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Is the development of talent and creativity among employees restricted by corporate culture? A study of the views of executive coaches and mentors.
Background of the study
Productivity and quality of products are not the most valuable core competence of modern companies. Before, the mechanistic organisational structure promoted the specialisation of corporate functions in order to eliminate the subjective aspects of human activities that impeded higher productivity. Standardisation of procedures was clearly defined to optimize performance. However, such organisations became bureaucratic due to inflexible management and lack of prompt response to environmental changes. Now, companies trying to keep pace with technological advances are investing all resources in innovation. Human capital has moved to the main assets of a company, because innovation is generated by new and original ideas. Innovation depends on employees' creativity. Needless to say, organisations need to change their structures, creating a more flexible and organic procedures in order to promote employees' development. Although, structural changes, whether institutional or individual, are not easily performed: the need for change usually faces the resistance to it. In response to new demands, new techniques and professionals emerged to facilitate changes at a personal or organisational level which can promote the development of creativity in the workplace.
It will be analysed the relationship between organisation and employee: social pressure and corporate expectations over the individual's self-actualising tendency, based on Maslow's Theory of Motivation. Organisational structure, corporate culture, leadership styles, learning organisation and HR Development will be discussed in conjunction with theories of personality development.
It will be design a research methodology in order to understand how the concepts here analysed play an important role in the human capital development. The research will be conducted by interviewing executive coaches and mentors - external professionals that are hired to promote change and personal development in companies. It will also be analysed the techniques, the based theories that coaches and mentors make use and the impact of coaching on corporate culture and vice-versa.
Creativity and talent are intrinsically related to the self-actualisation process (Runco & Pritzker,1999,p353). Although it is a personal development, it must be considered within a social context: institutions and social groups establish social roles to be performed by individuals. How can individuals respond to these social expectations in a creative way? Is there room for original ideas and idiosyncratic attitudes in the workplace environment? Are institutions converging their objectives towards a more friendly approach to individuality's performance? And finally, how to develop employees' potentialities within an organisational environment and which barriers, resistances and limitations can be found in the corporate context are the main objectives of this proposal for the dissertation.
Innovation and change: buzzwords that show the route for any company's success. In the management arena, innovation and change are essential topics to keep the business afloat and thriving. Changes in organisations are required to promote innovation and innovative behaviour and products will lead to new changes in the organisation. Like in the Darwin's Theory of Evolution, an organism needs to constantly adapt to the mutable environment. In the same way, companies are struggling to keep ahead to their competitors through innovation. Although changes in organisations are manageable, innovation is not (King & Anderson,2002,p162). It can be nurtured, but not controlled. Innovation is a consequence of a high level of human thinking activity: creativity.
Creativity is the foundation of the innovation, an essential brick to build competitive advantage for any business. But how creativity can be nurtured? What is the manager's role to boost creativity among employees? What is the relationship between corporate culture and creativity? Creativity is usually considered as an individual trait, an isolated inspirational moment. However, the social and cultural contexts are vital to understand the creative phenomenon. An example is the Van Gogh's paintings. During his lifetime he was not considered a genius and died alone and poor. His paintings were considered creative after a re-evaluation under a new aesthetic criterion (Csikszentmihalyi,2006,p7).The creative behaviour or thinking is an expression of the socio-cultural context or a reaction against this environment.
In business organisation, creativity seems to be associated with Marketing and R&D, but every function in an organisation can benefit from a creative approach, from the CEO to the operational staff. Regardless the job position, creativity can bring to companies new productive methods or a more dynamic managerial approach. According to Amabile (1996), creativity is made of three elements: expertise, creative-thinking skills and motivation.
Expertise is all knowledge and ability a person has regarding his or her work sphere. It does not matter how the knowledge was acquired: through formal education, practical experience or interaction with other professionals.
Creative thinking skills are the ability to combine new ideas to find a new approach to problems and solutions. These skills depend on personality traits and also on how a person thinks and works (Amabile,1983).
The third element is motivation - the willingness to perform towards the achievement of a specific goal. The author points out that intrinsic motivation (such as passion and interest) is far more decisive than extrinsic motivation (such as rewards) to promote creative solutions. People are more creative when they are moved by the natural interest and satisfaction in a challenging work - and not by external pressures (Harvard Business Review,1999).
