Harnessing the power of change through coaching

CoachHub · 19 August 2022 · 8 min read

The world is changing at what seems to be a constantly increasing pace. Governments, businesses and people globally are struggling to meet ever changing demands. In contrast to the prevalent recommendations on change management that focus on specific models and concrete goal-directed actions, another way of thinking addresses a  long-term perspective in which we nurture those foundational capabilities that enable us to endure and thrive in both ongoing and future landscapes of change. Answering the call for modern, scalable and individualized organizational interventions, digital coaching carries significant potential to support us in our pursuit of developing and nurturing organizational resilience.

Ripples of change

The persistent pressure from various global crises and issues―such as climate and environmental challenges, challenges of resource depletion and accessibility, and increasing inequalities―have over the last few decades directed the attention of science and policy, as well as business, towards socio-economic and industry-specific change. And all of those changes cause  subsequent ripples of impacts.

The increased attention to change and its impact has positioned the subject of change management into the center of focus of the written materials amongst the most popular publishers and journals. For example, in the very first quarter of  2022, global political and industrial tensions became even more apparent and businesses―already ‘crippled’ by the enduring impact of the pandemic―must anticipate a wide range of consequences. In addition, all this is happening while innovation and rapidly evolving market demands keep leaders and individual contributors across industries on their toes in order to realize and/or maintain a competitive edge. Case in point; in mid-July 2022, the search term ‘Change Management’ hit peak popularity as environmental and digital data protection agendas were being debated.

Hence, mastering change management within organizational settings is as essential as ever. Essentially, the holy grail in this space seems to consist of developing the capabilities to manage the wide range of demands that change and transformation initiatives pose to organizational members. Traditional organizational formats are, however, not sufficient to develop lasting capabilities and the required resilience at scale, and as a result, have repeatedly been reported to fail. While thought leaders across the globe remain to attract followership by sharing their specific views, thoughts and experiences, it appears a challenge to keep up with the hype and, more importantly, draw context-specific conclusions and actionable take-aways.. This article will endeavor to provide you with advice and insights that can truly make a difference for your organization as you navigate change.

Levers of change

Don’t wander blindly

By understanding the specific clockwork that is driving the perceived change, we are able to prepare ourselves and sharpen the senses of our workforce as we lay the foundation for change readiness. This understanding is the initial branching point for the approach that sets your business up for success, and major players in the consultancy space understood this concept well. For instance, in a recent article, the Boston Consulting Group defines change context as “the pattern of endogenous factors that shape how change spreads.”  This concept raises the importance of adapting change strategies based on this change context, as well as making adjustments as the organization evolves. 

Here we have a first challenge: How do we help leaders and key influencers capture a clear and ‘unbiased’ view on the relevant change context? And how can they keep updating this view based on developments in their external and internal environments?

Besides developing a clear picture of the change context, it’s important to review some relevant workplace characteristics. For example: 

  • Does your company burst with collaboration? 
  • Do people work in a psychologically safe workplace? 
  • Is learning embedded into the company culture and actively prioritized? 

These aspects either combine to form a strong, or crumbling, foundation for your change endeavors.

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Framing change

Another element that is important to discuss is how the change is framed. Change initiatives framed with a sense of urgency lead to what research calls a “prevention focus”, triggering inclinations to seek incremental improvements, error reduction and hence, promoting short term thinking. 

In contrast, a stance of readiness for continuous change demands individuals and teams to have a “promotion focus”, that encourages innovation as well as a focus on opportunities and long term thinking. 

Recent research by Fredberg & Pregmark (2022) found that urgency could be handled in ways that benefit change when leaders and project team members addressed three central relationships: 

  • The success-failure relationship: For example by lowering “fear of failure” and maintaining a culture of celebrating successes, both big and small
  • The safety-accountability relationship: For example by ensuring that performance focus and demand for accountability goes hand-in-hand with psychological safety and trust
  • The operative-strategic relationship: For example by offering a continuously updated strategic vision and balancing the focus on operations or projects that clearly align herewith, with freedom and autonomy to explore potentially important new strategic directions. 

While under such conditions, urgency may be wielded with positive effect, the findings also seem to acknowledge the importance of developing capabilities with a focus on long term change readiness. So, how do you  nurture such capabilities, especially in the shadow of such volatile, unpredictable and dynamic times that we find ourselves in―and that might await us?

