There are three main reasons why adopting a coaching approach is beneficial in communications.

First, it forces others to think, analyse a situation, and consider why they are advising on a particular approach. 

This is strategic communications at its most basic – but also at its best. 

Second, a team member who comes up with their own answer to a problem is much more committed to its success and engaged in their work.

And third, trusting a team to come up with their own solutions can help a leader focus on the big picture, which can often drop down the priority list in the blur of the day-to-day.

Coaching also lends itself well to the attributes that communications professionals naturally possess. 

That’s the ability to communicate effectively – listening attentively, gathering information, processing it and coming up with creative ideas. 

Adopting a coaching approach has the added benefit of increasing self-awareness. To test it, go through a day and count how many times someone asks you to answer a problem that could be easily solved by themselves.

Creating a coaching culture in a team isn’t difficult. 

It doesn’t need formal accreditation and there are plenty of good books and courses out there. 

Most crucial is that it needs a leader to hold back from doing the easy thing – giving the answers – and to remember to respond to a question with those three simple words.

Chris Wynn is director of communications at Ofcom and a qualified coach 

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