This article is my personal observations of corporations for the last 30 years on their organizational learning efforts and my EP coaching to hundreds to understand what types of learning can bring about fundamental change in human’s behaviors, foundation to organizational transformation.
Corporations, especially commercial organizations, have sincere and good intention to develop people, as they know that human factors are the most crucial factors in determining the success or failure of their business.
They invest heavily in training, seminars, workshops, engage consultant to develop systems and processes, invite renowned management guru, speakers, motivators. They have programs after programs. All for the purpose of developing people to their fullest potentials.
After several years, some organizations begin to realize there are little fundamental shifts in mindsets, attitudes and behaviors. They question the return of investment in organizational learning. Usually they would not get the answer to this human-related issue, which will be further discussed in this article.
At times, there are workshops, teambuilding sessions, and simulated game programs with experiential learning. More critical organizational management also observes that, after many years of such learning activities, there is hardly any fundamental mindset and behavioral change, except the participants did have a good time, who also claimed they have learned a lot.
In summary, the organizational learning activities are really in-consequential, as far as intended business outcomes are concerned.
Did Organizations find the Missing Part?
Some organization wake up to realize that learning cannot take place just by downloading theories, principles, concepts, ideas to the class participants, ..on whatever topics like Leadership, Motivation, Teamwork, Shared Values, Management Strategies.
They also realize that experiential learning with games and fun cannot produce lasting change as intended.
They then begin to embark on coaching programs, as they like the notion that coaching is no more downloading of information, theories and principles, but helping coachee to find his or her own solutions. And there is to be personal engagement between a coach and a coachee.
A soul to soul connection needs to be made, through coaching. Wow. What a wonderful and exciting idea!
Did these organizations find the missing part towards effective organization learning?
Only after many years of investment in coaching program, they find the same problem – hardly any fundamentally mindset and behavior change in the organization.
The many factors why the apparent learning solution is still no solution.
- Mass Production mindset
- Sport Coach and Skill-base Coach
- Mixing up of Competencies
- Practice Field in the Air
- Certification Equals Competency Mindset
- Confusion and Confusion – all about Coaching
- Box-thinking and Fragmentation.
- Is Emotional Intelligence (EI), Emotional Quotient (EQ) for Real?
- The War between Coach and Therapist
1. Mass Production Mindset
It is difficult for management to discard mass production mindset, as they want speed, instant result, they can’t wait for massive changes to take place. Hence using the old habit, they send batches of managers for the 2-3 days or 5-6 days coaching training program.
They are in the same old pattern of using mass scale training approach to generate coaches. No different from the early days sending batches of managers to the Leadership Programs, 7-habits of Effective People, Learning Organization, or whatever.
They still treat human beings like manufacturing products, that can be mass produced to the designed specifications and standards. Often the training providers and consultants make such promises also – e.g. 3-day training program to effective 21st Century Leadership, etc. etc..
But organizations buy such ideas – spend the money, after 3 days they get effective leaders or whatever. They believe so.
Some organizations are even more elaborate, those who have huge training budget. They send managers overseas for weeks or months of Leadership program, like MBA etc., or renowned coaching institution.
But the reality is theories on leadership or coaching does not produce effective leaders or coaches. Some role plays or demonstration of coaching in the training class, no doubt enhances learning, but does not effect acquisition of skills and competencies on the part of the learners.
2. Practice Field in the Air
From the above, it is obvious that what is lacking is the practice of the learned theories and principles from the training class.
Seldom management takes a serious commitment to effect a Skill Acquisition through Practice System.
Often management assumes that after training, participants should practice on their own; after all they have been trained.
We all know that to acquire a skill, e.g. golf, swimming, piano. .. no amount of class room theories training can produce a good golfer, swimmer, pianist, except practice, practice and practice. The ratio of practice to theory learning can be as high as 100 to 1.
However, organization reverses the ratio : high amount of training and hardly any practice get institutionalized.
There are other difficulties involved even if the management believes in more practice.
3. Sport Coach and Skill-base Coach
We are familiar with sport coach. Whoever wants to master skills of certain sports, football, badminton, they all know that having a competent and experienced coach is crucial during practice.
Again, organizational management errs on this – naively they assume that managers, after being trained can practice on their own. They assume managers after attending Leadership Program, practice leadership on their own with their staff. They also assume managers after attending Coaching program, they can start coaching their staff.
The notion of having someone, experienced practitioners on that skill-discipline hardly arises, although organizational managements agrees that good sport coach is necessary to help learners to master the skills in the areas of sports.
