Coaching and Cultures of Change

Close friends ask unpopular questions, and yet it’s those questions that help you grow.

A while ago, a friend of mine pointed my nose at something very fundamental: How does my work — identity-based strategic consulting linked with concepts of change — relate to employee and management coaching? It might seem like an easy question to answer, but I believe it’s worth it to take a closer look.

The Core Question

My friend runs a coaching agency, and we have been thinking about a concept for a joint project for a while now — as you can imagine, we haven’t moved past the stage of a half-hearted “We should really do this!” yet.

Why? There are a few fundamental questions that need to be answered, to begin with. The other day, we sat together again and, after long hours of bouncing ideas back and forth, he asked the core question: how do I see coaching? Or at what point does coaching become consulting? Is On Any Given Monday’s strategic work, in fact, a form of coaching, just on a different level? Or do we only aim at management?

Those are important questions I couldn’t answer on the fly. On the contrary, they forced me to deeply think about the relationship that we at OAGM have with the various areas and aspects of a company’s development and culture.

Work with Culture

And that’s the crucial keyword: culture. Our job is to propose a culture of change as the client’s company culture of choice. But this doesn’t mean more structures or institutionalized processes that are merely added to the existing culture. With our co-working hub SPACES, for example, we aim to create the environment and conditions in which creative change has, quite literally, room to develop. Because this is how innovative business growth starts.

Concepts of Change

So at OAGM, we aren’t working on the management and employee coaching level. And yet, we need the same prerequisite for our ideas to be heard: open minds. Because change isn’t the big bad wolf that needs to be tamed or, worse, put down.

For us, change is an integral part of every business. Even more so, we see the creative potential that is innate to change. So the strategies that my colleagues and I develop are based on this very potential, and how best to use it.

For those strategies to be implemented successfully the ground needs to be prepared though — and that goes beyond business structures and processes. To be blunt: It’s all about attitude — the right one.

Openness = Productive Creativity

Change is inevitable. It is an essential part of our human existence. When we stand in its way or hold on to outdated structures, we see change as something negative. And this attitude blocks us and our work. When we are open to the idea that everything flows and changes constantly, however, we open up to new ways of doing things. We can find creative solutions to our problems.

So you could say that a certain mindset is what fosters dynamic creativity and productive work processes. And this leads me back to my original question: is it indeed all about coaching?

To Coach or Not to Coach?

My short answer is no, but let me elaborate: Our work benefits from coaching in the same way as coaching benefits from us. Based on our understanding of cultural change, coaching — ideally — doesn’t aim at improving business results or managerial goals. Instead, it focuses on establishing an open, positive climate and an optimistic attitude within a company. And that’s the type of coaching that is also fundamental to implementing our strategies. This is why we have started to include a “coaching on demand” clause in our consultancy agreements. Both ideas — coaching and consulting — work toward a certain mindset, just on different levels of a company’s personal and cultural spectrum.

Joining Forces for a Shared Vision

Coaching strategies should be tailored to the individual because frustrations, insecurities, and personal needs are subjective. If you take the one-size-fits-all approach, coaching will miss the point completely, and that is to strengthen the team in which everyone feels they are an integral part of. Imposing a team identity top-to-bottom doesn’t work, and satisfying people’s egos isn’t the objective either. A coach’s job is to cultivate within each team member a deep sense of belonging that is based on joint values and a joint vision.

Coaching is not about training people to practice and display a set of vague, impersonal behaviors that they don’t identify with.

We believe that such an approach reflects a misunderstanding of what community spirit is. A team’s strength should be nourished by a culture that is accepted and lived across the business, and that’s only possible when everyone shares the same attitudes and values.

Cultural Change Instead of Domineering Culture

Now, most of the above is about coaching concepts that are complementary to our work, and I still owe you an explanation as to where our strategic work begins.

I have boldly used the word “culture” — a word so vague and often used but rarely ever explained in detail. So is that really the right term to use? Let me dive a little deeper.

Take the guiding principles I just spoke of: they are part of a company’s culture, right? I think we can also agree that “company culture” is made of a lot more: communication strategies, social behaviors, knowledge, and so on. At the same time, most people would agree that culture is not the same as management.

And this is where we come in. Our concepts and strategies don’t aim at management or staff, neither vertically nor horizontally. We work with those bespoke values and attitudes on a level that’s transverse. It’s the level of culture — the foundation upon which everything else is built.

Now, it isn’t a coincidence that we work with concepts of change. The strategies that we develop are based on the understanding that change is not only essential but that it has positive potential. The contrasting view to ours is that of the domineering culture, merely dictated and imposed top-to-bottom.

Cultural Transitions

Company cultures are organic, dynamic, living constructs which grow and change through communication and the constant exchange of information. So cultural change then is not the exotic exception to the rule or a threat to the status quo. No. It’s the norm and an essential part of a company’s growth and prosperity. And for managers and staff to be able to align this constant change with their values and mindsets, our work, together with the coaches, begins.

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