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Coaching for Change: The Key to a Change-Prepared Workforce

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coaching for change

Change is the one constant in business. Factors causing change include digital disruption; legislative and regulatory changes; and changing customer needs and desires. Whatever the reason, organizations are always changing.It is essential to regulate them with professional coaching for change initiatives to ensure a seamless and streamlined transition in existing processes. 

Whatever the reason, organizations are always changing. Some changes are evolutionary – a piecemeal process and almost part of everyday business. Other changes include large-scale initiatives that involve whole teams, divisions, or entire organizations.

Recent research shows that most companies are ill-prepared to manage change. A coaching culture will help you achieve the goals of change management. You must provide employees with the tools to take part in the change process.

The World of Business is Not Prepared for Change

In September 2018, a study conducted by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) and the International Coach Federation (ICF) found that fewer than a quarter of companies are confident in the ability of their employees to manage change. This statistic aligns with the often-quoted 70% of change projects that fail to achieve their change objectives. The HCI/ICF study uncovered an even more alarming statistic. 85% of organizations reported an unsuccessful change initiative in the last two years.

HCI/ICF then segregated the study group. When they did this, they found that change management at high-performing companies was more effective. They are more likely to meet or beat expectations. experience their change initiatives meeting or even beating their expectations. So, what is it that these companies do differently?

High-Performing Companies Have Change-Prepared Employees

In high-performing companies, employees can plan for, execute, and sustain change. The following table shows this:

Do you think your employees have the following change management capabilities?
Change capability High-performing companies Other companies
Planning for change 33% 13%
Executing change 32% 19%
Sustaining change 37% 17%


How Do You Create a Change-Prepared Workforce?

Employees aren’t hired change-prepared. It is not a natural talent, possessed by some and not others. To prepare employees for change, you must coach them. This requires an organization to empower a coaching culture. All of this requires social awareness.

The HCI/ICF study found that only 15% of respondents said they have a coaching culture. But of these, high-performing companies constituted an impressive 61%. In short, coaching is key to the creation of a change-prepared workforce.

Why Does Coaching Aid Change Management Effectiveness?

The value of coaching is evident to all business leaders. Without coaching, your employees will be less effective. Your business will be less effective. One-on-one coaching is the most effective method of upskilling employees. The benefit is an improvement in productivity.

Case studies show that where you add coaching to training activities, productivity rises by 88%. On their own, the same training activities led to a productivity increase of only 22%.

Coaching for change management can take several forms. You can use it to communicate the need for change, or to train people in new processes and procedures. Perhaps the biggest benefit is the way in which coaching helps you break down resistance to change.

Where Does Coaching Start?

The most successful change initiatives are those you lead from the top down. Change management legends such as Lou Gerstner at IBM, and Jack Welch at GE, completely transformed fading companies. They instilled a desire and hunger for change in their managers. This enthusiasm fed down the line. Managers had an equal impact on their people.

Yet, without coaching the management of change is likely to be less effective. Miscommunication leads to ambiguity, reticence and resistance.

What Does Change Management Coaching look like?

Change management coaching is more akin to an exchange. The ‘student’ learns about the factors and elements of change. The coach also learns from the student. You can use this information to shape the future. Especially to identify potential resistance. This helps you to develop strategies to avoid resistance to change.

Coaching is not an opportunity to instill and reinforce change. It helps the student to discover, discuss, and even improve new procedures and processes. Coaching encourages greater trust between manager and employee. It develops and affirms a coaching and change culture.

Most Managers Are Not Good Coaches

The default position of most organizations is to delegate coaching to managers. It is considered as a management functionality. Yet, managers are rarely as good at coaching as they believe themselves to be. Yet, poor coaching can be detrimental to change-preparedness.

A survey from Betterworks highlighted the gap between managers’ own perceptions of coaching ability and HR evaluation of their skills. Almost 90% of managers surveyed said that they believed they were good coaches. Less than one-third of HR managers agreed.

This disparity may be because of the mistaken belief of how coaching achieves its aims. The default is to focus on problems and processes. This approach serves only to ignite frustration and resistance. Instead, managers should take a conversational approach when coaching change. They should empower employees to make sense of the change for themselves.

How Effective Is Coaching in Change Management?

Turning back to the HCI/ICF study. It found that coaching of all types beat all other activities for achieving the goals of change management initiatives. When asked how helpful an activity was, responses in the ‘very’ and ‘extremely’ measures are:

  • One-on-one coaching with a  professional coach scores 78%. The next highest is 74% for face-time with senior leaders
  • Group coaching with a professional coach practitioner scores 78%. The next highest was 72% (learning labs)
  • Access to a manager with coaching skills scores 70%. Stretch assignments score 67%
  • Team coaching with a professional coach practitioner scores 67%. Web-based learning scores 34%

Classroom training and microlearning content score 49% and 44% respectively. Formal mentoring programmes only score 65%.

Key Takeaways

Empirical evidence suggests that coaching-related activities are most helpful to achieve change goals. High-performing companies wrap such activities into the organization’s culture.

High-performing companies are twice as likely than poor-performers to have a coaching culture. They are more likely to meet or beat the objectives of change projects. This confirms the link between change management success and a coaching culture.

One-on-ones, work groups and team coaching are rated as the most helpful coaching tools. They help to achieve the goals of a change management initiative. Most managers believe they are good coaches. Yet many would benefit from training to improve their coaching and mentorship skills.

About the Author:

coaching for changeDaniel Lock helps organizations unlock value and productivity through process improvement, project & change management. Find out more about him at


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About Anas Alaoui

Anas Alaoui

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