Posts Tagged ‘coaching’

Someone recently asked this question on one of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of and it has prompted some thoughts to post in response. This, it turns out, has been in common with a host of other group members (incredible how some discussion threads quickly generate comments on LinkedIn while others flounder). With a few notable exceptions, however, many of those answers seem to me either fail to clarify or succeed in making matters even more muddled. But then, other people might well say the same of mine.

So, with additional embellishment here is my answer:

“1. Education in the specific sense of organised, social process (as opposed to euphemism for a more folksy ‘lessons learnt from whatever life throws at us’) is a categorical term, and therefore is a collective word to characterise a whole set of activities. As such, there is always a wider societal purpose that first frames the category, such as Dewey’s explicit 20th century notions of democracy or the implicit requirement for standardised knowledge and skills to meet a rapidly growing need for labour force in the 19th Century that preceded that.  In other words, the categorisation of education is itself categorised by historical context and reproduced by those taking part in it. The growth of public education has surely enabled many social and technical innovations, but not all frames have been positive ones and the topic, seen this way, will forever be unfinished and contested because society and science are themselves subject to change over time.

The modern purpose of Education is, or should be, emancipation – measured usually in terms of increased levels of freedom from control, or increased levels of freedom to choose. For many reasons, this is not often achieved but is remarkable for what can be achieved when it works. Ideally, as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, education ought to be tailored to the potential of each individual, and informed by each person’s innate creativity. My own view is that the ultimate goal of emancipation in education should be to achieve “freedom from comparison”. That last part is not so easy to explain, so it may be a thread I need to develop in future blog postings.

2. Training is the term used for another category of activities, this time those designed to facilitate or demonstrate a given change in behaviour. The change may also be the potential for behaviour.

Training can be highly useful as a means of preparing people to undertake particular tasks and highly destructive if the motives behind the required change in behaviour are hidden or perverse. Training, like education (and coaching, for that matter), needs its own set of contexts to make any sense.

3. Coaching is the term used for a category of overt activities, tools, intentions etc. employed by one person to facilitate another person or group of persons in getting ‘unstuck’ by using certain presuppositions, such as that – aside from the presence of the coach – the coachees already have all the resources they need.

People are welcome to throw in their own ‘2 cents’.


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About a year ago I wrote what I worried would come across as an overly indignant blog posting lambasting a conference on coaching organised and marketed by the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development). My beef back then was the conference had twisted the word coaching to re-spell the word “fad” in order to apply it to a never-changing and never-fulfilled underlying quest for a load of other fads such as “organisational performance”, “value” and the Holy Grail of “ROI”.

One year on and they haven’t removed me from their database so I am sent the blurb and invitation to spend up to £600 + VAT for a day listening to people talk (to slides, I suspect) all about “Proving Coaching’s value and its role in growing business performance”.

Should I give up in despair? Am I alone in finding sentences such as “Workplace coaching is proven to increase productivity, so in a time of cost cutting how do you ensure that it remains within your organisation’s budget?” not just glib but actually quite dangerous. Proven? There is no reference made to what proof there is of the Midas touch of organisational coaching, even though the next breath says “Demonstrating coaching’s ROI is key to embedding it into your organisation.”

I love coaching, I think it is a very valuable thing for people to be engaged in. I think the principles that lie behind the best coaching techniques are intentions toward a person that are honourable and beneficial. But at an individual level. When coaching is dangled in front of an organisation as the be-all-and-manipulate-all to “drive business success”, I get worried. This is made worse by the promise of this conference to offer “practical advice on utilising coaching methods to improve the performance of your organisation.”

My attitude to what goes on in a coaching session is that it cannot be dictated by the requirements of the senior management of a company to produce better profits, even if better profits is a legitimate aim of senior management. The temptation to interfere with or seek access to the topics between coach and coachee would, in that case, be justified because of their possible impact to ROI (however you would show that – which, of course, you can’t).

Oh well, this sounds a lot like last year’s rant, so one of us (CIPD or me) has not learnt a lesson, or is being naive. Plenty of people think you can measure ROI on learning and development projects, so I’m aware that my position is not unchallengeable. However, I can’t see how they can be viewed as realistic since they are measuring quantitatively and retrospectively something which exists qualitatively and as an emergent phenomenon.

