why coaching matters  
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The first in a series of three articles originally published on (adapted)

Coaching is in the news. We see serious-looking ex-CEOs in the FT and bright four-colour-enthusiasm-on-legs in the media. In between there are therapists, HR professionals, sales people, the charismatic, the damaged, 'certified' coaches, 'master' coaches, 'chartered' coaches. Sometimes it seems like everyone and their dog is a coach.

So what's going on and is it any use to me and my business?

The answer to this last question is "yes, almost certainly". In this series of articles I'm going to explain exactly why coaching has emerged in the business environment; how people describe their coaching and what that means; what coaches actually do and how that generates benefits.

These are all personal perspectives that other people in the field may disagree with. My aim with these articles is to give people in business a better understanding of this growing and important field so that managers and leaders can make an informed choice.

Why coaching matters more than ever

In this first article I will explain my personal view of why coaching has emerged in the business environment. So right back to the beginning. What's going on? For businesses, it's all about complexity.

The rise of uncertainty

I've seen three big changes in the world of work since I started my career. Firstly, the final demise of the career-for-life. Managing your own career is now the norm. Secondly, the growing diversity and speed of change of markets. This has fuelled the continuing growth of the market-responsive small/medium firm in the economy and has seriously challenged large established companies. Finally, the decline of the concept of an establishment of blue-chip businesses: the kind of businesses that have always been there and always will be there. This has been turned upside down by radical change in the business landscape.

So what's the point of this? Well let's just think about how these changes affect people and businesses.

Uncertainty in careers

Many years ago, people's first job had an enormous impact on the rest of their career. Many people stuck with the same employer for life. Yes, change happened, but it was not the expectation. Nowadays, we know we cannot rely on the same job, employer, or even profession lasting a whole working lifetime. Nowadays, we need constantly to reinvent ourselves; constantly to be alert; to assess and reassess the impact on our own lives of changes in society, work and business. A complex world, but one of infinite opportunity in which every person's situation is unique. It's almost as if there are no rules. There is no text book any more.

Uncertainty in markets

The second theme I mentioned was the impact of rapidly changing markets. This does to business what business has done to careers. It wasn't always so, and to an extent businesses have been able to lessen the effects of change. Take for example, Henry Ford. He optimised his production line by stabilising his market: the Model T famously came in "any colour as long as it's black". Ford lived in an age of industrial rationality. How to do things well could be worked out from first principles.

Now come back to the present. Now business needs to innovate constantly, to develop new processes and new proposition. How could you characterise the difference? It's like there's no textbook any more.

Uncertainty in business

So to the final theme. In this uncertain world, some very established businesses fail. They fail to change. They fail to adapt. Or they just get it wrong. Businesses that seemed infallible fail. At the same time, new names emerge: the phenomenal growth of Microsoft, Amazon's radical business model. Were either of these thinkable even 20 years ago? We no longer know who to rely on. What do we know? Nothing: another illustration that there are no certainties, no text book.

And the spirit of adventure

What do all these changes mean to people actually doing business? What they mean is that every situation, every individual, every decision is novel and complex. There is no set formula. In place of reliability we rely on talent. Talent has taken the place of competence. It is an age not of industrial rationality, but of industrial adventure. In this age there is only talent.

And here's the big thing: you can't regulate talent: you can't write it down; you can't deliver a course in it (after all, there's no text book). It's about experience and learning (exploring) and it's individual. It's about where you've been and what you know, and then it's also about where you're going and constant adventure.

THIS is exactly what coaching supports: individual experience, learning, developing knowledge and adventure. THIS is why coaching is significant for modern business, THIS is why it is just as important to the small business as it is the the large corporate, and THIS is why it has grown so rapidly over the last 20 years. It has emerged as the most effective way of developing the personal adaptability - the talent -to deal with complexity and uncertainty. We're all explorers now.

So, what is coaching and how will that help my business? That's the subject of my second article.

  Next article: What is Coaching?

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