The "law of the few," popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Tipping Point, holds that 20 percent of the people in a group ("the vital few") typically drive the behavior of the whole. But finding the right 20% of people to affect behavior or culture change at an enterprise level is incredibly difficult.
Coaching in recent years has become a popular option for organizations to try to effect change at this magnitude because technology has made coaching far more scalable. Businesses are, therefore, more frequently altering their approach to growth and change to include coaching at every level of their organization.
This is a good start.
But to see the real power of coaching at scale you need to connect it to critical business goals. By channeling the energy of your people towards a shared purpose you turn moments into momentum and accelerate enterprise-wide change.
This is known as connected coaching.
Connecting individual coaching to business objectives
Executive coaching has proven to be a powerful tool for organizations to effect behavior change in its leaders. But the focused scope of this style of coaching makes it challenging for the impact to spread across the entire organization.
Organizations have also looked to scale these coaching efforts through technology, but many are focusing on the scale and forgetting about the context. While people do gain important skills from these targeted learning modules, those skills are disparate, disconnected and hard to harness in order to hit business goals. Individual growth happens, but only ever adds up to a series of disconnected moments.
Driving enterprise-wide change isn't just about the availability of coaching— the coaching must also drive a multi-layered set of holistic business objectives. The goals of these initiatives should be formed around critical areas of growth and opportunity for the business. For example, working toward building a more agile workforce, transforming the company culture or embedding inclusive behaviors and company values.
Defining the "vital few" and initiating momentum
When enterprise-wide change is the end goal, you first need to identify and coach the 20 percent of individuals who will have the most influence on their teams and the organization.
Social scientist Nicholas Christakis has investigated how human behaviors spread through communities and social networks and found that "there is emotional contagion that takes place in human populations." So, if we reach 20 percent of the whole and effectively instill a behavior or culture change, group dynamics will allow the results to snowball.
"A coachable executive who makes progress is then reinforced by their peers," says Dennis Baltzley, a Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry. "If more of them have coaches, it is then taking that and echoing that to their teams, which is creating more performance, which is then creating an organizational capacity. That organizational capacity, once we hit 20 percent of the leaders, creates a tipping point."
Without a clear objective and coaching that is aligned to that goal there is no tipping point—only increased performance. The tipping point is created when the coaching is directed toward something specific.
"[When] everybody's focused on agility, and all of the coaching is on agility and all of the teams are now focused on agility, then you actually create a tipping point for a more agile organization," Baltzley says.
What to look for in the "vital few"
While identifying the right mix of individuals can depend on the specific business objective, there are several key criteria businesses can focus on.
There could be certain job roles within your company, such as business unit or HR leaders, that have the highest number of connections across the business. These people are essential to have on board when spreading new ideas. Equally, there could be different roles that hold the most trust and expertise. These individuals won't necessarily spread new ideas to the greatest numbers of people, but they may have a greater impact on those they do reach.
You'll want to identify people with a wide horizontal influence over many business units, such as a communications or HR role. They can help an idea cross-pollinate better than those with a narrow purview.
Coaching at scale should reach a cross-section of individuals at every level of the company. However, the program will need to be tailored to the different needs of each level. Training for both senior executives and frontline workers should be aligned to the same enterprise-wide purpose, but they may take different forms based on factors like depth of material and intensity.
For a culture or behavior change to successfully reach everyone in the organization, you need representation from all groups within the coaching program. It's important to amplify the voices of a diverse range of people to ensure you maximize your opportunities for different and innovative thinking.
Certain moments in the career path of an individual in your business may present chances to create momentum. For example, when someone moves from a contributor within a team to a team leader, this might be the ideal time to coach a certain behavior and encourage it to spread.