Enabling Change Management Through Coaching
Coaching has been found to be one of the most helpful approaches to helping achieve the goals of change management initiatives. Leaders who have coach-like behaviours are able to contribute to the success of change initiatives.
In a Nutshell
Leaders who have coach-like behaviours are able to contribute to the success of change initiatives
The change process starts long before the final decision is taken and senior management who are initiating or implementing a change would benefit from working with a coach to think through how best to do it
In order to help coach their staff, a people manager should develop the heart, mind, and skill of coaching
Coaching has been found to be one of the most effective approaches to helping achieve the goals of change management initiatives. Leaders who have coach-like behaviours are able to contribute to the success of change initiatives.Coaching helps address one of the biggest barriers to transformation—resistance to change—and can have direct impact on leadership style, helping leaders address blind spots, and building resilience and change readiness in teams.
Using coaching to lead an agile culture is correlated with greater confidence in employees’ capabilities in planning and executing change. We speak with Wen-Wei Chiang, Executive Coach at ROHEI, to understand how coaching can be used to help facilitate successful change management in organisations.
Drawing from almost 20 years in executive coaching, Wen-Wei manages and develops ROHEI’s team of coaches. Specialising in Executive Coaching and Leadership Development for senior leaders in ROHEI’s practice, Wen-Wei has coached CEOs and COOs from the top 200 largest companies in the world. His coaching focus includes relational leadership, leadership agility, business growth, transition and succession planning.
Change is accelerating with disruptive technologies and rapidly evolving business models. How has this changed the way leaders lead?
WEN-WEI: In the past, leaders were expected to almost know everything. They just needed more people to execute the vision. However, not everyone is Steve Jobs and able to seemingly have all the answers to the business. Times have changed. Today, technology is a great equaliser and there is no longer a class or even knowledge divide. The leadership challenge today is now how to get the best out of the team of people that I have. The top talent that we have today have their own aspirations. If they do not like how things are working out, they will go and start their own business. The coach-like leader will have the key ability to create a sense of engagement to be in sync with the team. They have the skill to have better conversations where the future can be co-created. Whenever we all decide to go together, that’s where we will all head.
When do organisations use coaching to support their efforts? It seems more to be something reserved for senior management?
WEN-WEI: Executive coaching has generally been reserved for senior management or high potential talent development due to the investment. I think this is largely still true. However, having experienced the benefits of being coached myself, my ideal world would be everyone receiving the gift of coaching. The engagement and performance gains would be tremendous, to say nothing of those times of uncertainty and change where having your personal confidante, cheerleader and strategist would be invaluable. Imagine if change managers develop coach-like behaviours in the roll-out process: you would get lower individual resistance, greater adoption as a whole and the synergies of people throughout the organisation co-discovering and co-creating the best way forward together.
How have you seen coaching used in the change management process?
WEN-WEI: Senior management who are initiating or implementing a change would benefit from working with a coach to think through how best to do it, even before it is announced to the rest of the organisation. More often, we have been asked to come in as an intervention after the change has been announced and they are facing a huge outcry or backlash and it is very challenging work. I’m a big believer that prevention is better than cure.
When would it have been useful to including coaching during a change process?
WEN-WEI: A coach to the change committee would be the first place where coaching would be helpful. This should ideally happen before the plans are set in place to help the team think through the change process itself. I think coaching would also come in helpful to invite the ground staff to be thinking about what changes they would like to see happening with the organisation first, even before announcing any official announcement or decision. Of course, the actual transition and implementation phase of the change is always an iterative process and coaching people throughout the organisation helps bring clarity to the individual and allows them to take courage in adapting to their part of the change.
So is this done by the organisation themselves or are you talking about engaging a professional coach?
WEN-WEI: I think it can be done both ways. If the organisation does not have a culture of coaching or if the management isn’t necessarily the most relational, then an external professional coach will add a level of safety for ground staff to share their real concerns and issues. To me, that’s the biggest contribution of an external coach: they provide implicit safety. There is sometimes too much risk internally if the leaders have somehow shaken the trust of their team for whatever reason.