Then the next problem is “who is a competent practitioner as Coach to coach the managers to become coaches?”
4. Mixing up of Competencies
Organizational management often mixes up various competencies resulting in good intention to develop staff with negative un-intended consequences.
They assume that good trainer in coaching are competent coaches to coach people.
Training competency and Coaching competency are entirely different sets of skills.
Good trainer in Leadership or Financial freedom may not be effective leader or financially free themselves. Likewise good trainer in coaching may not be effective coach.
I heard of a case of a qualified coach (with many international certified coaching credentials) got kicked out by his client; shortly he began his coaching contract with the senior management. His angry remark was “this is a bunch of un-coachable managers”. Then he focuses on Coaching Certification Academy, training and certify people to be coaches and his business grows well, making good money. Quietly he makes up his mind – never get involved in actual coaching service, a nightmare-job. Of course one wonders how competent can his graduated students be in actual coaching, without the trainer being a true practitioner in that discipline.
5. Certification Equals Competency Mindset
The above example indicates certification does not equal competency. However, organizational management, again, often get entangled with such mindset – if an external service provider is certified, better still with international credentials, he or she must be competent to train and coach people.
Often paper coaching certification becomes the key determining criteria for engagement with external professional party.
I know of one corporation plan to have their managers going through months of coaching certification program.
The assumption that certification process can ensure competencies needs some validation. Often they are psychological issues that invalidate such assumptions.
- Person concerned will be overly focus on fulfilling the requirement of the certification and not on the actual practice of coaching. Some will try to find short cut to the certification process.
- How can a badminton player plays well his game when his focus is on winning the trophy and not on every stroke, every movement of the play?
- Likewise, when coaching practice (with required coaching hours for certification) in not on every gesture, words, tonality, feeling, emotions, issues expressed or un-expressed by the coachee, with deep listening and apply appropriate coaching questions and response, how could competency be acquired, except paper certification?
I notice many good intention people, using their hard earned money to pay for coaching certification program. Years after certification, they have problems to get coaching clients. I also notice some coaches, not certified; get more and more coaching clients through referrals.
6. Confusion and Confusion – all about Coaching
As if there is not already host of factors to consider ensuring good and effective coaching program, organizational management is bombarded with so many philosophies, principles, techniques in coaching.
It seems that there is more confusion in selecting what coaching program than selecting a computer notebook in the highly competitive IT market.
“Coaching” is a very loose term, it means different thing to different people. And people have their own pre-conceived ideas of what is coaching, and they seldom surface their assumptions.
I observe endless debate on the topic on “What is Coaching” among a large community of professional coaches. At the end of the debate, most are not satisfied with another professional coach's definition or understanding on what is coaching. Each of them holds on to their own understanding and belief on “What is Coaching?”
Organizational management is really in for a tough decision on what is real coaching program for their managers.
7. Box-thinking and Fragmentation
One of the confusion is also self-created by the organizational management, capitalized by the professional service provider. This is a type of box-thinking to contain the difficulty of confusion or human complexity.
Many boxes, or labels appear in the market : “Life coaching, Executive Coaching, Business Coaching, Health Coaching etc. etc.”.
Organizational management likes such fragmentation, Just like in the medical field, there are so many different types of medical specialists, e.g. heart specialist, lung specialist, liver specialist. Many suffer from such specialists’ treatment e.g. heart specialist recommended medication creates side effect to other organs etc.
The un-validated assumption is - human being can be fragmented into boxes or compartments, to be managed, or to be coached.
Imagine a scene during Executive Coaching, the executive-coachee is under stress, besides stress from the work, but also the family and he finds life meaningless, (which is Life Coaching) and / or the stress affects his health, and that is Health Coaching. The poor executive has to run from Executive coach to Life Coach to Health Coach!
Does it really make sense?
Most organizational management goes for such box-thinking approach.
Obviously, the specialized coach in different field like Executive coaching, Life Coaching or Health coaching has difficulty to provide value coaching to the coachee client, who is a holistic human being, not compartmentalized to the expectation of the coach with specialization in a narrow discipline.
8. Is Emotional Intelligence (EI), Emotional Quotient (EQ) for Real?
Professionals, coaches or organization management, agree the importance of EI or EQ. In fact, many Leadership Training Program covers these topics extensively.
However, take a closer look at the coach certification bodies of international standing, high emphasis is on what is coaching and what is not coaching, or more specifically, coaching is not therapy, or coaching does not and should not touch on emotional issues.
I witnessed one public seminar to promote coaching with two speakers, who have coaching certification of international credentials, acted in a role-play as follow:
Coach : “… What do you wish to accomplish in this coaching session?”
