David Devins and Jeff Gold
It would seem that, for a range of different reasons, it remains problematic for external agencies and individuals to bring HRD interventions to small organisations and such difficulties continue to cause concern (Raper et al. 1997; Department of Trade and Industry (DTI/DfEE 2001). In spite of rhetorical recognition of the heterogeneity of small organisations, a substantial part of the difficulty relates to the important issue of how the world of a small organisation is constructed and comes to be valued. In particular, we would highlight the significant connection of the development and ongoing existence of small organisations and the identity of the owner-managers. In many respects, such managers view positively and value highly those activities that have brought them to their present position (Devins and Gold 2002). They also provide an indexical reference point of how learning has occurred and how external initiatives will be viewed. For example, many small organisations are unlikely to view positively HRD interventions which are based on generic and abstracted frameworks of how small organisations ought to learn and operate.
The aim of this chapter is to explore the extent to which coaching as an HRD activity can provide the means for working with the values and interests of small organisations. After providing an outline of why there are difficulties in bringing HRD interventions to small organisations, we shall explain the potential contribution of coaching. In particular, we outline a new view of the coaching process based on Mikhail Bakhtin’s dialogism (Holquist 1990) and Lev Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of human development (Wells 1999). We then draw on primary research to explore the coaching process and assess the impact of such a process on the performance of small business managers and others. We argue that a coach as an outsider (Pawsey 2000) can gain a unique understanding of the culture of a small organisation and the way that an organisation works and learns. Further, through careful attention to values and interests, conversational space, a necessary precursor for HRD activity, can be made.