Home Research History of Coaching Natalie and John: A Narrative Perspective on the Future Hopes and Fears Facing Organizational Coaching

Natalie and John: A Narrative Perspective on the Future Hopes and Fears Facing Organizational Coaching

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It seems that the tool being used to measure a complex phenomenon may have as great an impact on the outcomes of the measurement process as the nature of the phenomenon being measured. T he very act of choosing to measure a phenomenon changes it in a fundamental way – because we have chosen to attend to this phenomenon. For instance, if we measure something up close, we obtain a quite different outcome then if we measure it at a distance: we can predict with considerable accuracy how many people in the United States will choose to eat Cheerios for breakfast today, but we ca n not predict with any success if a specific person (George Smith, for instance) will choose to east Cheerios today. If we ask George whether or not he will be eating Cheerios, then this question will itself influence his decision (a trivial variation on the so-called “Heisenberg” effect).

For the organizational coach – confronted with the demand for accountability and hearing the whispers about or overt demands for ” return -on-investment” – these findings about the fickle nature of measurement must come as a painful, cosmic joke and paradox: we are being asked to measure what we do  precisely at  a point in our history when the very foundations of measurement theory and practice are being challenged and torn apart. Furthermore, it is not just the professional coach who is under this paradoxical gun – it is also the manager she is coaching. Leaders such as John must demonstrate their own effectiveness during an era of economic downturn. Yet, how is effectiveness (or efficiency) to be measured? And what is the justification (ROI) for John using corporate money to pay for Natalie’s coaching services? New systemically sensitive tools must be developed for the measurement of impact and comparison between expectations and outcomes. These tools will be critical to the success of not only the coaching profession but also the clients being served by these coaches.

Cultural anthropological/linguistic revolution

Natalie and John might consider themselves fortunate, given that they both come from the same social-economic background and from the same (Midwest American) culture. Yet, both of these people will be confronted increasingly with diversity in the workplace – not only because many people are moving to the United States from other countries, but also because they will both be networking with people from throughout the world. With Skype and related computer-based communication tools at their disposal, Natalie ca n build an international network of clients and co-workers, while john may begin to manage operations in Europe, Asia, Africa or South America. Cross-cultural understanding becomes critical for Natalie and John – and this understanding moves well beyond learning a few words in another tongue o picking up a few of the rituals in another society. It includes: fuller appreciation of the underlying assumptions, values am perspectives in another culture and clearer insight into the various differences and subcultures that exist within the major cultures of a specific country (Rosinski, 2006).

What we are seeing in our 21st Century world is a new appreciation of the interplay between culture, language and cognition.  We see the world differently from men and women in other cultures, not only because we have had different past experiences, but also because our language influences the ways in which we see and think (cognition)and, therefore, the ways in which we interpret and engage in our world. A gentleman-scholar, Benjamin Whorf, noted many years ago that language influences cognition (Strong Whorf Hypothesis) or at the very least reflects differences in cognition (Weak Whorf Hypothesis) within specific cultures.

For instance, we tend to be much more specific in designating (labeling) phenomena that we tend to value. Whorf uses the example of the many words for snow in many Inuit (Eskimo) cultures.  We can similarly point to the multiple words for love (e.g., “agape,” “eros” and “philia”) in Greek cultures, as compared to the use of a single word (“love”) in English. Does this mean that English-speaking people tend to place less value on love than members of Greek societies or that the Greeks see something in the dynamics of loving relationships which we in English-speaking societies don’t see? Or are these conventions of language merely byproducts of two different linguistic systems that have created words to describe differing social conditions (for example, a greater emphasis in Greece on friendships or reverence for some deities (Cole, 1996)? Put simply, which comes first, the word or the phenomenon being labeled?

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