Change managers or agents wear a multitude of hats and they can be involved in a number of roles through the life of a project, which is often dependant on the change in question and the organisation they are working in. One of these roles is the role of a coach; they work very closely with the major stakeholders within a project to help them understand the change, and work towards their goals to make the change successful and embedded.
I am going to touch on why coaching is a necessary skill for all change managers and agents and how it can be used effectively.
A key part of any successful change is the acceptance of the change and then building on that acceptance to continually improve. Coaching mechanisms allow the recipients of change to go through a process of really thinking about what the change means and how they can make it successful and what they need to do.
Coaching is often overlooked or not recognised as an important part of a project professionals skill set. It’s important as a change professional that you are aware of coaching, how it can be used and how to look for those coachable moments and opportunities with the teams that you are working with. It can empower leaders to be effective and willing in their roles as sponsors or managers.
Coaching can often get confused with training and the assumption can be made that if someone is trained in a new process, way of working, or a new system then the job is done, and miraculously the change is implemented and everything works well. Telling someone what to do doesn’t work. Trainers will train you on how to do something using their methods and experience in a show and tell fashion, giving the instructions. Providing the answers to issues or situations that people are in usually ends up with them being in one of three camps:
- They don’t do what they’re told because it is not their solution or answer.
- They do what they’re told and it doesn’t work.
- They do what they’re told and it works, and this creates a dependency on the person who told them what to do – they don’t take ownership.
These scenarios don’t always develop people who are capable of coming up with their own answers. Coaching, on the other hand, follows a process for the ‘coachee’ (person receiving the coaching) to process the situation and decide what to do for themselves. Coaching does not give the solutions or plan, rather helps a person figure out the solution or options they may have.
Change managers and agents often work with two types of people involved with a change – the leaders responsible for or sponsoring a change, and the people that are impacted by the change, which normally does include the leaders themselves. Coaching can support leaders to clarify what it will take to fully make the change a success.
The coaching mechanisms are really the same for both leaders and recipients of a change, the types of questions and conversations may need to be tailored slightly but the foundations are the same: it’s about helping people to understand their role in the change and the effects of any decisions they make. Coaching is all about asking the open questions and then actively listening, and then asking more open questions which promote awareness from the coachee.
Change managers and agents are experienced in identifying risks, options and outcomes, so coaching can really help with opening up thoughts within others. Some of the key coaching strategies that a change manager can use are:
- Active listening to understand
- Asking stakeholders about the benefits or challenges of a change.
- Alignment between stakeholders
- Decisions are rarely made in isolation, so openly ask them what they think other key stakeholders think of the change.
- Focus on the willingness to lead and fully support the change
- Asking 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 gained, but only the leader themselves can decide to be willing.
If the organisation is large enough then action learning sets can work well for coaching too. They are a continuous process of learning and reflection that happens with the support of a group or ‘set’ of colleagues, working on real issues, with the intention of getting things done. This is a collaborative process where you can draw up to six peers, including the coachee, from across the organisation who are not working together, but who do know the context of the change. They then take it in turns to ask ‘open’ questions and help the coachee understand their options and associated benefits or implications. The idea is that everyone in the group becomes the coachee so that everyone gets the benefit from the group environment.
To summarise, coaching is a distinct and powerful tool for project professionals and change managers which can be used to empower leaders to fulfil their roles as key decision makers. It can also increase enthusiasm for change, tackle potential resistance early in the process and help identify internal influencers of change, which will help drive the change forwards and make sure that the benefits are not only achieved but sustained.
You may also be interested in:
- What is change management?
- The APM Podcast
- Engaging stakeholders on projects - How to harness people power