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This week I received in the post an invitation from CIPD to take part in a conference in London. The title of the event is “Coaching for Performance and Business Change”. This may be proof that either coaching has begun to have an impact on the mindset of those who are responsible for the well-being of others in an organisation, or, in a desperate attempt to seem fashionable, the term has been press-ganged and forced into service as the latest “buzzword” and synonym for what amounts to “same-old, same-old”.

Having looked through the conference program, I’m inclined to the latter, which is very disappointing. The brochure starts by stating that “Coaching is a powerful tool for enhancing the performance of your people and adding real value to your organisation.” Well, maybe. But what is the definition of coaching being used here? The organisers don’t supply one. What follows, however, he is a list of organisational clichés. For example, it goes on “at a time of relentless change, the need for sustainable organisational performance is a key priority. Businesses need employees to take ownership of their performance, strive to meet business objectives and demonstrate resilience and confidence when managing change.”

I reckon you could easily substitute half a dozen buzzwords other than ‘coaching’ at the beginning and still come across with the same message. The sound of creaking wheels of a large bandwagon echo through the whole agenda of the conference. Coaching is presented as a driver for performance, for innovation and (one presumes) profit –  there is even a session on the holy grail of any management training, namely “evaluating and providing ROI”. Coaching is supposed to be about the agenda of the coachee, and expecting something like coaching to do what most training has failed to do in the last 20 or 30 years seems at best unrealistic and confusing and at worst actually damaging for everyone involved.

Who knows, perhaps the event will be thoroughly worthwhile, if only to netowrk. But I can’t help but feel that the agenda as offered twists the concept of coaching and tries to shove it into the ears of those responsible for learning and development in businesses in a way that the CIPD thinks will sound palatable, and which can be sold further up the organisation eager to know how HR spend can be justified in measurable ways.

A sign of our times, I suppose, is the inclusion of a session entitled “the 10 minute Coach: tools and techniques for the time-strapped manager”. I’m not sure why we have this relentless march towards everything being done in the quickest time possible. Certainly, there are times when the quick application of good coaching principles such as positive intent, genuine curiosity and insightful questioning can be just the right thing, but surely the idea that an organisation could adopt ‘ tools and techniques’ to use when “managers do not have the time to do it” is missing the point.  Next we’ll be invited to attend a workshop which will let us know how effective the “coaching tweet” can be for targeted and sustainable performance innovation potential maximisation.

Am I being too purist? What do others think? To see what the fuss is about, check out this link: www.cipd.co.uk/coachconf

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Yesterday I attended my second session as part of John Whittington’s Learning Circle, which is an exploration of systemic coaching, using Constellations techniques originally developed by Bert Hellinger . It’s very absorbing, intense and also very interesting to see the unfolding of people’s systemic glitches and “stuckness”. Constellation work is focused around a small number of organising principles, which reveal truths about the way open systems work. Sounds kooky, and probably looks that way from the outside, but let me tell you (as some past postings here have attested) it’s very real and very therapeutic.

What’s even better, it is very practical and I have already started to allow the principles to filter into my workshops. There’s even no need to frame it for participants. We just get on with it, and you can tell from the stillness and concentration in the room that something is working. I find it complements reflective practice, too.

Now we all have a two month space before our next meeting in September, and I shall be looking for further chances to expand my repertoire and gain more experience. I already have an idea on how to change things around for my forthcoming “Building Career” PD workshop. Next stop, having a go with “sentences” (constellators will know what that means).

One reflection from the discussions at the Monday session was trying to articulate differences between “regular” coaching and systemic coaching.  John shared his “list-in-progress”. One which caught my eye was the idea that coaching very often begins and ends with the client’s goals. Somehow goals “fix” things. But do they? Is it that simple? Maybe, yes, sometimes it is, but then if that were so simple why wouldn’t people just work this out for themselves?  The systemic approach creates permission first to “acknowledge” properly things as they actually are. Standing there can reveal a lot, about us, about our goals… and so on. This is a good take-away for me back onto the MBA and another subtle differentiator for the Henley PD module. A tough one for many to feel comfy with at the beginning of their course, but then this is why PD runs all the way through.



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