Research indicates that organisational change programmes have an average success rate below 50%, falling to 19% for organisations attempting cultural change (Smith, 2002). Disappointing rates of success are also seen when individuals attempt to make behavioural changes, as anyone who has tried to break a long-term habit will testify. The challenge is, therefore, to identify the ‘active ingredients’ that underpin successful changes, and ensure that these are in place when attempting change.
At the organisational level, there are broadly two approaches to change – diagnostic and dialogic. Traditional change management techniques, developed primarily in manufacturing environments, take a scientific approach, treating change as a problem to be solved – typically by management or external consultants. This is achieved by analysing existing systems and processes, diagnosing problems, identifying improvements, before introducing new ways of working, designed to bring about the desired changes.
Many knowledge-based organisations function through networks of individuals, not systems and processes. Changing how these networks behave, requires individuals to shift existing ways of thinking, as a precursor to changing their daily actions. Dialogic change uses conversation to understand the organisation as it is now, and to generate new narratives that describe its potential future. Rather than forcing change on individuals, dialogic approaches allow new ways of thinking to emerge from conversations between individuals. This is the approach we take when working with clients. This means our role as consultants is to facilitate conversations that will lead to the exploring of new possibilities and solving of problems from within the organisation; rather than providing the answers ourselves.
Conversation is also fundamental to our approach to coaching, where we take a relational approach. This means we recognize our clients as individuals but we also pay particular attention to the ways in which they interact with the world around them, especially through conversation. In a work context, this could mean how they relate to clients, colleagues and the organisation as a whole. The working alliance between client and coach also develops through open and honest conversation. Recent research strongly suggests that the quality of this relationship is the most important factor in predicting the effectiveness of coaching (de Haan 2013). This means while we do use psychological techniques and theories when coaching clients, our approach is ultimately led by the relationship we have with the client.