Coaching and Change

Change, as we’re often told, is a constant part of the work environment

Some changes are relatively benign. But others, such as reorganisations, redundancy and mergers and acquisitions – while replete with opportunity – often make us feel highly uncomfortable and challenge our feelings that we’re in control of our lives. When confronted with a major unexpected change at work, particularly one that seems challenging or unsettling there’s a pattern of emotions that we often go through.

Denial – refusing to accept the change.  “This isn’t happening, it’s just not true”

Anger – reactions like “That’s not fair!” or “It’s all his/ her fault – they screwed up!”

Bargaining – negotiating to try to avoid or lessen the impact of the change

Depression – includes feelings such as regret, fear and uncertainty, such as “I can’t go on with this” or “What’s the point?”

Acceptance – accepting the new reality and feeling OK with it. 

Sometimes we go through these stages very quickly and accept and adapt to the change in a matter of a few days.  Sometimes though, it takes weeks, months or even years – and this can affect how well we perform.  How long it takes depends on our own adaptability and the level of support and empathy in the environment around us – as well as a clear vision for the future from people we respect.

A large part of a coach’s work involves change.  Coaching often involves helping people to come to terms with the reality they’re faced with, helping them to assess their situation accurately and then to help change the way they are feeling and how they’re operating.  A coach helps people to progress very rapidly through the five stages of adapting to change, to the point where they are able to perform well in the newly changed environment – and to shape that environment to their advantage.  They are stronger, more capable and more able to deliver.

Line managers also have a huge part to play in helping their people adapt to change.  It’s critical that they help the team respond to the (sometimes hidden) opportunities which change brings.  The first step is for line managers to understand where their people are in these 5 stages – different team members may be in different places.  Then they need to give people the space, support, vision and reassurance that they need in order to progress as quickly as possible through to Acceptance of the change.  Doing this at the same time as continuing to deliver results can be tough, and can demand a lot of time.  But the team will emerge from the change stronger and more capable because of their leader’s investment in them.

Line managers with a sound understanding of coaching principles are extremely well placed to help their teams respond constructively to change.  The core coaching skills of listening, questioning, giving feedback and balancing support and challenge come to the fore.