However, what can managers do to stimulate creativity? To ignite the intrinsic motivation, managers need to gather people with different skills in creative thinking in a challenging situation to stretch their abilities. Autonomy also fosters creativity, because giving people freedom in how to approach their work, enhance intrinsic motivation and job satisfaction. Resources are other aspects that can interfere in the creative process. Limited budget and shortage of time to accomplish the task can inhibit innovative solutions. Leader's encouragement of new ideas can also facilitate the creative environment whereas highly critical managers can impede any employees' initiative. Another aspect in the process of implement innovation in companies is the employee's diversity in workgroups. Homogenous groups tend to create cohesive thinking which eliminates conflictive situations but also prevent from "creative problem-solving and decision making, because the diversity of perspective generates more alternatives and greater critical evaluation" (Basset-Jones,2005).
Although Amabile's academic contribution is a milestone to the subject in order to understand creativity in the workplace, the lack of a critical organisational analysis turn her approach incomplete. To understand how the organisational environment can limit or improve the human potentiality is a very important issue to discuss.
The first aspect to consider is the corporate structure. Findings point out that mechanistic structures, based on formal relationship and rigid rules where decision making is limited to top management and employees' participation are poor, often inhibit creativity (Andriopoulos & Dawson,2009,p228). In contrast, organic structures are better suited to change environment where innovation is necessary. Here employees have more participative interaction and communication in a more informal approach. A flat corporate structure that encourages autonomy and team work tends to enhance creativity.
The leadership style is another determinant aspect to nurture or hinder employees' creative potential. The general consensus supports the democratic-participative style of leadership as promoting creativity and innovation. A high level of technical skills and expertise are vital for leaders under uncertainty conditions to assist, as competent facilitators, employees in the achievement of organisational objectives. Also, the leader's ability to communicate their vision and inspire people can enhance employees' motivation and commitment. The ability to set goals, allowing employees to find the routes (lateral thinking) is another desirable trait for innovate leaders. Effective leaders have to be able to balance autonomy and control, direction and space - empowering people without losing the strategic direction (Andriopoulos & Dawson,2009,p203).
The corporate culture is the heart of the organisational creativity and innovation. Culture is a form of social control characterised as a shared phenomenon, existing in both visible artefacts and mission statements and also in subconscious levels. It is learned by members of the group through a process of socialisation and is relatively stable (Andriopoulos & Dawson, 2009,p267).
Innovative companies value flexibility, mobilise freedom within the workplace and encourage cooperative team work. It involves risk taking, non standard solutions and unconventional teamwork practices. It also supports a continuous learning culture, tolerance of mistakes and conflictive situations. In corporate cultures that promote creative thinking and innovation, the change process becomes part of normal behaviour. However, it is easier said than done, as observed the president of Nissan, Yutaka Kume: " The most challenging task I faced when I became president five years ago was to reform the corporate culture...I decided that the major reason for our suffering or business predicament lay within Nissan itself" (Mayle,2006,p177).
According to Cameron & Quinn (1999), the culture of organisations can be represented as four quadrants formed by two axes: "introversion-extroversion" and "flexibility-control". The combination of the quadrants defines four basic organisational cultures:
Clan: a culture that seeks to please its members (flexibility-introversion)
Adhocracy: a culture that seeks to broaden its horizon (flexibility-extroversion)
Market: a culture that seeks to get things done (control-extroversion)
Hierarchy: a culture that seeks to ensure stability (control-introversion)
The ideal corporate culture type to nurture creativity is the Adhocracy style that allows companies to be opened to new technologies and change in general, promptness to take risks, flexibility to react to new developments and new approach to problems and solutions (Burbiel,2009).
Having analysed the main factors in organisations that affects the development of creativity, another question may emerge: Why is now the age of creativity? Andriopoulos (2000) gives the following reasons:
Technology: Companies are forced to keep up to the rapid technological advancements, in order to maintain their competitiveness.
Demanding Customers: Low prices and better quality of products create a demanding consumer market which low level of loyalty to brand of products.
Global Competition: The fierce global competition forces companies to constantly change strategies and update its knowledge for making quick innovations, turning them to learning organisations.
Higher employee's expectations: Taking the human resources as a competitive advantage, organisations are impelled to find ways to motivate and develop their talented people.
Having reviewed briefly the creativity from the psychological, organisational and strategic point of view, another question emerges in order to clarify the subject: how is it possible to approach the subjective theme of creativity in the workplace so that can be observed and analysed? In this essay, the analysis of external executive coaches' functions will be considered as relevant to understand the methods and the effectiveness of promoting the creativity among employees.
Coaching is defined as a process that provide help and support for people in a competitive world in order to facilitate them improve performance, develop skills and optimize their potentialities (Hawkins & Smith,2006,p21).
