Managing Change: As a Coach (Part 1)



June 13, 2018

As a successful Change Manager, you need to be adaptable and play different roles based on the specific client needs. While often adopting a variety of roles, you’ll need to be able to act as a coach, a friend and a translator. This blog is the first in a three-part series exploring the roles of a Change Manager.

In his 2012 Harvard Business Review article, “Accelerate!,” John Kotter describes ‘change’ as not being led by a change management team, but rather by a “volunteer army” of employees who buy in to the message of change and are committed to it.

This speaks to more than one tenet of change management: the importance of organisational change networks; the need for top-down and bottom-up leadership; and the value of empowerment. Fundamentally, though, this illustrates the power of coaching people through uncharted waters. In times of uncertainty and change – when we are asked to work, behave, or perform differently – enabling people to solve problems for themselves is absolutely the key to success.

Coaching is a pivotal role, important to the development of people and retention of top talent. Indeed, coaching touches all elements of the Prosci Model in supporting individual change.

But what makes a good coach?

In sporting terms, a coach is someone who teaches, trains, or instructs. Whilst this definition is sound, it is based on an ‘outside-in’ assumption: that simply increasing someone’s knowledge will increase their performance. In my view, adopting an ‘inside-out’ coaching approach drives faster personal growth.

Three qualities in particular stand out:

  1. Active listening or being present, asking questions, summarising back.
  2. Removing internal interference that allows the person to act on what they already know, speeding up decision making and problem solving.
  3. Giving feedback in a way that is two-way, meaningful and candid.

These qualities endure in all contexts, whether it is an organisational restructure, a new business process, the roll-out of digital technology or introduction of new ways of working. Knowing when and how to deploy coaching can be a key differentiator as a Change Manager.

One particular case study involves delivering change management for a digital transformation programme impacting thousands of employees. In this situation, business relationship managers work with each business unit and its change network to ensure that people are ready, willing, and able to adopt the change. To achieve this, it is necessary to build collaborative and trusted relationships with business stakeholders and employees, making them a positive part of the journey. In this scenario, actively listening to people brings great results. Furthermore, it is crucial to build capability amongst the wider team through knowledge sharing and regularly coaching colleagues ‘on the job’ by asking: Is there a different way to tackle this problem and what meaningful feedback can I give?

On another project, the goal might be to ensure that line managers are bought into a particular business change and are able to support their front-line employees through it.  In this situation, a ‘Coaching Plan’ proves to be extremely effective in facilitating two-way communication and feedback between employees and the people they trust the most.

Coaching is definitely not without its challenges. It requires practice and our natural instinct can often be to ‘tell’ and not ‘ask’. However, there are times when an altogether different approach is needed.

Click here and here to read the other blogs in this Change Manager series.