Organizational coaching and change leadership are tough disciplines that lie at the intersection of social and neuroscience, systems thinking, complexity theory and more. If you are a coach, continuously improving your professional skills and knowledge is like oxygen: the organizational landscape is so broad, complex and diverse that you can never be “prepped enough”. Here are some tips that can help advance in that direction.
Tip 1. Work with key decision-makers.
The logic is very simple here: if you want real change to happen, you need to drive the mindset shift in those whose decisions affect the organization a lot. Here lies an increasingly common mistake among enterprise coaches and transformation agents: they get stuck at lower levels, and they get stuck for good. Often various excuses are readily being made, like “I’ll start downstairs and will gradually make my way to the upper levels of the organization” or “When the leaders see what we’ve done with teams, they will quickly change their thought process”. No, they will not, and no, you will not naturally move upstairs just because you’ve worked with lower levels. One needs to start working with key decision-makers as early as possible, and that has to be an intentional (and big) part of your transformation and coaching activities. We’re going to publish some suggestions of how to enter those levels as a coach in the future. But some of those you already know and just need to execute. Getting to do this is not easy, and you will be dealing with a lot of differences in thinking as well as resistance, but you will also know that you are doing a very important thing for the organization. So, again, begin addressing the area where critical, impactful decisions are being made. When to start doing that? You guessed it correctly: right now!!
Tip 2. Utilize your knowledge of methods, but expect adjusting or even drastically altering the actual constructs to meet the unique organizational context.
Enterprises are very different in their structural and behavioral aspects and carry unique cultural DNA. There is no way in the world to know what ways of working will fit the organization the best. Instead, best ways of working emerge through experimentation, trial and error. Therefore, knowledge of various practices, concept, and ideas can be very helpful, but only as long as we are conscious of the emergent nature of optimal organizational behaviors. Sometimes this adjustment or tailoring is quite moderate, but sometimes it can be very significant, leaving very little in common with the initially selected “starting point”. In OMEC we go over a number of ways for making such adjustments. Here I will mention one: adding/removing constraints. Every practice or construct can be viewed as a set of constraints. Modifying those constraints at a more granular level provides a whole spectrum of future paths for evolving context-specific practices.
It is vital, however, that the adjustments reflect the objective nature of the organizational environment and are not used as a way to avoid any significant change. The temptation of staying in the current comfort zone is too great, and you as a coach have to be aware of that.
Tip 3. Watch for long-term effects.
And that is if you care about the actual results of your work. Change is often not so hard to initiate. It’s a lot harder to sustain, however. Declaring victory after a few months of using new ways of working, is simply premature in systems of complexity, like modern enterprises. In fact, it is very common that the change gets well received from early on when the initial wave of enthusiasm seems to keep everything going in a right direction. Later, however, the unaddressed issues in organizational mindset and culture strike back and may obliterate everything that has been built so far. Creating sustainable organizational habits, therefore, is key to transformation success. We focus on specific tools to achieve that with coaches: “reinforcing feedback loops” (second-order loops that provide vital information on the process itself), “enabling practices” (and the overall understanding of connections across practices and constructs implemented in the org), “embedded mental models” (mental models associated with a specific practice or construct) and more… Have to keep in mind that sustainability doesn’t occur on its own. It takes focused effort!
Tip 4. Keep your eyes open for organizational impediments.
Solving systemic impediments to change is no easy job. But quite often the actual causes are right on the surface and for a coach, ignoring them or putting them on a back burner, pretending that they will be addressed later, is a poor strategy. What are these impediments? While every organization has its unique twist on everything, there are some common suspects, including rigid organizational planning and funding processes, measures and KPIs that favor individual heroic effort and enforce ultimate conformance to the long-term plan, leadership behavior that creates a wrong example to others and so forth. Without addressing real problems, it is useless to work on introducing new ways of working. Your time is precious so focus your effort on the right thing!
Tip 5. View every transformation as a learning journey not only for the organization but also for yourself.
There’s nothing more damaging than a change agent or a coach that “knows everything”. Usually, that means that they fail to realize that they operate in a highly complex environment where experimentation and emergence of qualitatively new constructs are far more important than a large bag of “known tricks”. The worst thing about this is that such coaches miss most of the opportunities to advance the organization’s performance and can only move within tight boundaries of their self-imposed myopia. Don’t be that and keep your ear to the ground. Some of your expectations will work out, some assumptions will be wrong – that’s the rules of the game. What makes real difference is whether you will show enough flexibility to regroup and exploit improvement opportunities that emerge every step of the way. You can either “know everything or actually be useful” and I want to think that you choose the latter, as per your life’s mission.
Alright, folks, that’s the message for today, and I wish you to be productive in your coaching endeavors.
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