There are four types of coaching. In skills coaching, the coach helps the coachee to develop new skills related to their role or job, such as sales or IT skills. Performance coaching is less focused on the acquisition of skills and more centred on raising the coachee's level of performance. Development coaching focuses on long term development of competencies and capabilities for future roles and challenges. Up to now, all coaching types can be executed by managers or internal coaches. Transformational coaching, also known as executive coaching, is a one-to-one meeting where the purpose is to develop leader's skills conducted by external coaches. The external coach gives to companies an outside perspective, with less internal reference. As they are not part of the organisation, their behaviour are not framed or "contaminated" by the organisational belief systems and emotional climate. "They are more likely to have greater in-depth training and experience in coaching in different contexts and at different levels of development, and therefore are more suitable for providing transformational coaching that impacts the whole organisation" (Hawkins & Smith,2006,p25).
The research will be focused on external coaches. The analysis of executive coaches' performance can provide information about transformational changes in the top level management that can lead to changes in corporate culture and corporate mission. These structural changes can provide interesting data about employees' development and the effectiveness of coaches' procedure. The objective is to analyse how changes in the top management can promote the creativity or, using a more common jargon - the talent management - among employees.
First of all, it is vital to introduce the research methodology that is going to be used in the dissertation. According to Easterby-Smith et al.(1991) there are two approaches conducting social science research: positivism and constructionist or phenomenological.
The positivist approach believes in the external existence of the world that can be objectively measured by researchers. While positivist researchers use quantitative methods to gather and analyse data in order to prove a hypothesis, the phenomenological researcher views reality as a social structure that only the human perception understands and cannot be simply measured. Researchers who use this approach tend to use qualitative methods to collect data and the analysis can be both qualitative and quantitative methods.
The creativity that is going to be analysed is not a rigid, predicable or controllable phenomenon; it is fluid, dynamic and personal. A phenomenological approach using qualitative methods should generate the type of data needed and provide validated empirical evidence within a social context (Watt,2004,p37).
It was decided that the method to collect the data is the semi-structured interviews with coaches and coachees in UK. Also, the observation of workshops to develop talent among employees would be an appreciable source of information. The use of semi-structured interviews gives the interviewee room to reply, not following exactly a schedule. Questions that are not included in the guideline may be asked as the interviewer follows the interviewee's response (Bryman & Bell,2007,p474). In this research, interviewing executive coaches can give the basis to understand the techniques and methods used by these professionals in order to promote change among employees. Also, interviewing managers can provide important information about the effectiveness and validity of the executive coaching approach.
Coaches will be contacted by email, requesting a face-to-face interview about their professional functions and will be asked questions regarding organisational development, barriers to promote innovations, managers' resistance to change and other possible limitations. It will also be requested the possibility to interview managers in coaching process, explaining the importance of analysing how the coaching techniques effectively promote change and how these changes are related to personal development. Interviewing both sides of the coaching process can provide a more reliable comprehension of this technique. The researcher is aware of the difficulty of establishing contact with the coaches' clients, due to the clients' privacy procedures.
At the beginning of each interview, the interviewer will stress the confidential nature of the interview while explaining the area of investigation and the objectives of the research. In addition, participants will be informed that the interviews will be recorded, in order to encourage them to be as open and interactive as possible without fear of retaliation. All the recorded interviews will be transcribed with the permission of informants, although names may be changed to protect confidentiality, depending on interviewees' request. The number of interviews is expected to be about 10: five from executive coaches and five from their clients.
Due to the subjective nature of creativity, the qualitative data may be under scrutiny of reliability. Although, as Strauss & Corbin (2008,p11)pointed out:
"Qualitative methods can be used to explore substantive areas about which little is known about or about which much is known to gain novel understanding. Qualitative methods can be used to obtain the intricate details about phenomena such as feelings, thought processes, and emotions that are difficult to extract or learn about through more conventional research methods".
The phenomenological approach to analyse the data means that the reality is built through the interviewee's eyes - the only one that can measure the importance of his/her own experiences - and creating meanings and directions. Phenomenology is characterised by exploring and describing the definite foundation of the experienced world, a foundation that, furthermore, is not available to empirical observations. Phenomenology is different from the empirical sciences because it deals with the world in a different way, based not on matters of fact but on the necessary conditions for the coherence of experience of the social beings (Arbnor & Bjerke, 2009,p 41).
At first, it was considered 12 weeks for the dissertation. Additional time may change the below timetable, but the main process will remain unchanged.
Finalise topic and title
Literature research and writing the literature review
Finalise the literature review and design the questionnaire and interview topics
Gather data and analyse the data
Analyse the data
Draft the dissertation
Draft the dissertation
Review and finalise the dissertation
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