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The Efficacy of Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change

The Efficacy of Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change

Of the identified 111 citations only 21 were empirical studies. The majority of these (n ¼ 15) used a case study methods or retrospective survey approaches (Wasylyshyn, 2003; Schnell, 2005; Fahy, 2007; Kombarakaran et al., 2008; Ozkan, 2008; Kress, 2009; Lewis-Duarte, 2009; Nardone et al., 2009; Perkins, 2009; Freedman and Perry, 2010; Rostron, 2011; Clayton, 2012; Lawler, 2012; Lewis-Duarte and Bligh, 2012; Ratiu and Baban, 2012). There were only three within-subjects studies (Trathen, 2008; Milare and Yoshida, 2009; Howard 2009) and two between-subjects studies (Kampa-Kokesch, 2002; Gravel, 2007), with only one randomised controlled study exploring the effectiveness of execu- tive coaching in times of organisational change (Grant et al., 2009).

Although this emerging evidence-base suggests that executive coaching can indeed be effective, over time there have been concerns expressed in the literature that executive coaching could be merely a fad, problematic, or unhelpful (Nowack, 2003), or that executive coaches who lack rigorous psychological train- ing could do more harm than good (Berglas, 2002). Thus, more empirical research is needed to evaluate the effects of executive coaching, particularly in times of organisational change.

The existing research that explicitly explores the effects of coaching during times of organisational change tends to be qualitative or exploratory. For example, Fahy (2007) presented an exploratory case study in which a grounded- theory approach was used to examine the role that executive coaching with a senior leadership team plays in the process of organisational change, and Schnell (2005) presented a detailed case study of executive coaching as a support mechanism during a period of organisational growth and evolution. Whist such qualitative and exploratory grounded-theory approaches can give rich insights into individuals’ lived experience, they fail to provide quantitative data, and both qualitative and quantitative data are needed in order to comprehen- sively develop the knowledge base.

The rationale for the present study’s design is that, to date, little is known from a quantitative perspective about the effects of coaching on executives as they go through periods of organisational change. Quantitative evaluations are important because they can provide objective and aggregate measures of change and allow for direct comparisons between different outcome studies and different popu- lations – key factors in the accumulation of knowledge and the ongoing develop- ment of an evidence-based approach to coaching. However, because quantitative evaluations do not highlight individual participants’ subjective experiences, both quantitative and qualitative approaches were used in the present study.

The extent to which coaching helps develop personal change readiness – the capacity to cope with the uncertainties that organisational change introduces into one’s work life – is not also known, nor the extent to which coaching helps develop leadership self-efficacy, resilience, or workplace satisfaction.

260 A.M. Grant

Hence the aim of the present study was to explore these issues and so doing further develop the knowledge base associated with executive coaching.

The Psychological Mechanisms of Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is informed by a broad range of theoretical frameworks ranging from the cognitive through to psychodynamic and the solution-focused (see Passmore, 2005). However, regardless of theoretical framework, there are a common set of principles underpinning executive coaching and these include col- laboration and accountability, awareness raising, responsibility, commitment, action planning, and action (Grant, 2006). That is, regardless of theoretical orien- tation, the coaching relationship is one in which the coach and coachee form a col- laborative working alliance, articulate goals, and develop specific action steps designed to facilitate goal attainment. The coachee’s responsibility is to enact the action steps. The coach’s role is to help keep the coachee on track, helping them to monitor and evaluate progress over time, as well as providing an intellec- tual foil for brainstorming and facilitating the process of examining issues from a range of different perspectives.

Executive coaching may thus be effective through at least three underlying cog- nitive and behavioural mechanisms. First, having a confidential and supportive relationship in which to reflect upon and discuss personal and professional issues can relieve stress and anxiety and give individuals the space to consider pro- blems from a range of perspectives (Myers, 1999). Second, the process of setting personally valued goals and then purposefully working towards achieving them can enhance well-being, build self-efficacy, and help develop solution-focused thinking (Sheldon and Houser-Marko, 2001). Third, systemically engaging in such processes along with being supported in dealing with any setbacks can build resilience and enhance self-regulation, both of which are vital factors in suc- cessfully dealing with change (Baumeister et al., 2006). As a result of the above, coachees may well experience greater self-efficacy, change readiness, job satisfac- tion, and well-being as well as being better equipped to deal with change and workplace stressors.

Relevance of Coaching in Times of Organisational Change

Given the above delineations of the coaching process, there are several key reasons why coaching might indeed help executives function more effectively during times of organisational change or turbulence.

First, in order to deal effectively with organisational uncertainty, executives need to able to stand back from the day-to-day cut-and-thrust of corporate life and engage in the flexible strategic thinking necessary to understand and construc- tively react to emergent and unpredictable issues, and such reflexivity sits at the core of the coaching process (Day et al., 2008). Second, effective leadership of others requires the leader to have good personal insight – an awareness of one’s own personal thoughts, feelings, and behaviour (Gill, 2002) – and coaching has been shown to increase such insight (Grant, 2007).

Executive Coaching in Times of Organisational Change 261

Furthermore, when working in complex adaptive systems (such as global businesses) that are in states of turbulence, problem-focused diagnostic and causal analysis may not be very helpful, and may even impede goal progression (Cavanagh and Lane, 2012). Leaders need the ability to focus on solution con- struction and for many this will require a shift in mindset from a diagnostic approach to a solution-focused thinking style, and coaching has been shown to increase solution-focused thinking (Grant et al., 2012). Not least, self-efficacy is also a key factor in helping individuals deal with situations that are novel, unpre- dictable, or stressful (Schunk, 1983) and coaching has been shown to increase both self-efficacy and management skills (Baron and Morin, 2010).

Context of the Present Study

The present study was conducted in cooperation with an organisation with global capability in strategic consulting, engineering, and project delivery. It operates in 17 countries across Asia Pacific, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, deploying some 7000 people in 54 offices. Having started in 1964, the business has grown significantly in the last 10–12 years.

The organisation had also undergone a number of significant changes in recent times. In October 2011, a new CEO assumed responsibility for the business fol- lowing a 15-year tenure by the previous leader. In addition to the organisational change and turbulence often associated with new leadership, a new business-oper- ating model was also introduced in July 2011 with a stronger focus on collabor- ation across the business, requiring significant shifts in the way that various business sectors operated and interacted. The business has also undergone some recent restructuring. Additionally, during 2011 and 2012 the business was in the process of exploring the possibility of a transformational merger to assist it in ful- filling its ambitious growth targets.

Such organisational changes typicality create significant stress for employees and managers as they re-calibrate their working practices in response to a shifting and turbulent corporate landscape whilst simultaneously striving to achieve their designated organisational goals. It was these issues that made this a useful context in which to study the impact of executive coaching in times of organisational change. The coaching programme was conducted during 2012.

The primary aims of the coaching programme included developing participants’ ability to manage change, to navigate ambiguity, and to foster productive relation- ships across the business. In addition, the programme was used as a way of sup- porting participants in managing their own career development through developing greater clarity and a deeper understanding of their individual strengths, personal values, and development needs.

The coaching sessions were conducted by 14 experienced professional execu- tive coaches from a global firm of business psychologists. Twelve of these were registered psychologists and of the other two, one was International Coach Federa- tion accredited and the other was tertiary qualified and an experienced executive coach.

It was hypothesised that participation in the coaching programme would be associated with increased goal attainment, enhanced solution-focused thinking,

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