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Why I don’t like Coaching. Do you?

Nor Do I think highly of personnel development, the type supplied by HR. Four reasons for this:

  1. There is too much coaching and personnel development going on in many companies. People are tired of trainers or consultants preaching 
  2. In other companies, there is too little of coaching and personnel development going on to make a significant difference to anything
  3. Even worse: There is no right amount of coaching or personnel development so long as it’s primary use is to make people fit to a rather sick system that systematically disenfranchises people
  4. There fore and worst of all, neither coaching nor personnel development are producing decisive results. They never have 

Coaching and personnel development are these days all too often just feel-good riffs of pop-culture themes: Mindfulness, Teaming and Participation, Self- Efficacy, Vulnerability, Experimentation, Failure Tolerance, Innovation, Reflection, Empathy, Agility – you name it. While each of those themes is worthwhile, they are colliding with organizational systems that let good insights wither and die – systematically. After all, systems change people way more than people can change systems. 

Of course, there is bad and good coaching or personnel development. That is not the point. The point is that any initiative that is based on transforming individuals without changing organizational systems is futile. Organizations must be changed in ways that allow people to express themselves in novel, better ways. To preach to them values and behaviors that run against the grain of the values and behaviors enticed by the organizational system itself is like sending them on an exhaustive upstream swim – often against swift currents and in cold water.

Coaching and personnel development are all too often just excuses to avoid tackling the underlying problems of companies:

  1. The systems of work we use are largely not supportive to human values
  2. As long as coercion and enticement remain the main methods to align people’s actions with companies’ targets, people will systematically choose to withdraw into their shells. They will never bring the best version of themselves to work
  3. Hierarchies are extremist ways of regulating power. If aliens would land on earth and aim to subjugate humanity to a single will, they will use the hierarchy to achieve control. Of all the many ways to distribute power between people, the hierarchy is the most centralized and extreme one

Therefore, we need new systems of human collaboration. Don’t take it from me, take it from Management professors and successful entrepreneurs like Peter Drucker, Edward Deming, Gary Hamel, Frederick Laloux, Issac Geetz, Henry Mintzberg, Zhang Ruimin, Ray Dalio, to name a few (more can be found in the Corporate Rebels Bucket List).

In my book “Liberated Companies” I argue that we need to build these systems on four criteria:

  1. Reduce power differentials: A decrease in the power differentials between people to levels that are much more in sync to human flourishing – and that hold power to account much more than common now.
  2. Invite technology in: Organizing companies in a way that invites creative problem solving into the organization and is therefore much more compatible with the needs of technological progress.
  3. Provide creative tension systematically: Increase psychological safety for people while holding people accountable for results in a more effective manner than ever before.
  4. Re-align sensemaking of economic activity with planetary needs: In our time, it will be more and more difficult for companies to turn a blind eye to the escalating ecological and human catastrophe caused to no small part by the deeds of today’s companies.

Coaching and personnel development are so often used as just another tool to make people fit to company system that is way past their prime and in urgent need of a major update itself.

Coaching and personnel development are, in their essence, conservative and reactionary in a time when all companies, people and the planet need much bolder changes.

 It’s time to make this major update.

If you like to learn more, check out the central concepts on www.liberated.company and the announcement of “Liberated Companies – How to Create Vibrant Organizations in the Digital Age” – to be published by the end of November 2019.