Leading during change

Posted in : Coaching in the Moment on 7 January 2019
Karl O'Connor
OCN Coaching Champions Ltd
Issues covered:

Welcome to a new series of articles on coaching for managers from the experts at Coaching Champions, Cariona Neary and Karl O’Connor. The articles are all about coaching in the moment and are aimed at helping managers, i.e. non-professional coaches, to use coaching techniques in everyday challenging situations in the workplace – common staff problems you and your managers face right now.

Each article will provide readers with a workplace challenge to solve – a performance challenge that is recognisable to a broad range of readers. Cariona and Karl will then provide readers with a practical coaching approach or technique that could help you deal with that problem. Finally, they provide you with some takeaway action points – a set of recommended steps to undertake the coaching approach in a safe manner.

Here is the first challenge set by Cariona and Karl:

Leading during Change

A re-structure of your functional department has just been announced. You as the immediate manager have been brought into the picture late in the day for confidentiality reasons by the executive, however they expect you to keep the ‘show on the road’. Its business as usual as far as senior management are concerned and the expectation is that the team will quickly come to terms with the change and just ‘get on with it’. The reality, however, is that for many of your team, they are in shock, don’t understand what is going on and their focus isn’t on doing their job to the best of their ability. They look to you to help them.

What can you do to manage through change?

Change is not business as usual

Managers or leaders often feel out of control themselves when change happens especially if they haven’t been involved in planning the change or understanding the ‘why’, the reasons for the change. All change is personal so when it happens remember that change is not business as usual and needs to be effectively managed. There is an old saying that the only person who welcomes change is a baby with a wet nappy!

Stages of the change curve

The Change curve is based on Kubler Ross’s Grief curve. As humans, we process significant change, such as the loss of a loved one, by transitioning through phases like ‘denial’, ‘anger’, ‘resistance’ through to ‘acceptance’, ‘commitment’ and finally being able to move on. The coaching and communications approach taken by the manager or leader can help to minimise the negative impact of the change. Using the right tool can help the individual to move through the various change phases as quickly as is possible for them.

Research by City & Guilds Group (cited in CIPD’s People Management Dec ‘18/Jan’19) of 1,000 UK professionals found that more than three-quarters said that they believed coaching was helpful when going through periods of organisational change. For example, the research highlighted that among those surveyed who had changed role within their company, more than a quarter said it took four or more months to work to the best of their ability afterwards. On the other hand, those who didn’t receive coaching were eight times more likely to say that they didn’t feel able to work to the best of their ability compared to those that did.

What are the challenges of change?

It’s very important for the manager or leader to identify from observed behaviours what stage their individual team member is at. Each change phase presents its own challenges reducing as the individual transitions up the change curve over time. Let’s have a closer look at typical change behaviours at each stage. if the staff member is in:

denial’ they will typically appear not to care, be cautious, passive, guarded or even explain away the change. They start to move down the change curve with lower productivity evident.

resistance’ you are likely to see behaviours where the employee appears withdrawn, hostile, angry and could be difficult to connect with. In brain science terms, the ‘amygdala’ the almond-shaped part of the brain kicks in, alerts the individual to danger and can see the change as a direct threat to our very existence! In this regard, it can also hijack the brain’s ‘pre-frontal cortex’, restricting us from thinking logically about the change and limiting us from seeing any positives about the change event.

acceptance’ the individual although still anxious and confused is beginning to acknowledge the loss of the old situation and receive and process feedback around the change. Typically, they start to ask questions about what the change really means for them. The manager or leader is beginning to see some small progress with their staff member starting to move up the change curve.

‘commitment’they continue to climb back up the change curve becoming more open and comfortable with feedback as they re-energise and start becoming more productive on the job.

growth/engagement’the individual has accepted the change as the new normal way of working, they seek feedback, are creative and trust their own ideas having successfully transitioned through the change curve. They have become highly productive.

It’s important to also note that people can move back down the change curve where for example they meet an influential peer who is critical of the change. In this instance, the manager or leader needs once again to identify from observation of behaviour the relevant stage their staff member is currently at and flex their own coaching and communication style to suit.

