Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A change is as good as a holiday

It's been some time since I posted here. Suffice to say I was doing other things. Clichéd as it sounds, the past 13 months flew by and while I seem to remember being occupied, unfortunately I feel a little cheated. Why? Because I have nothing tangible to show for all that time passing.

So what was I doing?  I was busy with coaching and charity work up til mid July. The summer was quiet, filled with cricket with the Off-Spring, walks on beaches in Wales and lots of reading.  Now, while the memories remain, I struggle to find tangible evidence that I contributed anything at all to the world. The final quarter  of the year saw a change of gear and a focus on education - both that of the Off-Spring (number 1 is awaiting news of his secondary school place for this September), as well as other people's children with whom I work on communication skills, confidence and resilience. I hope some difference was made in that domain at least; time will tell.

On the "fun" side of things, I drank a lot of coffee, developed a keen interest in kettle bells, enjoyed some of London's finest museums. And became a little OCD about jigsaws...

But there remains a sense of dis-ease, that in spite of all that activity, I have very little to show for it (note to self: mount and frame current jigsaw when completed).

Consequently, over the Christmas and new year lull, I had ample opportunity to pause and reflect on achievement and contribution; productivity and engagement. These musings took place against the backdrop of my work as a coach.


At its heart, coaching is about managing change. Much of the time I work with clients to develop specific skills - often it will be communication skills; pitch and presentation work, interview technique, improving delegation processes and managing feedback. Sometimes we're focussed on time or stress management (or what I prefer to call - "wellbeing"), and sometimes the challenge we're managing is change itself - transitions at work, redundancy, retirement, starting a family or a business.

Sometimes a lot can be achieved quickly and without too much pain. A bit like losing weight quickly and easily when a more active way of life is embraced.

But what happens when the weather turns? When party season arrives or when the stress of the new job erodes the gains?

In order for real and lasting change to occur, there is usually a need to delve below the surface and explore the subtle and intricate issues that lurk there. Invariably in the corporate milieu, depending on who is buying the services, one tends to highlight the commercial benefits that the coaching brings about; the improved processes, the bids won, the greater levels of productivity, the enhanced satisfaction of the employees. One doesn't tend to highlight the breakthroughs made in understanding the subtleties and intricacies that underpin the issue.

At the end of the day though, without addressing those deeper issues, meaningful change is not sustainable. In other words, without understanding and addressing the "why" and the "why not", that transcend the "how" and "what, there cannot be true transformation.

For example, why is it that Mr X cannot get his subordinates to step up - what prevents him from empowering his team? Why does Johnny struggle to sell himself in interviews? Why is Ms Y unable to quit smoking and lose weight?

None of Mr X, Ms Y or Johnny lack verbal or cognitive skills. And if they don't know what to do they can soon learn. Despite this, nothing changes.

The fact is that the issue is rarely what it purports to be. And it's almost never about ability. To use the weight loss example again - Ms Y knows how to walk and run. She knows the location of a gym and has friends that swear by Zumba. And yet...

The key to change is not skills and training. It is the alchemy that comes about where there is congruence between motivation, volition, energy and action.

So what does that have to do with achievement or productivity? Or my need to have something to show for all my efforts.

I have some ideas, but now that I have your attention I will save them for my next post...

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