With a considerable overlap between the intent, skillset and processes of coaching and change management, it is difficult to separate the disciplines.
Coaching and change management have both emerged as disciplines with the potential to transform teams and organizations. While coaching focuses on the path to achieving personal or professional goals, change management has the same intent but for projects or organizations.
The two disciplines also share similar skill sets and processes, and even their history and formalization have had a parallel journey.
A change management practice that recognizes and values a coaching approach can enable individual change to achieve organizational goals.
"In practice, you can’t effectively separate change
management and coaching," says Sheila Fain, CEO
of LaMarsh Global.
“Coaching and change management are too intertwined. Daily, change practitioners are enabling people through coaching.”
Nurturing collaboration and shared understanding between the disciplines is an opportunity for change management professionals to apply better strategies for behavior change – without a departure from their core strengths.
Convergence of coaching and change management
Many professionals in both coaching and change management didn’t even know their role was an option when they started their careers.
Therese Heeg is a certified coach and change management professional. While these titles were not common when she started coaching, she nurtured new opportunities and pursued advanced training to refine her career around her passion for empowering people.
“As a coach, I partner with people to identify what matters most to them,” says Heeg, founder of LifeWorks Coaching & Training Inc.
“Coaching is an approach that can be used with people at any level to help them have insights, set meaningful goals, identify next steps, and create success in life and work.”
Heeg’s own change management practice developed alongside her coaching practice. She has observed the integration of neuroscience research and process-based assessments into both disciplines. The perception of coaching has shifted away from solving accountability issues to a strategic approach to grow leaders and teams who can adapt to change.
Heeg used to spend more time sharing the value of coaching, but now it is becoming increasingly acknowledged as critical in leadership development and organizational change.
As her projects expanded into organizational development, she studied and applied systemic approaches to change management. She now connects coaching and change management to drive change by partnering with leaders.
“In my practice, I focus on helping leaders have a mindset of change leadership and agility,” Heeg describes. “And then I help them systemically build that into their organizations.”
Overlap between the disciplines
Heeg has training and breadth of experience in both coaching and change management, but she doesn’t view projects from two distinct perspectives. The overlap between the disciplines allows her to approach change – on the individual scale or across an organization – through a consistent mindset.
She describes three major connections between coaching and change management:
- Skills and mindset
- Reliance of individual change in organizational change
Skills and mindset
Even if change management professionals do not have formal coach training, Heeg observes that many are already leveraging coaching strategies.
“Successful change management practitioners know how to listen for the real needs and wants of the client. They ask questions that create new insights and help leaders engage stakeholders,” says Heeg.
“These are the exact skills that successful coaches use.”
The coaching process is also aligned with the change management process. After current and desired states are identified, the gap can be measured, and progress can begin to close the gap. Other steps of both processes – including clarifying what success looks like and building feedback loops – are also similar.
Since organizational change relies on individual change, Heeg identifies coaching as “one of the best ways” to support the people that need to accept and adopt a change.
“Whether you are implementing a new software, merging organizations or driving toward a more inclusive and anti-racist culture, you need to get individual buy-in, gain commitment and eventually see behavior change.”
Organizational change relies on individual change, so coaching is integral to change management.
“Coaching and change management share tactics to motivate people to accept and adopt a change,” says Fain.
“Some of that will come through the coaching and some of that will come from the assessment of risk and implementation of the Change Plan.”
Coaching was always part of change management
Coaching and change management have often been described as complementary yet distinct. When it was included in change management, coaching was seen as one tool – out of many – that change practitioners could select when the conditions or risks necessitate it.
When coaching was included, it wasn’t always defined the way that coaching is understood today.
“Coaching has always been embedded in LaMarsh Global’s Managed Change methodology, but we didn’t call it a ‘coaching plan,’” says Fain, noting LaMarsh Global’s Change Master Advanced practitioner training has expanded its focus on coaching strategies in the past few years.
Broader recognition of coaching has expanded its acceptance beyond a tool to manage accountability. Conversations about coaching are moving away from fundamental definitions and value proposals, and the next step is to explore further integration between the disciplines.
“There is an opportunity for the change management community to learn from professional coaches in how to apply coaching approaches more effectively,” says Fain. The insights and strategies she learned have been immediately applicable during difficult conversations with leaders.
As organizational change continues to become more complex yet critical for success, change practitioners benefit from the strategies and tactics that have been developed and refined by professional coaching. The pace of change is only expected to increase and it is normal for organizations to undertake multiple changes at the same time.
Change management professionals can learn how to listen, ask questions and set up relationships that enable individuals to come up with their own action plan from coaches.
Like any collaboration, some unknowns need to be navigated to optimize strengths.
“A partnership between the disciplines can shine a light on the situations, triggers or guiding principles where change management practitioners would benefit from bringing in a professional coach,” Fain adds.
For change management practitioners new to coaching, Heeg understands any hesitancy to learn what sounds like another field of work. But she affirms that coaching can be leveraged in a few simple steps.
“You don’t have to be a certified coach to use the tools,” emphasizes Heeg.
“Change practitioners will benefit from a coaching mindset and learning the skills and strategies around listening and asking powerful questions. Likewise, coaches can benefit from gaining change management expertise.” ■