In the late 80s and early 90s an American consultancy, Creative Dimensions in Management
(CDM), delivered corporate transformation processes based on one-on-one mentoring to
a succession of UK banking organisations. The mentoring model used combined coaching
with techniques and models drawn from Comprehensive Family Therapy. One of these
models was based on a concept termed Progressive Abreactive Regression (PAR).
At its simplest this model predicts that, when a person attempts to significantly
change their performance, they are likely to follow a zig-zag path to growth,
alternatively progressing and regressing (see diagram).
CDM’s approach to corporate transformation explicitly stimulated and managed
these progressions and regressions. The person being mentored committed to deliver
a performance improvement of at least 35%, this level of “stretch” being designed to
provide the momentum to adapt to an entirely new level of performance.
Iris Martin, CDM’s founder gives the following example of her work with CEOs. A
commitment to a 15% increase in performance leads the CEO to ponder “Is this
actually possible and if so why I hadn’t I thought of this myself?” (introspection);
a 25% performance improvement leads to a deeper regression where the CEO
questions whether they can sustain this performance and whether it was really a
result of their efforts anyway (fear of failure); a commitment to performance improvements
of more than 35% leads to a still deeper regression in which the ego’s existence is
threatened (fear of success) and where breakthrough will result in a new sense of
identity being forged and sustained higher levels of performance.
The key to managing these regressions lies in increased self-awareness. As the growth
goal increases, awareness and self-consciousness must deepen in order to manage the
regressive trends that occur. These trends include moving beyond one’s illusions about
oneself and one’s potential; moving beyond the defences that protect the self from the
anxieties of growth; examining and resolving the ambivalence that prevents a total
commitment to achieving one’s vision; embracing fears and terrors associated with
failure and success including shame and abandonment; and, ultimately, discovering
one’s will – an energy source that can fuel the activation and achievement of any vision.
One prediction that this model makes is that a change intervention can have a nett negative impact - and the evidence shows that that is frequently the case. This is because change agents often don't recognise the importance of managing regressions, and instead take the regression as an indication that change isn't possible. In fact regression indicates the opposite - that significant change has occurred (the regressive pull-back would have happened if there hadn't been a significant forward movement) - and that successfully managing the regression will allow further positive change to be achieved.
For more on this approach see From Couch to Corporation: Becoming a Successful Corporate Therapist
, by Iris Martin.