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How Can a Coaching Culture Help Your Organization Succeed in a VUCA World?

10th September 2018 | Ro Gorell

crowded train station with lots of people.jpg

Many change programmes seek a definitive answer to the problem that change is aiming to solve. However, organizations are so complex that you cannot say up front what will happen – only what you think will happen. In this sense, all change is a hypothesis that you are testing.

The ability to experiment with the creation of hypotheses is a necessity for the creation of a coaching culture. In fact, most coaching models are based on this. After all, we identify options that we evaluate and put into action.

The beginning of most coaching sessions starts with a review of what’s happened since the last session. In other words, how did your actions pan out?  That’s where we gain insight, and this forms the basis of future action. That said, this key assumption is one that challenges people most – that we cannot predict outcomes, yet we act as if we can.

“But I can’t use the word ‘experiment’ in my organization, so how will this help me?”

This is often the comment we hear when we mention experimenting.  If we think about it, how can we possibly know the outcome of actions we’re taking? There are so many variables at play. And that’s where we introduce why an experimental mindset is even more important in our world today - VUCA. So if the word experimenting is a step too far, think of it as testing and piloting. 

Exploring VUCA as the context for a coaching culture

You've probably heard the term VUCA mentioned a lot recently, it's a small acronym to describe a big problem. The world is changing. Fast. The acronym describes how we experience this; Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA). It’s the rate of change that is driving our need to cope - the technology and advancements in science mean that we are increasing the rate of change faster than our ability to absorb the changes.

Volatility in most industries and sectors means that change happens even when you think your business is in a steady state. 'Business as usual' is no longer possible because you can't control external factors and you need to increase the speed at which you are able to respond.

Uncertainty grows as the world grapples with multiple challenges relating to how we live and connect globally. Current political landscapes create constraints and unpredictability while advances in technology, such as AI, change the future face of work.

Complexity means there is no longer a clear cause and effect but multiple variables at play in the way we do business. We're moving to a model of organizations as interconnected social networks.

Ambiguity now shapes how we think about business models, undermining our once traditional view of how businesses should operate. Business models are being up-ended by ‘Blue Ocean’ strategies - Uber, Airbnb, Amazon have all created shifts in consumer behaviour and challenged traditional businesses.

Curiosity through coaching helps create resilience

An organization that embraces coaching naturally engages in curiosity. Curiosity is a prerequisite and antidote to uncertainty and complexity. One of my favourite thinkers in the complexity space is Dave Snowden. He describes this as ‘exploring the evolutionary potential of the present’. In a coaching conversation, we start with understanding the current reality before we step into what might be. As we progress through coaching conversations we open up options and possibility. Yet we’re always connected with our present reality – acknowledging that this is the starting point from which we move forward.

In many organizations, there is a reluctance to embrace this spirit of curiosity because often, there are constraints such as shareholder expectations. Or market pressures. And many other factors that typify that complex and volatile context.

In organizations, this means fully embracing what is known and unknown up front. Surfacing hidden or tacit assumptions that might emerge later to stifle or block progress. Adopting a beginner’s mind or child-like curiosity- one that’s open to learning.

child-like curiosity

By adopting a spirit of curiosity, space to think and deep presence, coaching encourages innovative and novel solutions to today’s problems. The coaching space enables the organization to take multiple perspectives and explore different options.  In this way, allowing the organization to make a conscious choice about which option to choose.

Creating an environment that encourages a coaching stance enables an organization to not only survive in a VUCA world but to ride the wave and turn it into an opportunity to innovate and leverage the talents of the people within. In that sense, coaching is a perfect fit for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

Developing coaching as an enabler of change is one way of countering the current pace of change – not just at work but across the whole spectrum of our lives.


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