Coachee: “I am very down and depressed. I feel a lot of negative emotions in me ….”
Coach : “You are bringing up a lot of emotional issues. I have to refer you to a therapist”
Then the coach, turned speaker, explained to the audience that coaching does not touch on emotional issues.
Another around of demo.
Coach : “… What do you wish to accomplish in this coaching session?”
Coachee : “I want to find ways to make sure I get promoted this time. I was due for career promotion 5 years ago but it did not happen”
Coach: “Good coaching topic, we shall continue coaching ….”
If the next coaching question is “How do you feel about it?” and response may well be the same as the first coachee “: “I am very down and depressed. I feel a lot of negative emotions in me ….”
Likewise if the coach asked the first coachee, “What is happening?” the response may well be “I was due for career promotion 5 years ago but it did not happen”
Since the coaching school advocates not to touch on emotion, ie. EI or EQ, the above line of coaching questions may not happen.
Many people get attracted to become certified coach as coaching is only on rational and logical thinking, not need to deal with feelings and emotions.
Many pay for such expensive coach certification program from their hard earned money.
Later, after certification, they have difficulty to get paying coachee clients. Surely many coachee-clients’ difficulty stem from feelings and emotions, mostly suppressed and / or having difficulty to articulate. The certified coach will be at a loss as what to do, how to help.
The good intention people are mis-guided, believing that coaching needs not deal with feelings and emotions, hence coachee can be treated like robots, just logically treated or coached.
I also notice many coaches have suppressed negative feelings and emotions, which they pretend not there, or not aware of them. One wonders how a coach with low EI / EQ can effectively help a coachee-client? Or how could a coach who avoids his or her own feeling and emotions can empathize the client feelings and emotions?
9. The War between Coach and Therapist
It is more the coach declares war on the therapist.
Therapy has a very long history of development, very noble too. Therapist is just “helping people professional”, helping people with mental, emotional problems, normally of high degree of severity. They have developed many useful and effective tools and technique to address such problems, mainly around feelings, emotions and belief systems.
Coaching profession is rather new in the market. They are also “helping people professional”. However it is a highly commercialized industry i.e. in order to protect “own turf” , a distinction needs to be made between coach and therapist. In many coaching certification school, they quote many examples on how therapist cannot effectively help people in difficulty. People like to amplify their own profession and protect their own industry.
This is an un-necessary imaginary war between coach and therapist due to self interest, instead of drawing out the best practices from both disciplines to help the client effectively – resolving issues, including emotional and moving forwards.
How could Organization Management ensure effective coaching culture creation?
What now? How do we go from here.
How could Organization Management ensure effective coaching culture creation? - To ensure unleashing the hidden potentials of their organizational members, who can then take charge of their own destiny in life and thereby make good contribution to the organization and business.
With respect to inviting external professional, service provider, to assist in developing coaching program in the organization, irrespective of whether they have coaching certificate credentials, or how wonderful they claim their coaching approach, or uniqueness of the “boxed” or “labeled” coaching philosophy, that is more effective and superior, request the following as minimum:
- Invite the external professionals to make a presentation and demonstration on their coaching methodology. E.g. 15 min presentation, and 1 hour or more actual demonstration on how the coaching methodology is applied, with volunteers from your organization as coachee. Ensure one of more of these cases have some emotional issues.
- Ensure the professionals are true practitioners on coaching, not just trainer, downloading theories and information. For example, whether the professionals have individual clients from the public.
- This is because, individual from the public needs to pay for coaching from their own pockets. Usually they have real difficult issue that they need to find solution and become willing to spend their time and money for coaching.
- If the coaching is good, i.e. good coaching practitioners, they should continue to get referrals. This indicates professional’s skills are well appreciated.
- Testimonials from the individuals of their corporate clients, should not be the only criteria to gauge the level of competency of the professional coach. This is because many coaching sessions in the corporate world can be “superficial” not touching deep into the bottom of the iceberg issues, the suppressed emotions, hidden beliefs, etc. Most of these coachee may feel obliged to attend such coaching session, and present “superficial problems” for coaching, unlike the public who pay their own money wanting to get the real serious problems resolved.
- Reqeust from the coaching professional service provider for a proposal on duration and frequency on Coachhing Practice - guiding, facilitating, coaching the managers to acquire the skills in coaching.
I hope the above observation and sharing is useful for the organizational management to have some pointers to ensure effective learning intervention. I also hope those aspire to be professional coaches to appreciate more the insights of the coaching attributes.
Andrew - EP Coach
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