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PhD Defence Joost van Andel | Relational Coaching for Management Consultants - A Social Constructionist Action Research Study

Relational Coaching for Management Consultants - A Social Constructionist Action Research Study

The PhD defence of Joost van Andel will take place in the Waaier building of the University of Twente and can be followed by a live stream.
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Joost van Andel is a PhD student in the department Change Management & Organization Behaviour. (Co)Promotors are prof.dr. C.P.M. Wilderom from the faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences, prof.dr. S. McNamee from the University of New Hampshire and dr. J.S.E. Dikkers from Hogeschool Utrecht.

In 2016, the idea grew in me that management consultants and their clients may benefit from consultants’ personal development. Reviewing literature and interviewing professional experts offered support for doing an exploratory PhD study in this field. According to both the literature and the experts’ views, an increase in consultants’ self-awareness and reflexivity may contribute to the facilitation of complex organizational change processes. In turn, this may help to decrease the infamous number of 70% of organizational change initiatives that fail to deliver the expected results. In this dissertation, I present whether and, if so, how coaching management consultants could provide solace. An Amsterdam-based, fast-growing management consulting firm participated in the action research, which is also presented in this dissertation. This consulting firm offered their experienced consultants an opportunity for coaching by me, focused on their individual questions, centering on their own stakeholder interactions.

This action research study is based in social construction, which key premises center on a) language practices; b) process orientation; c) future forming; d) meaning as relational; and e) centering the specific context. Social construction resonates well with action research which a) addresses real organization issues; b) contributes to practical knowing through scientific process; c) is collaborative, doing research with people, rather than on or for them; and d) is reflexive, meaning a constant evaluation of what is happening, to decide about how to go on. For the empirical part of this study, I designed a two-phase relational coaching experience in collaboration with the consulting firm partner and the participating management consultants. In phase 1, 12 consultants participated in a tailor-made coaching journey of approximately 10 sessions on average. In phase 2, six of these consultants participated in a coaching follow-up with a reflective journal which was specifically designed for this. At the individual management consultant level, the coaching journeys were evaluated both from within the coaching process, and through independent interviews and a pre-post survey study for phase 1. The survey study measured Emotional Intelligence and the Transformational, Transactional, and Instrumental Leadership style, before and after the coaching. Further the ‘concept’ of the developed practice was evaluated in conversation with the consulting firm partner and a senior consultant who had participated in both phases.

The results of the coaching should be considered examples of outcomes of a potentially transformative process, rather than identifying common themes in management consulting or ‘generalizable facts’. This study underscores the unique character of problems as narrated by the consultants and co-constructed different ways to go on. However, the realized unique outcomes and actions in this particular study can be articulated in the following generic terms. Varying per management consultant, the coaching has resulted in an increase in acceptance of specific phenomena in management consulting (such as organizational politics); better awareness and reflecting abilities about typical patterns in communicating and improved self-assurance; enriched orientation to professional identity; a broader repertoire of professional conduct in challenging situations; and active experimenting with doing things differently, in a sustainable manner. These ‘professional outcomes’ were often preceded by ‘personal outcomes,’ which contributed to increased acceptance of self, others and life history; improved personal relationships; understanding ‘personal backgrounds’ of their ‘professional coach questions;’ and improved experiences of wellbeing. The coaching journeys resulted in a broadly recognized growth in Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership, and increased satisfaction with internal and external stakeholder interaction.

In the coaching follow-up, the participants sustained and extended earlier coaching outcomes through continued experimenting; extending awareness; and acknowledging the (persisting) personal intricacies in challenging consulting situations.

Resulting from a semi-systematic literature, the developed practice of Relational Coaching for Management Consultants turned out to be an early contribution to the field. I have described the developed practice using seven ‘building blocks’ which I identified through this literature review. Offering this description is my attempt to further extrapolate the results of this particular study, and offer an actionable resource beyond the people and organizations that were directly involved (for example, other management consultants and coaches). In addition, I offered a theoretical account of relational coaching, being coaching from a social constructionist orientation. This account serves both as the groundwork for articulating the developed practice, and as an addition to, or expansion of existing relational coaching literature. Further, the developed practice can be considered a contribution to the field of organizational change and learning centering on language and communication, which was called for. The developed practice may also be considered a particular contribution to the field of reflexive management learning. Finally, I hope to have made a small contribution to a methodological ‘cease fire’ in science wars, by showing that holding a particular research paradigm does not require an a priori rejection of any research method.

With respect to future research, I have suggested five topics: 1) a relational oriented ethnographic study into consultant – stakeholders interaction (my initial plan for the coaching follow-up); 2) an empirical study into the extent to which organizational change initiatives, facilitated by consultants who engaged in coaching, generate the desired results; 3) an empirical study (or analyzing existing empirical studies) into the contribution of coaching other service professionals around stakeholder interaction and the experienced quality of service; 4) a literature review on the topic of relational coaching in order to prevent conceptual fuzziness, and an empirical study into how practices in other coaching disciplines are coherent with ‘coaching as process of social construction’; 5) an empirical study into the extent to which management consulting firms’ ‘learning landscapes’ aligns with their strategic orientation toward effective management consulting.

I have shared my reflections on my role as an action researcher which include struggling and persisting; finding my way around differing research paradigms; writing in English and the writing process in general; and things I would (not) reconsider if I would start over again.