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How coaching can generate strategic shifts in times of crisis

Karl Van Hoey, Karl Van Hoey, ICF Master Certified Coach, Mentor Coach, Advisor, Author, Speaker and partner at Otolith BV Belgium

Our world faces many more crises than just the Corona crisis. However, Corona seems to function as “catalyst” for many of those other crises. Some of them have been ongoing for many years but may not always have been labelled as such: we observe an (upcoming) economic correction or recession, a mental health crisis that has been around for many years, a debt crisis that is still going on, and a growing awareness of the climate change crisis.

These days, professional coaches partner with their clients by exploring exactly these crises, their impact, and how to proactively deal with that impact.

Since March 2020, we clearly see a greater willingness and need to discuss these topics. When conversing about this, we also see leaders:

  • willing to share personal and vulnerable aspects of their professional and personal life, sometimes even in the presence of their teams.
  • forced to bring the need for strategic shifts in the business to a much higher priority level. Strategic management team-exercises move from sporadic to “ASAP” exercises. Clearly the actual health crisis has brought strategic management on the “here and now” – agenda. The words “avoiding a meltdown” have fallen.

What could have triggered that?
In some cases, probably concern for one’s personal health and future. In many cases, a deep concern for the survival and future of our clients’ companies and the people working in them.

The “burning platform”, one of the terms used as a condition for change in traditional change management, is all of a sudden very, very burning.

“We need to shift our strategy as quickly as possible, or…”
According to the Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management, a 2018 study from the International Coaching Federation and the Human Capital Institute, 77% of human resources practitioners and leaders report that their organization is in a state of constant change, with priorities and strategies continuously shifting.

The last 6 months, 60 to 70% of our (digitally organised) coaching practice has been entirely about “urgent” strategic changes for which the traditional strategic decision making process, whatever the approach being used, did not seem to provide any immediately actionable and inspiring outcomes.

Even when fear would suggest “crisis management” as a solution to avoiding strategic meltdowns, we have seen the most creative and sustainable outcomes with clients who adopted a coaching approach.  ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. It is a powerful tool to modify behaviors and drive business success while helping leaders, teams and organizations explore resistance, enhance communication and promote resilience in the face of change.

Strategic coaching and facilitation of leadership teams lead to more “daring” and creative decisions. Creativity is a competence in high demand.

Having facilitated 13 management teams in the last 6 months, spread over all industries, with global and local scopes, I have experienced that coaching becomes even more relevant when faced the need to make urgent strategic shifts in disruptive times.

Coaching serves strategic creativity and sustainable impact
“Creative” and “sustainable”: two words to be used very carefully… How does coaching generate these two characteristics?

By using a research-based facilitation process and an effective follow-up to drive the execution of the outcomes.

Part 1: Strategic Coaching and Facilitation
For the strategic coaching and facilitation part we are often inspired by the principles of Strategic Doing by Scott Hutcheson, Ed Morrison, Janyce Fadden, Nancy Franklin and Elizabeth Nilsen.

Two key-elements in that methodology are:

  • Collecting all available assets your team members dispose of and are willing to share with their organisation. This may include assets nobody was aware of so far.
  • Connecting these available assets, in ways they may never have been connected before

There are 4 types of assets for Strategic Doing:

  • Physical Assets (buildings, infrastructure, rooms, facilities,…)
  • Competency Assets (what you are capable of doing through skills, knowledge and behavior)
  • Social Assets (your network, the people you know)
  • Capital Assets (cash, reserves, or ways to access them)

Example: What if an accountant with deep knowledge of excel in an accountancy firm excels at making movies in his private time (but until today nobody in the firm knew). Could he make a movie about doing complex manipulations in excel, and explain it to customers? How could that “new” product or service shape and serve the company’s new strategy?

Part 2: Execution
Once you have agreed to adopt this as new strategic project, there comes the question of sustainable delivery. We have designed the CCDD coaching framework for achieving sustainable outcomes.

  • How conscious are you/we about the strategic decision we need to take?
  • How committed are you/we in exploring any other possible strategic options?
  • How decisive are you/we in taking the decision?
  • How busy are we you/we in execution, in “doing the decision”?

Imagine that the decision “is taken”. You are going to enlarge your offer in accounting services, by making movies on how to work with excel. Going through CCDD can help you effectively execute that decision, including exploring and solving any reasons why the decision is not getting executed as foreseen.

Bottom up leadership, even in crisis
An important ingredient is that the approach intensively encourages both leaders and employees to listen to each other and come up with novel ways to collaborate on strategy development. In the execution phase, where regular coaching is not always a given, CCDD helps to find clarity on why some things get done, and others not. It puts responsibility on the team to determine what needs to happen for successful execution.

All outcomes (in decisions and in execution) are being generated through bottom up- and team dynamics. At no moment, is there a leader or manager “telling” or “dictating” what to do, to survive the turmoil.


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