Coaching Through Change
Helping People Embrace Change
Change is ongoing.
The world is changing fast, and no successful organization can stand still for long. New products, new services, and new ways of working mean that many of us are continually learning new skills, and adapting to changes in the workplace.
One of the key measures of success in change management is that you've managed to get support from all of the people affected by a change. With this support, you can implement changes smoothly, and with less disruption.
But, despite the effort of managers and senior executives, getting support for change can be difficult. Many people will feel that change is happening to them, rather than feeling that they are a valuable part of the future of the organization. And people who benefit from the status quo – for example, expert users of legacy systems – will quite rightly recognize that they may lose out as a result of the change.
How Coaching Can Help
Coaching people through change takes time and patience, but it can really pay off in the long run. Coaching can:
- Encourage people to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat.
- Help people understand and embrace change.
- Build a stronger and more communicative team, where everyone knows their role and their value to the organization.
- Identify training needs and develop talent.
- Prevent negative perceptions of change from getting out of control and spreading across a team.
As an organization adapts to a new approach to business, its people also need to adapt. Some people have a hard time doing this, and coaching can help them develop a complete understanding of what's happening, and why.
Perceptions of Change
Change in an organization can be incremental (minor) or transformational (major). An incremental change could include resetting performance expectations and goals to remain competitive, or changing the way sales calls are handled. A transformational change could include investing in a new business, restructuring departments within the organization, or selling off a part of the business.
The extent to which people feel threatened – or excited – is not always connected to the size of the change, but rather to how they feel affected by it. For example, if your organization is expanding, some people will support the change because they see opportunities for advancement or for a more varied work life. Others might not like the idea of working in a bigger team, or they might feel threatened by new people joining the organization.
The different stages of change will also affect how people react. For example, some people will cope well in the first stages of change, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll accept it in the long run. Likewise, people who find change difficult to begin with won't necessarily adapt badly to change in later stages.
Use Lewin's Change Management Model to help you further understand the stages of change.
To coach people through change, you also need to understand the Change
Curve. This describes the way that we react to situations where we feel that control has been taken away from us, and it tracks people's reactions through the stages of shock and denial; anger and fear; acceptance; and, finally, commitment. It's useful because it helps explain the emotional context of a person's reaction at each stage of the change.
However, you need to remember that the way a person expresses these reactions will vary hugely. For example, some may express shock through simple facial expressions, while others will have more extreme reactions. The key is to understand what the reaction is, rather than how a person expresses it.
An Example of Coaching Through Change
At a team meeting, you've explained that senior executives have decided that your team will be restructured to meet next year's profitability targets. Let's assume that you delivered your message (which included why the change is required) clearly, so that it was understood by most of the team.
Throughout the meeting, you notice that a group of people are looking back and forth at one another and may even be exchanging notes. This troubles you, because you understand how quickly a negative reaction to change can spread throughout a team.
Rather than call out those people, you then ask whether anyone has questions – but everyone is silent. From experience, you decide to speak with each person separately after the meeting. Below is how one such conversation might go.
|You:||I noticed that my announcement got your attention. Are you OK with what management is proposing?|
|Team member:||I'm used to it. Every year, there's change for change's sake, but it doesn't mean a thing. Life goes on.|
|You:||Would it help to talk about it a bit more?|
|Team member:||Look, I know you're doing your job, and you have to pass on what the top guys say must happen, but I don't think they get it. I don't think they know what it's like for regular people to earn a living and put food on the table.|
|You:||Do you think I understand?|
|Team member:||Maybe, more than them. But do you really think this makes any difference to what we'll be doing at this time next year?|
|You:||Yes, I do. I understand what you mean about life going on, but the team restructuring will happen for the reasons I explained.|
|Team member:||So where does that leave me? You talked through a process, but I'm no clearer about whether I'll have a job three months from now.|
|You:||Is that what you feel?|
|Team member:||I feel as though nothing that I do makes any difference to decisions being made. I can't change the organization, the team, my job – nothing.|
|You:||You can probably change more than it seems. What would you do if you could?|
|Team member:||Well, for a start, I would tell the company president just how I feel.|
|Team member:||I'm angry – and for all I know, I'll be looking for work elsewhere.|
|You:||Is that all you see as the end result?|
|Team member:||It's all that a lot of us see as the end result.|
|You:||Well, for now, I'm interested in your feelings and how things might really be different from what you think.|
|Team member:||I'm the most experienced person on the team, but I don't always feel that I'm the most valued because I speak my mind. If there's someone to go, it will be me.|
|You:||OK, I understand why this seems threatening, and you and I will need to talk more as the process goes on. I can tell you that there are no fixed plans for anyone on the team. While that makes the outcome uncertain, it means that your feelings about what may happen to you are fears, not facts. Why don't we talk about this at every stage through the process?|
|Team member:||I guess that's in my interest.|
This may seem like a coaching conversation that's only just begun to identify what's really going on, but that's often the way coaching works. You take the opportunity to do something, and make some progress, but you don't force an agenda. At the end of it, both of you know that fear is the main reaction to the change, and that some form of open communication will be one way of dealing with that fear.
Change Coaching Tips
Here are some further ideas to use for coaching people through change:
- Don't get frustrated if you already agree with the change, and the person you're coaching doesn't "get it" straight away.
- Take time to understand why people feel the way they do. Don't rush this – some people may not want to talk about their feelings at work. Others may be confused about their many emotions. As a coach, you'll need to take an individual approach.
- Make sure that the person you're coaching knows why you are doing it.
- Explain why the organization is changing, and the benefits of the change. You must explain this from everyone's perspective, including those whose jobs might be at risk. People must understand how the future will look and how this will affect them. Then focus on how the person's goals fit with the organization's goals following the change.
- Remember the "coaching toolkit" of questioning, active listening, and value-added summarizing.
Be sure to also do the following:
- Always look toward the future.
- Coach with mutual trust and respect.
- Challenge preconceptions and assumptions, but be supportive.
- Be nonjudgmental and open-minded.
- Take a nondirective and flexible approach.
Remember, it's not your duty as a coach to force change through – you need to identify what stands in the way of people accepting change, then use coaching to help people overcome those barriers.
Coaching is a powerful tool for helping people understand and embrace change in an organization. It can take time and patience, but the investment in coaching will usually pay off in the long term.
Take the time to coach others through what they might feel is a threatening situation. Find out people's reactions to every stage of the change. Then explain the benefits of the change, while matching up their goals and needs with the goals of the organization.
Effective coaching through change will build a stronger team, where everyone knows their role and value to the organization.