“Examples and recipes remain attractive as long as they remain untested. But hardly any of them delivers on its promise – virtually every one stops short of the fulfillment it pledged to bring.” – Zygmunt Bauman Liquid Modernity (pp 72)
Executive Coaching is Organization Development
Organization development and executive coaching has an overabundance and weird reliance on recipes. Everyday I see articles like 5 ways to change …; 6 steps to agile transformation; 3 steps to engagement; 5 leadership traits of billionaires; etc…
These recipes work to get clicks on websites, maybe sell some consulting work, and inflate the author’s ego through others thinking they are a thought leader.
What they do is create a false sense of certainty.
Within most workplaces, the certainty of employment, reward for competence, acceptance from others, and the work ever reaching an end point are close to eliminated.
While working with a team of hospital executives to support their progress to understand complexity and change, we came to the agreement that their goals never end. Meaning, that as they get closer to achieving strategic objectives the goal moves to another place and the work continues. Even the technology and patient needs are never satiated. Just as the staff and patients become knowledgeable, a new version, change, or regulations happen that moves them from comfort to discomfort and learning again and again. People never seem to be fully competent and when they reach competence, things change making them less than competent.
When knowing if you have achieved a goal and the work is done has been lessened, how does a feeling of progress happen?
Unfortunately many organization, leadership, and team development consultants know you are searching for the answer to that question, and that is when they can play upon your vulnerability and sell you a recipe.
This recipe makes sense because they sell it with a sense of certainty along with case-studies and anecdotal narratives about how other companies and leaders have benefited from this recipe.
The good news is that this recipe may just work this time, due to many factors, one being that the organization and leadership decided to do something and through the act of doing something useful change happened. The bad news if when this recipe does not work the consultant will blame the organization and you stating something like, “You were not ready for this to work, your level of awareness is not sufficient to sustain the gains.” While the failure may be shared, the consultant will blame you and then go onto sell this recipe to the next client with the same success stories.
What can be done to support progress in an uncertain workplace environment?
Current organization design and leadership behaviors create a confusing paradox of many recipes that all create alternative right seeming ideas.
“Creating a culture of leadership is complex because it is so paradoxical. A leadership culture requires leaders to let go of the levels of control they feel comfortable with. So, a core part of leadership is the willingness and ability to not lead, but follow. The traditional task of leadership is to think about and plan the actions of the workforce. You plan a strategy, design a culture, choose the developmental path of your product, etc. This can be traced as far back as Taylorism, and has become part and parcel of modern work through the practice of strategic management.
The VUCA environment requires the precise opposite. Decisions are made on the ground by trusted personnel who have the skills and expertise to quickly evaluate emerging data and act appropriately and effectively. These actions can be in direct opposition to the expectations of the planners.” Dr. Richard Claydon
As Claydon states above, leadership has moved to a counselor or facilitator role. This change has been spurred by many factors – one significant shift is how people are being paid for their knowledge and ideas. While many workers are still paid for their labor and hands, they are also expected to improve and enhance the work – this is researched in many of the books about Toyota written by Jeffrey Liker.
Leaders counseling and facilitating processes to make the work engaging and pull the best ideas from everyone bounded within a workplace that has constraints and many people competing with political and personal motivations, is a complex adaptive systems.
Within facilitated counseling systems, the more recipe-centric ideas and processes create an equal rejection and skepticism from the same people who have to follow the recipe. Too often this rejection is seen as change-failure, and the leadership reacts to further enforce the recipe, only leading to a more aggressive rejection from the people.
Oddly enough a progress step is to ease up and treat adults like adults who can control their work and understand how to determine progress on their goals in a way that works. This is not a recipe, this is not a quick fix, and within organizations that choose to command and control, trust-repelling, this idea will hurt those that care about the work and company enough to speak up and voice their opposition. However, when you are listened to and can make progress on your work, then motivation and engagement happen naturally.
You do not need a recipe or magical thinking. What will support your organization to make progress is the same things that you value as a person. Being trusted to use your judgment and discretion to add value to the work and others.