March 2020

Coaching : a lever to support change

In what context is coaching an effective way of intervening to sustain the transformation of an organization? How does it articulate with change management consulting?

Six questions to Roseline Boschetti, Director at Alixio Change Management, who has been driving transformation projects for more than 20 years. Roseline is a graduate of Kedge Business School (MSc), she was also certified an organizational coach at HEC, and is certified with MBTI Level 1.

In addition to coaching, Roseline is particularly active on cultural integration and leadership development topics.

How does coaching work in the framework of a transformation? What are the differences between the approach of a coach and that of a consultant? In which contexts is it relevant to use coaching?

Deployed within an organization, coaching is both a stance / position and a methodological approach which aims to bring out solutions, at an individual level, at a team level and/or at the entire organizational level.

A priori, coaching can be activated in all types of transformation contexts, whether the issues are cultural, strategic, operational, etc. The question of its relevancy is more linked to the culture of the company and that of its leaders. Leaders can – for different reasons – be more or less receptive to this approach. Experience also shows that some sectors are more likely than others to adopt this type of approach.

The practice of coaching involves a certain stance, which is called “low position”, not related to the notion of hierarchy but because the coach adopts an active listening position and is receiving information. This is to be opposed to the position of the consultant, who makes recommendations and generally advocates one solution over another. The coach does not provide solutions; he questions, makes you think, facilitates debates. He can sometimes suggest solutions but never formally recommends them.

There are different ways to practice coaching to support transformation projects, and we believe it must be part of a systemic approach.

We believe that coaching complements a consulting approach. We mobilize our coaching skills only when we are convinced that a team needs this type of approach. For example, when the team does not know how to approach certain topics that are mechanically linked to a transformation context and feels stuck and clueless about the situation.

Why do managers decide to use coaching? What benefits (individual and/or collective) can they expect?

Coaching is often proposed when organizations evolve, teams change, people move. The proposal may originate from leadership teams, in particular when it comes to coaching teams or organizations, because they know the benefits of the coaching format. It can also come from HR, especially when it comes to individual requests. The goal is to solve a difficulty, to treat a new subject, or to approach new dimensions.

The need for coaching can also be identified by the consultant / coach himself as part of a consulting mission. For example, when blocking points emerge at the level of a newly formed team, it is essential to solve them in order to progress with the transformation.

Coaching is more on the “soft” side of transformation issues than on the “hard” side. As a matter of fact, the coach does not focus on the operational or technical aspects of the issue. He focuses primarily on topics related to the dynamics of a team, the development of each individual within the team, but also the interfaces and interactions between departments or individuals. The coach adopts an intuitu personae approach with his client to help him solve the problem. His objective is to encourage individuals and the group to question themselves, to re-envision certain practices and to bring out solutions. This is especially true in times of change, which involve moments of uncertainty, paradox and even fear of the unknown.

What are the key success factors of a coaching approach? Are managers sometimes reluctant to be coached?

In individual coaching, a key principle is that of volunteering: coaching only takes place when the individual is in favor of this support approach. In organizational or team coaching, it is necessary to be transparent about the coaching methodology, and to be rigorous on the framework for the intervention.
An expressed interest is therefore critical: without this prerequisite, coaching must not be imposed. Some managers are reluctant for fear of being manipulated. The credibility of the approach is based on ethics and on the professional framework.

Moreover, be it on individual or collective issues, a coach never intervenes alone, but always in a team or two or three. There are two main reasons to this. On the one hand, from a methodological standpoint, it is essential to be able to debrief with the other coaches, to share our practices, to discuss identified obstacles. This is what we call the logic of supervision. On the other hand, forming a collective of coaches prevents the development of the systemic reflection syndrome, where a coach, if he is alone, ends up reproducing the behaviors of the organization he is supporting. This logic of teams of coaches and the step back that it enables to take are essential.

Finally, one does not simply act as a coach. We only involve certified coaches, who are both consulting and coaching professionals.

Are certain predispositions necessary to become a coach?

Coaching is a practice which requires to work on oneself, probably more than the consulting practice. Taking the human dimension into consideration is very important, although we are not in the field of therapy but solely on professional/relational issues connected to the organization.

Personally, I often activate analytical psychology as developed by Carl Jung, which focuses on the personality of the individuals, but I also rely on a systemic approach or on organizational sociology: to understand the profound functioning of an organization, to decipher stakeholders games, interactions at key interfaces,… Sociology provides us with a valuable framework and analysis grid to understand how the organization works.

I would also say that a coach must demonstrate humility and an actual personal ethic. My challenge is to help clients find long-term solutions to their problems. To do this, it is often necessary to bring out their contradictions / paradoxes and to get them where they do not necessarily “want to go”.

But then, how can we measure the lasting effects of coaching and convince that it is useful?

To illustrate the benefits of coaching, I can take the example of a client, from the service industry, whose request was related to the managerial development of the team in charge of the company’s transformation. We implemented collective and individual approaches and worked in coaching mode. Each member of the team was invited – but not compelled – to register for an individual coaching. Beyond the initiated collective work, we started with 2 volunteers for individual coaching. We finished with 13 requests. The “word of mouth” of the first registrants, and the first results noticed spoke for themselves.

However, it is difficult to measure the long-term results of a coaching, especially given that in general, when the “knots” are detangled, the coach gets out of the picture. Two things must nevertheless be visible after a coaching: the evolution of the managerial practices and the development of a better knowledge of oneself / one’s team.

Unlike consulting, which may sometimes serve the elaboration of a long-term strategy, coaching focuses on the almost immediate resolution of a problem related to a blocking-point situation. It therefore aims at the change, and the awareness of this change by the individual / the group. For this reason, coaching usually brings more immediate satisfaction than consulting.

There are as many forms of coaching as there are coaches. How possibly get a clear view on the different options?

That’s right, there are different approaches and methodologies. It is also for this reason that it is important not to work alone and to capitalize on the complementarity of the coaches. Some coaches tend to be more of active listeners and adopt a step-back or “meta” position, while others are more of facilitators. Some are more about intuition, others are more about structuring. This also offers an advantage for the client: the possibility to choose the approach and the person that suits him best.

In short, coaching is a complementary tool to a consulting approach and, as far as I am concerned, allows me to broaden the way I can support transformations.

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