Using the Three Horizons in coaching

As a career coach, I'm very aware that no coaching can be fully effective unless it is located in the context of the wider world and the impact that will have on the coachees. I have started to use a variant on the Three Horizons model – usually employed in approaching long-term business planning but, as a variant, is also useful in career coaching.


What is the Three Horizons model?

As with all models, it can only be a framework for stimulating discovery and reflective discussion. When individuals are weighing up choices and making decisions around career pathways, it’s important to think about the longer-term environment rather than just the short-term opportunities.

As a model, the Three Horizons is a useful way of seeing beyond the short-term or the medium-term and getting set for a future that guarantees nothing but change. 

Horizon one is ‘business as usual’; carrying on in the same role or the same career and the same work-life (im)balance. It’s sometimes the easy option, the status quo, not rocking the uncomfortable boat. But, as we all know, the world is changing faster now than ever before and staying still, doing the ‘same old same old’ is not always an option.

The pandemic has shown us that entrenched work patterns have to, and can quickly and dramatically change, leaving those who are inflexible, for whatever reason, behind. For many, Horizon one is as far as they can see – overwhelmed or hemmed in by circumstance or people or by their own mindset.

Horizon two is ‘the point of transition for an individual’. It’s the hurdle, the leap in making changes to ways of thinking and acting. That may be in response to different pressures: changes in health, wealth, technology or competition in the workplace, and so on. Or, the transition may be proactive and positive.

Reactive transition (having change forced on you) is rarely easy and can also be distressing, painful, ineffective and sometimes destructive. Making change happen or riding the energy of change that is going on around you can be empowering and fulfilling. Using change positively is about seeing to the distance of Horizon two and equipping yourself physically and mentally to get there and beyond.

Horizon three is the ‘world and the person of the future’. This horizon is where there are no assumptions about the continuity of the present; where disruptive technology, ecological time bombs and demographic and societal upheaval almost certainly will significantly and unimaginably impact all of us.

Current hopes and dreams, and the plans that lead out from them, may have to be abandoned and new hopes and dreams may need to be created. This is not necessarily negative and, in fact, can be exciting and liberating. Being prepared for Horizon three is about preparing to be surprised and in many ways preparing to be, well, unprepared. Being open and agile, embracing uncertainty, being less focused and more alive to peripheral vision.

Using the Three Horizons can be a useful model for coaching; it’s often challenging and uncomfortable, but it can be very revealing and almost always can move coach and coachee forward together.

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Tunbridge Wells TN4 & London EC2M
Written by Stephen Paul, BA, ICF accredited coach
Tunbridge Wells TN4 & London EC2M

A transformative life coach, and NLP practitioner, Steve works with individuals wanting change and growth in order to find fulfilment in their work, social and personal lives. In addition to coaching, he has wide and varied work experience, an empathetic and sensitive nature, and a practical down to earth approach. Steve is also a business mentor.

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