Isn’t it ironic that people may trust those outside of their organisation more than they would trust their own people?
WEN-WEI: No agenda. Coaches are not seen as having self-interest because they are neutral. It really is about trust and whether people feel safe to give their honest input. The common complaint or ventilation that we hear people talk about in the change process is: you (the leaders) are not affected, we (the staff) are the ones most affected. The perception is that the ones leading the change are not affected, even though that may not be the reality.
The common complaint or ventilation that we hear people talk about in the change process is: you (the leaders) are not affected, we (the staff) are the ones most affected. The perception is that the ones leading the change are not affected, even though that may not be the reality.
For example, customer-centricity is a major theme in business today. Many of our clients are re-organising to improve the customer experience. One of our clients re-organised to create a single client manager for their clients. Instead of having to liaise with multiple product managers, there would be only one point of contact. This means that the client manager has to negotiate internally with the various product managers to customise (optimise is the buzz word) the best solution for the client. Unfortunately, optimisation is seen as a euphemism for ‘you win, I lose’ for the product manager who is asked to reduce their product contribution as part of the overall solution. Inevitably, self-interest kicks in as individual product managers continued to seek their maximal payoff. This behaviour at managerial levels made it even more confusing for the staff on the ground who were asked to comply when they see their managers resisting the change.
How is coaching helpful for those managing who are initiating or driving the change? How does it help leaders chart the course for change?
WEN-WEI: In my earlier example, senior management were analysing and responding to environmental and industry demands. Come the announcement, they had had ample time to acclimate to the new realities emotionally and rationally. However, for first time hearers of the proposed change, mostly what they heard were downsides. The change process starts long before the final decision is taken and coach-like behaviours can help contribute to a successful initiative.
The change process starts long before the final decision is taken and coach-like behaviours can help contribute to a successful initiative.
There is a price to pay for change. You can pay it up front or pay later. Whether it is time or money, there is no avoiding the cost that comes with change. If you take the time to engage with people up front, ask more and listen more deeply instead of telling, they can think with and for you. Who are the ones most affected by the organisation? How do we bring them along? Can we brainstorm the change together? If we do, they will engage with us and take ownership of the change process.
How can leaders acquire coaching skills even if they are not professional coaches? It this something that everyone can develop?
WEN-WEI: Absolutely. I’m a firm believer that everyone can be more coach-like in their conversations. Coaching at its simplest level is a conversation - how you speak and how you listen. Everyone can develop better conversational skills. The key for me is what do you speak for? What do you listen for? What turns “normal” conversations into coaching conversations is the mindset of the speaker. The mindset of the coach is definitely something that can be learned and developed. After that, improving conversational skills is a matter of practice.
What are some coach-like behaviours that people managers should have to help coach their staff through change?
WEN-WEI: In order to help coach their staff, a people manager should develop the heart, mind and skill of coaching. This would be the heart to believe that everyone can grow and be better versions of themselves; a belief that everyone is coachable. Coaches should also keep certain key principals in mind at all times: to connect and to challenge. Lastly, the skills of deep listening and knowing how to ask powerful questions is also essential. For leaders who are people managers, they can also give input into pacing based on what is most needed at the time. Regardless of their expertise, coach-like leaders can help their staff by being process experts rather than subject experts. Learn more about overcoming digital adoption challenges in the Building Digital Confidence E-book.
How can change leads be more coach-like to roll out change successfully?
WEN-WEI: On the one hand, it is heartening that most text-book models of change strategies emphasize the human element of change. On the other hand, many organisations still tend to drive change by (a) re-structuring and (b) creating new SOPs (standard operating processes). These are external interventions to shape human behaviour. In spite of countless anecdotes, we forget that culture trumps strategy. Coaches are, by definition, change agents. But the change that coaches seek to create are from the inside-out. As change leads invest the time in quality conversations, as the people they engage recognise their realities, assess their best options and take courage to act in the best interests of self and the organisation, the payoffs in terms of successfully navigating change and the resulting culture of trust would be huge.