Executive Coaching is Organization Development
“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)
Organization development and executive coaching have an overabundance and weird reliance on recipes. Every day 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, sell some consulting work, and inflate the author’s ego through others thinking they are thought-leaders.
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 endpoint are nearly eliminated.
While working with a team of hospital executives to support their progress in understanding complexity and change, we agreed that their goals never end. 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 move them from comfort to discomfort and learning again and again. People never seem fully competent, and things change when they reach competence, 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. 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 work this time due to many factors: the organization and leadership decided to do something, and through doing something, change happened. The bad news is when this recipe does not work, the consultant will blame the organization. The consultant will blame you by saying, “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 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 not to lead but follow. The traditional task of leadership is to think about and plan the actions of the workforce. You prepare a strategy, design a culture, choose the developmental path of your product, etc. This can be traced back to Taylorism and has become part and parcel of modern work through strategic management.
The VUCA environment requires the precise opposite. Decisions are made on the ground by trusted personnel with the skills and expertise to evaluate emerging data and quickly act appropriately and effectively. These actions can be in direct opposition to the expectations of the planners.” Dr. Richard Claydon
As Claydon states, leadership has moved to a counselor or facilitator role. Many factors have spurred this change – one significant shift is how people are paid for their knowledge and ideas. While many are paid for labor and hands, they are expected to improve and enhance the work.
Leaders counseling and facilitating processes to make the work engaging and pull the best ideas from everyone within a workplace with constraints and many people competing with political and personal motivations is a complex adaptive system.
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 enforce the recipe further, 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, motivation and engagement happen naturally when you are listened to and can make progress on your work.
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.