Proactive enablement

Traditionally, change management trainings often circle around a focus on a top-down orientation, featuring the responsibility of management to ‘improve’ the change resistance and nurture change readiness. These work well in arming change agents with the right tools to approach  impending change that, to some extent, identified and formatted into some sort of systematic approach to overcome the ‘change challenge’. However, as we are looking deep into the horizon of predictability, we meet the limits of our capability to prepare for concrete change impulses and thus may want to consider a more foundational and transversal approach to change readiness.

Proactive enablement of your human capital across the whole of your organization is an act that does not need an impending or defined change. As has been pointed out in numerous scientific and practitioner journals, the biggest caveat is to ignore what is on the minds of your workforce; the thoughts, values, attitudes, insights, as well as the affective components (see i.e. Rafferty, Jimmieson & Armenakis, 2013) that constitute their change readiness. So, how do you create fertile ground that is eligible for change in the long run?

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Creating fertile ground for change

To truly support your workforce in becoming ‘athletes of change’, traditional formats and ‘ one-size-fits-all’ approaches are no longer viable options. Instead of boldly starting by providing specific change management training, it may be a lot more effective to enable foundation capabilities across the entire workforce. However, to move from a short term focus and a sense of urgency, towards enabling organizations to thrive through change, your workforce needs to be aligned with purpose and vision.

In order to enable this level of organizational readiness it is of paramount importance organizations to promote:

  •  Visionary and transformational leadership
  •  And nurture a culture of learning and psychological safety. 

This way, for instance, the communication/feedback lines that are set up during either concrete change initiatives or slow, incremental adaptations are actually used. This, in turn, enables leadership to remove barriers and benefit from the expertise and unique perspectives of the workforce. 

Developing a coaching culture

A highly effective way to achieve this is by aiming for the development of a coaching culture. An effective coaching culture is “where an organization’s people have a coaching mindset and use a coaching approach, both with each other and external stakeholders regardless of reporting relationships, to protect each other’s well-being, maximize everyone’s potential and create organizational value” (CoachHub, 2021).

On the one hand, strategically deployed coaching can have positive outcomes on attitudes, behaviors and performance, and can also be used to develop essential role- and person-specific capabilities. For instance, supporting the adoption of a transformational leadership style and becoming more conscious of important biases have their own ripple effects in terms of employee satisfaction, engagement and commitment (Glover & Furnham, 2016). Furthermore, it has been shown that coaching significantly improves leadership effectiveness and strategic clarity (Wiginton & Cartwright, 2020). 

Coaching has been shown to have a ripple effect and to bring about organization-wide changes through improved interaction quality (O’Connor & Cavanaugh, 2013). With the potential to adopt a coaching style as a default part of the leadership repertoire, as well as to enhance the quality of communication and collaboration across all levels of the organization, we move on fertile ground with regards to long term change readiness.

Finally, an increasing number of businesses deploy coaching as a standard employee development solution. Coaching enables  access to a highly effective, truly individualized development as well as growth partnership for their complete workforce. This enables organizations to  build a strong organization both top-down and bottom-up. 

Curious about what coaching can do for your organization? Get in touch with my colleagues and let us find out together!

References

Fredberg, T., & Pregmark, J. E. (2022). Organizational transformation: Handling the double-edged sword of urgency. Long Range Planning, 55(2), 102091.

Grover S, Furnham A (2016) Coaching as a Developmental Intervention in Organizations: A Systematic Review of Its Effectiveness and the Mechanisms Underlying It. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0159137. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0159137

O’Connor, S., & Cavanagh, M. (2013). The coaching ripple effect: The effects of developmental coaching on wellbeing across organizational networks. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice, 3(1), 1-23.

Rafferty, A. E., Jimmieson, N. L., & Armenakis, A. A. (2013). Change readiness: A multilevel review. Journal of management, 39(1), 110-135.

Quinlan, L., Reeves, M., Purser, D., Levin, S., Vasconcelos, V. (2022, January 20) Strategies of Change. Boston Consulting Group. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2022/change-strategies-for-your-organization  

Wiginton, J. G., & Cartwright, P. A. (2020). Evidence on the impacts of business coaching. Journal of Management Development.

 

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