Role of coaching in change management

Strategies for coaching leaders and people impacted by change 

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Change practitioners wear many hats. Their role is dependent on the project, organization and overall change capability of the leaders and people within the company. 

The mosaic of responsibilities varies from project to project, but change practitioners may be involved in one of these roles – either at different points in the project or at the same time. 

  • Auditor: Gather and evaluate data on the state of a change or organization. 
  • Planner: Develop change management plans and establish decision making structures. 
  • Advisor: Review data and company goals to suggest options for decisions.  
  • Project manager: Implement plans and manage risk through the life of a change. 
  • Trainer: Deliver training to transfer change management knowledge and develop skills.   
  • Coach: Partner with leaders and employees to help them understand and work toward their goals.  

Coaching is one approach in a change practitioner’s toolkit. It is among the most misunderstood and yet powerful tools that a change practitioner can use to develop sustainable change capability in the people of an organization. 

Change practitioners may select a coaching approach when working with individuals or groups impacted by a change, and coaching can empower leaders to be effective and willing in their roles as sponsors or managers.  

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The importance of coaching 

A coach is entirely distinct from a trainer or advisor, explains Cathy Liska, the CEO and Training Director for the Center for Coaching Certification.     

As a coach, I know my clients have the capability of figuring out what to do and how to do it,” says Liska, who has over 25 years of experience in training and leadership development. “Telling somebody what to do doesn’t work.” 

While trainers or advisors often say what they think is the best course of action, coaches engage with questions so their clients will decide what to do or how to do it. Coaching does not give people the answers; instead, it is a process for their clients to process the situation and decide what to do for themselves.   

The opposite of coaching is giving people the answers to the problems or situations they are facing. When someone receives an answer (or is told what to do), three outcomes are likely:  

  1. They don’t do what they’re told because it is not their solution (this is the most likely outcome). 
  2. They do what they’re told and it doesn’t work. 
  3. They do what they’re told and it works, and this creates a dependency on the coach. 

“These outcomes are what happens with leaders all the time,” describes Liska. “They are not developing people that are capable until they come up with their own answers.” 

Coaching does not give the solutions or plans. Instead, it is a process to walk people through to figure out the solution. For change practitioners, the ability to coach both leaders and people impacted by change is an opportunity for those individuals to decide for themselves what to do. For organizations, coaching develops employees that can consider and own the course of action based on what they think is the best solution.  

Coach training will help leaders and people impacted by change to “say what they do want and make sure that the focus is proactive,” says Liska. That’s the game changer.” 

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When to be a coach 

By separating coaching from advising, change practitioners expand the tools they have when working with leaders that are sponsoring or responsible for a change.  

Randy Kesterson is an Executive Fellow at LaMarsh Global and a Certified Master Coach. For some clients, coaching is a tool to help them become better leaders of change. 

“When I’m invited to get involved with an organization, it’s sometimes because a major change initiative has gone wrong or off the tracks due to resistance to change,” explains Kesterson. “I often find that sponsorship or leadership of the change (actually a lack thereof) is the main culprit of the derailment.” 

With a background in organizational process improvement, Kesterson sometimes shifts from an advisory role to coaching. It’s possible (and often expected) to wear multiple hats in the same project, but the hat that he selects is a deliberate choice. 

“My typical approach is to assess, train as needed and then coach.” 

Change practitioners may be expected to be an advisor or consultant, and coaching is an opportunity to help leaders be better at sponsoring change. 

“Leaders typically don’t learn how to be sponsors of change as part of their education process, so I typically start by assessing the leaders’ understanding of their role as a leader and sponsor of change,” says Kesterson. “I work to fill any knowledge gaps, and then I coach some of the leaders to help them become better sponsors of change.” 

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Opportunities for coaching in change management 

Change practitioners often work with people involved with a change: the leaders responsible for or sponsoring a change, and the people that are impacted by the change (which can often include the leaders).  

Even though these are two distinct groups of people have different roles and responsibilities, change practitioners can consider using a coaching approach for both groups. 

Coaching strategies are the same when working with leaders or with employees impacted by change, says Judy Searle, Director of Consulting Services at LaMarsh Global. The conversations or communications have to be adapted to the audience, but the foundation remains the same: help people to understand their role and the decisions they can make during a change.  

When coaching leaders before or during a change, the conversation is founded on the specific business objectives they want to achieve. 

Coaching is partnering for success,” describes Searle. “Ask them questions and do a lot of listening. I invite them them to consider: What outcomes are you trying to achieve?” 

Successful outcomes rely on a quality solution and preparing an organization for the solution, and coaching can support leaders to clarify what it will take for success.  

“Change management is one part solution and one part acceptance,” says Searle. “Leaders often emphasize the solution and getting it right, and coaching is an opportunity to help them prepare the organization for the solution that is coming – to get people to understand, accept and adopt the solution.” 

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Strategies for coaching leaders 

Leaders are often incredibly busy. Their role in a change project is essential, and at the same time their calendar is often filled with essential responsibilities that extend beyond the change initiative.  

For Sheila Fain, CEO of LaMarsh Global, coaching is an opportunity to “explore information and perspectives they may not otherwise reflect on.” 

Change practitioners can identify risks, potential outcomes and options. And by asking questions and actively listening, their coaching contributes to leaders making the best decision they can from the information available and what the leader knows about the organization. 

Coaching is helping them see the full perspective and the full impact of changes they are making, and then consider a wider or larger dataset when making those decisions. 

Fain suggests coaching strategies that assist the leader to identify their concerns, consider the options to mitigate or manage their concerns, and understand what information is necessary to make a decision. Strategies can include: 

  • Listen to understand: Ask them about the benefits or challenges of a change. 
  • Consider the alignment between leaders: Decisions are rarely made in isolation, so ask them what they consider what other leaders think of the change. 
  • Focus on willingness: Ask them if they are willing to lead a change or what it will take for them to be willing. Skills to lead a change can be developed or augmented, while only the leader can decide to be willing. 

Change practitioners are often pulled into discussions or roles that extend beyond coaching or even beyond change management. Coaching is a distinct and powerful tool for change practitioners to empower leaders to fulfill their roles as decision makers. 

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As coaches, we play an important role in helping leaders understand the decisions that they’ll have to make along the way to achieve that vision.

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Training to expand your coaching skills 

Coaching is a valuable skill for change practitioners, and organizations can leverage coach training to develop capable leaders. The upcoming Change Master Advanced Certification Workshop from LaMarsh Global will include a session dedicated to coaching. 

Change Master Advanced Certification Virtual Workshop 
October 27 – December 03, 2020 

This advanced learning program and certification will prepare you to manage complex change projects, coach change practitioners and be an effective leader. In this virtual workshop, Cathy Liska from the Center for Coaching Certification will lead a session on coaching skills. 

Register for the workshop

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