There is a growing trend for organizations to use coaching to help executives in leadership development, but using coaching to support employees in transitions during organizational change is limited. The focus of this research is to determine the effectiveness of using coaching at the line level to facilitate organizational change. This paper examines the nature of organizational change and its impact on employees, compares coaching with other change management strategies, discusses the coaching tenets and benefits, and articulates the importance of coaching employees as part of organizational change management.
Organizations need to make changes to adapt to their shifting environments so as to thrive. Such changes range from internal restructurings to mergers and acquisitions. In North America, about 14,000 mergers and acquisitions were announced in 2011 compared to about 3,000 in 1985 (IMAA, 2012). Organizational changes appear inevitable and prevalent. As they will demand more of an organization’s resources, it is vital that an organization understands the nature of change and selects the best approach to manage such changes.
Nature of Change
William and Susan Bridges, (1991/2009), authorities on transitions, comment that “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.” They aptly observe that where there is change, there is transition. As change is viewed as external and transition as internal, employees need to go through transition to internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation. Bridges’ three-phase process of an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning, highlights the need to provide the employees with time for psychological reorientation.
The Bridges’ point is appreciated by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, reputable authors of “Switch”, who comment that businesses implicitly reject the growth mindset and expect all changes to happen by planning and executing with no room for a “practice stage” in the middle (2010, p.168). The Heaths explained that change can only come about when the tension between the two systems in the brain is addressed. In their book, they draw an analogy with a Rider on an Elephant: the Rider represents the rational and logical part of the mind and the Elephant represents the emotional and instinctive side. They caution that motivating the Elephant to make a switch can be challenging.
David Rock (2006), an experienced corporate coach who holds Professional Doctorate in the Neuroscience of Leadership, agrees as he explains that “when external realities change, people’s internal realities often don’t change as quickly.” When major changes happen, the employees “literally need time to rewire their minds” and “make their own connections, according to their own wiring.” Organizations “can make the space for this to happen, and encourage it,” but then they “need to take a step back and allow the process to unfold.” (p.17) The consensus is that change is a process that takes time. The employees need to attend to their emotional side before behavioral change ensues. By understanding the process of change and adopting an approach that deals with the emotional side of the employees, an organization can expedite the change.
Impact of Change on Employees
Most of today’s employees have either seen or personally experienced layoffs. They tend to believe that the organization has no qualms about dropping them in a flash; therefore, they are not willing to sacrifice their lives for the benefit of the organization. Organizational change is perceived as something done to them rather than something they can do or control. At the same time, these employees may be apprehensive about leaving their safe and familiar territory and abandoning their identity, their behavior may be one of psychological distancing, such as reducing their work effort or attendance, decreasing their commitment to organizational goals and beginning to seek other employment opportunities.
As Marshall Goldsmith (2007), America’s preeminent executive coach, judiciously noted, “when you take self-volition out of the equation and forces beyond your control are involved, natural law applies.” The only natural law he witnessed is this: “People will do something – including changing their behavior – only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interest as defined by their own values.” (p.29) As employees feel that they have no choice or control over the organizational change, it is not surprising that they rely on this natural law. Every choice is a risk-reward decision where the bottom-line thinking is “What’s in it for me?” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 30)
Change Management Strategies
Most organizational structures are based on a command-and-control model which assumes that employees will automatically do as they are told. In a troubled economy, employees may comply for the sake of keeping their jobs. That is the benefit in their “What’s in it for me?” question. Preferably, the benefit for the employees is engagement and growth as fearnof loss is not the strong motivator needed to sustain change.
Generally, change management is performed by the internal leadership and management teams. Consulting and training are often added to bolster the change management efforts, but none of them engages the employees’ emotional side.
The Bridges stress that changes of any sort “finally succeed or fail on the basis of whether the people affected do things differently” and if the organizations “don’t help people through these three phases, even the most wonderful training programs often fall flat.” (1991/2009, p.5 & p.6) The inadequacy of training alone to effect change is also appreciated by the Heaths when they maintain that “to create and sustain change, you’ve got to act more like a coach and less like a scorekeeper.” (2010, p.168)
To change effectively, employees have to let go of the old ways and old identity, realign their values and beliefs, buy-in to the change, adjust their behavior, and adopt a new identity. It is the doing of what is recommended by the consultants or learnt from the trainers that makes the difference. Goldsmith (2007) observes that “the most egregious source of corporate dysfunction” is “the failure of mangers to see the enormous disconnect between understanding and doing.” (p. 211). Neither consulting nor training motivates the doing. Coaching appears to be the only approach that drives the doing.
Tenets of Coaching
The International Coach Federation, a leading global organization founded in 1995, and dedicated to advancing the coaching profession, defines “coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Its guidelines list eleven core coaching competencies that pertain to setting the foundation, co-creating the relationship, communicating effectively, and facilitating learning and results.
Coaching is action-oriented. It encourages growth and change to enable the employee who is the coachee to perform at his highest potential. Coaching conversations are conducted in a safe, non-judgmental, confidential and trusting space where the coach listens attentively and asks the coachee thought-provoking questions regarding his values and beliefs as well as priorities and goals. During the coaching interaction, perceptions and alignments are examined, goals and support structures are created, and actions and follow-ups are performed.
Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl (1998/2011), experienced coaches whose book helped define the field of professional coaching, emphasize this: “Coaching is inherently dynamic; that is one of the fundamental qualities of coaching and a reason for its power as a medium of change. Coaching is personal; coaching creates a unique, empowered relationship for change.” (p.15). They contend that the coach “is a catalyst, an important element in the process of accelerating change.” (p. 14)