There’s a cottage industry called “coaching” that’s sprung up over the last few decades (it’s quite a large cottage, but still). On the surface there’s nothing wrong with this. But I have come to believe that the fact this industry exists at all is an indication of a dirty and not-so-little business secret.
Before I go any further into my main argument, I want to say one thing — I love coaches. I have many friends who are coaches of all kinds (executive, internal, life, you name it), employ all sorts of coaching methodology in my consulting practice, and while there are many groups that one can affiliate with, I typically identify most strongly with coaches.
But I have become convinced the entire reason that this field exists at all is because our organizations have failed at something they were supposed to do. Our businesses have neglected the “human” side of business, thereby creating a hole for “coaching” to fill.
As our companies navigated their way out of the industrial revolution, leaders had to create all sorts of different “things” to make our work work. We had to build technologies to help us work better, we had to design buildings to house our workers, and we had to architect management practices to organize our employees. Over the last decades, our technologies and buildings have evolved dramatically, from the telegraph and the factory to the iPhone and the virtual office. Strangely, however, our management practices haven’t really changed all that much.
We still treat people as though they are doing one-dimensional work (like moving something along an assembly line), when for most of us work is complex, ever-changing, and multi-dimensional. Because our management practices haven’t evolved, we continue to treat our people as though they are a cog in a machine — which generates a slew of behavioral problems. Problems that coaches are then brought in to fix.
The hole created by this endemic leadership failure was so huge that an entire industry had to be built to fill it — an industry we’ve come to call “coaching.” I don’t bring this up to place blame or point fingers; I only mention it to illustrate our current situation. This is the world we live in — but it’s one that’s changing quickly.
As organizational leaders realize what the marketplace now requires from their companies, they will see that there is a tremendous competitive advantage to be found in maximizing the human beings in their organization. (It’s likely the competitive frontier for the foreseeable future.) This will make maintaining a career as an external coach harder and harder, because businesses will continue to pull back contracted resources for coaching, shifting them to in-house workers. This will happen not because coaching isn’t valuable, but because the talents coaches bring are SO valuable, they simply can’t be an external function any more.
But of course, organizations are only one piece to this puzzle; we also have individuals. The other reality here is that the strengths which make up a coach-type person were simply not valued in assembly line work. Many coaches found this aspect of organizational life so challenging that they decided to venture out on their own, leaving a talent gap in many organizations. This means that when leaders embark down the road of maximizing their people they will quickly discover they don’t have the right kinds of talent to do it. There will then be opportunities for coaches to go back to “internal” work — but the coaches I know will be reluctant to do this without the promise of a wholly different kind of corporate experience.
We have before us a tremendous opportunity to reinvent the very fabric of how we organize our organizations. Are you up for the challenge?
Image is from johnmuk on Flickr