Home Concepts Best Practices Coaching in Organizations: A Status Report (Past, Present and Future)

Coaching in Organizations: A Status Report (Past, Present and Future)

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Prosperity and Postmodernism

Let’s take an even further step back from Rachel and Sam and briefly examine the societal forces that helped to forge this new fad or foundation for an established multi or inter-disciplinary field. We were living during the first years of the 21st Century in an era of relative prosperity in North America and in Europe and most of the other “developed” societies where professional coaching has been firmly established. Given this prosperity, professional coaching has often been conceived (even if not openly acknowledged) as an affordable luxury—whether paid for by the individual (personal coaching) or by the organization (organizational coaching). Coaching that is being engaged for “developmental” purposes has usually been engaged by and approved for use by the upper tier of management and leadership in an organization. Sam can engage Rachel as a coach either because he can afford to pay her for these services himself or (more often the case) because his organization has sufficient financial reserves to pay for these services.

This was also an era in which there was relatively low unemployment in most of the societies making use of coaching services. Organizations were in the business of retaining valued employees, and often presented coaching as a benefit (along with health care, retirement, training, reimbursed education, and so forth). There was no need to document the value of these coaching services for the organization if the primary reason for offering these services was to keep productive employees from looking elsewhere for a job. Many of the coaching services being offered to the middle tier of management during the past decade were justified on the basis of retention. While Sam’s coaching probably is being justified on developmental grounds, he might be able to get funding for the coaching of his “fast-track,” high potential subordinates by suggesting this retention rationale.

Finally, in a society of not only prosperity but also litigation—as is found in many “developed” countries—there is a third reason for the engagement of professional coaches. This human service activity is being engaged as a component of the organization’s Human Resource Development program—and more specifically as a component of the organization’s remediation program. Like the Employee Assistance Programs that were so popular during the 1990s (and remain an important component of most HR strategies), organizational coaching is used to “save” “problematic” employees or (if the coaching does not work) to justify the decision and to serve as an early step in the employee termination process. Alternatively, professional coaching (particularly personal coaching) is offered following termination (whether for inadequate performance or because of reorganization or downsizing). In both cases, one must wonder about the extent to which this type of coaching is effective and if it is nothing more than “cooling of the mark” to avoid law suits by disgruntled ex-employees.

Beyond the economic and legal conditions of societies that engage coaching practices, are the cultural and epistemological (knowledge-utilization) conditions that are often summed up in the term “postmodernism.” Put simply, most of us living in the “developed” world are living in a postmodern condition that is typified by great complexity, extreme unpredictability and pervasive turbulence. Under conditions of great complexity, coaching clients can legitimately ask for assistance in “sorting out” and reasoning about the world in which they operate. Professional coaches are helping their clients cross the street at very busy intersections—so that their clients don’t get “run-over” by the many real and psychological vehicles that are careening down the many interlocking and intersecting highways they must navigate.

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