Coaching approach

The manager or leader has an opportunity to make a difference in both the change event and the person’s life. You must tune into what the individual is feeling, understand them, help them to find stability, manage their emotions and this will help them through a difficult and challenging time. In this way, the manager or leader is helping to manage the individual’s head and heart helping them to transition through change. You will find the practical approach and recommended next steps outlined here will help you coach in the moment:

Change announcement: An immediate first step for any manager or team leader, who finds themselves in circumstances where they are only hearing about the change event around the same time as their employees, is to find out more about the change intervention. Identify the ‘why’, the reasons for the change, ‘what the future state will look like’, ‘what the benefits are for employees, for customers, the organisation’ and the length of time for the implementation of change’. You will need to ‘communicate, communicate, communicate’ around the change as people transition through the change curve.

A second step is to understand the Change Curve, how change can impact on individuals and identify suitable coaching and communication tools to help staff transition through the change. Remember, people transition through change at different speeds and from experience many managers we meet fall into the trap of thinking that their staff transition through the change event in the same way as themselves. This is not the case, managers need to understand as previously pointed out that all change is personal and there isn’t one-time speed for transition through change.

Denial: A more directive style of coaching and communicating is appropriate during this stage of an individual’s change journey. Tell them about the change, why it is happening, what it looks like and what supports are available. Be empathic. Communicate the facts around the change and give people a chance to digest the change and its impact. Diarise follow up one to one and team meetings and answer any questions that they might ask now or in future meetings.

Resistance: Seek to understand any areas of resistance by asking questions, re-state the facts around the change, listen and observe how the individual is processing the change. Acknowledge that the change can be very hard to deal with at this stage. Be aware that the person’s own performance can drop as they go through an emotional stage of the change journey. Once again, stay close and diarise further meetings. Recap as necessary the supports available to the individual (eg there might be an employee assistance programme available to help them process and deal with the individual’s emotions, the impact on their personal circumstances). Don’t take any criticisms personally and avoid any temptation to micromanage. From our experience and from research, resistance is the norm and shouldn’t be interpreted as “I won't change”, instead see it as “I need help to change”. Skilful managers or leaders can really help their people to move through this phase quicker. However, be aware that unfortunately, some people will be unable to get over the emotion that the change creates in them, this should be a minority.

Acceptance: Over time, most people begin slowly to accept the change with initial signs being, as described above, that they are willing to receive feedback. Support them through this phase, encourage them on their journey. The GROW coaching tool which is non-directive and developmental (i.e Goal, Reality, Options and What actions are agreed) can help managers and leaders work effectively with their people. Set short-term goals initially which will help them to slowly get back on track. As they pick up momentum, recognise their progress, encourage them further, explore and answer any questions they might have around the new way of working, or the change underway. Deal with any problems that arise. As further progress is made, set medium and long-term personal and business goals.

Commitment: Communicate the progress being made and any benefits which have arisen from the change and the individual’s own behaviour change. Continue to coach and begin to stretch the individual as they commit more to the change and move positively up the change curve. Ask them questions and give feedback, all the time recognising their progress.

Growth/Engagement:As the change becomes the ‘new normal’, continue to stay connected with the individuals, communicating the resulting progress, the benefits arising for customers, employees and the organisation. Your coaching should facilitate further personal growth and engagement. Challenge them while continuing to support them and help them to come up with new ideas to progress and further embed the change. Review progress and celebrate their success.

Take-away actions

Understand that people transition through change differently and not necessarily at the same speed as you do. The manager or leader can make a significant difference when leading people through change.

Communicate until it hurts around the change.

The change curve helps you predict how people will react to change so that you can help them make their own personal transitions with your help and support. Identify where your people are on the Change curve and flex your communications and coaching approach to match the observed behaviours of your team members.

If you have any workplace problems you think might benefit from a coaching approach, contact Cariona and Karl on cariona@nearymarketing.com and karloconnor0@gmail.com.

In our next blog, we will explore when its best to train and when its best to coach.

Note: Karl O'Connor and Cariona Neary will be speaking at Legal Island's Education Law Update 2019 conference on 12th March.

This article is correct at 07/01/2019

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Karl O'Connor
OCN Coaching Champions Ltd

The main content of this article was provided by Karl O'Connor. Email karloconnor0@gmail.com

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