Why do coaching and change go hand in glove?


Change is an emergent process. It is not something that happens because people tell you to change. That’s why so many organisational change initiatives fail to deliver their intended outcomes.

I want to share some reflections I had on my participation in a joint International Coach Federation and Australian Human Resources Institute event in Adelaide recently. The panel was drawn together and chaired by Jo Saies,ACC and the group comprised Kath Milne, ACC, Philippa Hurford, ACC and myself (Josie McLean, PCC). Together we:

  • Discussed the recent ICF research findings into what activities enable and support organisational change most effectively, and
  • Shared some of the experiences on the panel and in the room.

Firstly, the results of the research highlight that we are in a state of constant change. No big news there! The full report can be downloaded here.

The research also reveals that high performing organisations:

  1. experience change initiatives being more successful than non-high performance organisations, and
  2. that top performing organisations are more likely to use coaching in various forms within their organisations.

The other highlight for me was the fact that many organisations continue to employ activities like online learning to manage change even though they know it's not working very well.

The research reveals that activities like coaching support change best. Why?

My research into organisational change included an observation that as an executive coach, I witnessed change happening every day. Moreover, I saw it emerging as a result of the coaching conversations in which I was engaging with my clients. These are conversations that are characterised by:

  • tapping into what the client wants to achieve (intrinsic motivation)
  • asking rather than telling
  • supporting the client to undertake their experiments to learn over time what may work for them.

Change emerges from people when we approach them in this way. We could enter into the neuroscience that may support why it occurs this way, but I don't think it's necessary at present. The essential point is that coaching is an approach that engages people in their thinking and weighing up of what to change and how. Coaching is an adaptive process if we link it to my usual topic of living systems and complexity.

What's different about the more traditional approach to organisational change?

Well, it’s usually a lot more directed. The nature of the change is traditionally determined by someone else (senior management) and then communicated (or sold) down the line - a form of telling. The process may include consultation, but it is very rarely engagement to gain ideas and strategies from those being consulted.

Can you see the difference? Individual coaching, group coaching, team coaching and my process of systemic organisational coaching, all engage people in working through for themselves what they may do. Change emerges from those processes in ways that are not activated by telling or selling or consultation where data is gathered but taken away for a decision to be made by others. I often hear "we need to consult so that people feel as though they have ownership". The stark truth is that people either have ownership or they don't.

What is required to enable organisations to change more easily?

Approaches that engage those affected. Feel as though you might lose control? Another truth in my experience is that you never had control - it was always an illusion - proven by the fact that the traditional approaches do not deliver the intended outcomes in 70-90% of all organisational change initiatives!

This article was first published in a LinkedIn article on 4 June 2019.

Dr. Josie McLean helps people find answers to the fundamental question “how can we change?”. President of ICF Australasia Chapter in 2003, Josie’s coaching practice has expanded to include areas of expertise such as emergent change, adaptive leadership, systemic organisational coaching, leadership development, organisational development, systems thinking and sustainability. Additionally, she publishes and speaks locally and internationally in these fields.