What Can COACHING for Change “Look Like” on the Job? – March 2019
Welcome to part 3 in my series on COACHING and its pivotal impact on building individual and collective capability to lead change! (The first article in the series shared actionable findings from the Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management Research and the second explored how coaching positively impacts three top change challenges – leadership commitment, employee resilience, and communications effectiveness.) In this article we’ll dive deeper into what forms “coaching for change” can take within organizations, to prompt your thinking about how you can leverage coaching on-the-job.
When you think of coaching inside an organization, is the image you get one of an external coach providing executive coaching for the CEO? I invite you to consider a more expansive view of what coaching is, what it can look like in organizations, and the results it can achieve. Indeed, coaching can be done for CEOs by external executive coaches. And also by internal coach practitioners for all employees. And for individuals and for groups. And by leaders and managers every day on the job. And the CEO can play a coaching role too!
As the research clearly showed, organizations tend to rely on traditional methods such as classroom training and elearning to build change capabilities, but coaching – although far less frequently deployed – is rated as more effective in achieving the goals of change management initiatives and building people’s change capabilities. Unlike broader development activities like training or e-learning, coaching is tailored to the needs of the individual employee, team or work group, since the process is driven by the coachee(s) rather than the coach/trainer/other person.
Here is a sampling of the forms that “coaching for change” can take in organizations and the real results that can be achieved by this powerful but under-utilized approach:
External coaching for
frontline and mid-level leaders
In the words of one manager, “I’m good at creating a plan and putting together resources…My ‘aha moment’ was that I realized that what I’m not good at is understanding people’s emotions, that this change effects someone’s life. They cross their arms and say firmly, ‘I don’t want to do that.’” This manager explains that coaching helped him find new strategies for leading people through change: “I’ve put it on my radar, now, to see how people are feeling, whether they’re compliant or committed or resistant. I’m trying to ask the questions that can give me more information about people’s attitudes and perceptions about change.” This case study is also a great example of another form coaching can take, namely “managers and leaders using coaching skills” to support their employees and guide them towards their own self-discovery during changing times.
Coaching by leaders
and managers for employees
Coaching can also “come from within,” and equipping leaders and managers with skills to coach their people goes far to help realize the vision of “leaders developing leaders.” Such ongoing coaching is also critical as many organizations today transition from traditional performance management processes to cultures of continuous feedback. Moreover, managers-as-coaches facilitate real-time conversations in-the-field when changes are actually happening, which is one of the biggest reasons why coaching is positively correlated with successful change management initiatives. As one leader-and-coach reports, “when people are in the denial or resistance phase, I can help them. I spend more time talking and listening to their issues…You don’t come out of [a coaching process] saying, ‘I need to change my life,’ but saying, ‘Here’s a strength I can build on.’ The process was eye-opening.”
In addition to one-on-one coaching, organizations reap huge benefits when they provide coaching to in-tact teams. In the words of one senior director, “we go through a lot of change to keep relevant in the marketplace. I wanted to understand how my people manage change and then make sure the change comes across as positive and not a threat. I wanted to give my team what it needs to work to fullest capacity without being distracted.” Team coaching helped her achieve that goal.
Work Group coaching
Work group coaching differs from team coaching in that the groups are comprised of people who formally report to different teams. Work groups can take many forms. For example, often change is led by project groups comprised of people who are members of different teams in terms of reporting relationships, but who are brought together as a “work group” to manage a change process. Another example would be a cohort consisting of high potential or emerging leaders participating in a leadership development program. One such HiPo program leader shared that work group coaching participants “better understood their approach to change and their ability to cope with change. It showed them how they can be effective as individuals in various positions…I thought the entire process made sense and had incredible value.” In the words of one of the participants, commenting on the improved relationship she’s been able to foster with a key stakeholder in a change process: “since I’ve become a little more transparent and open, he doesn’t feel like he’s being pushed into a task without any reason. I used to say to myself, ‘it’s his job, he has to get it done.’ Now I realize I need to say why it needs to be done. Our rapport has definitely improved.”
As demonstrated by these case studies, coaching AND training are mutually reinforcing. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Capitalizing on coaching helps maximize ROI for your learning and development investment AND for your organizational change initiatives.