Coaching skills in times of organisational change

16th May by Lee Robertson

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For a generation of leaders, Covid-19 brought overwhelm, uncertainty and ambiguity. As the health crisis became a pandemic, coronavirus became the biggest enemy to decision-making, business survival and the safety of people’s jobs. Organisations which had weathered previous storms like 2008’s financial crash, found themselves in new territory, having to pivot in how they did business and find ways to respond to a workplace that changed overnight.  

One of the biggest learnings from Covid-19 for organisations is that being ready to work with change, the unknown and volatility has never been more urgent. True agility however is not just a byproduct of careful strategic planning, but an attribute that leaders, their teams and all employees need to have as part of their competency skillset.

In times of challenging and complex change, difficult decision-making automatically comes to rest on the shoulders of senior leaders, but is it not smarter to invest in the resilience and capabilities of every member of your payroll?

If there was ever a more convincing argument for better resourcing your team, then it is on good authority from organisations such as McKinsey, that 70 per cent of change management initiatives fail and that is outside of a global health crisis.

Successful change management is linked to strong coaching cultures

Research published by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) in conjunction with the Human Capital Institute (HCI) back in late 2018 explored this very subject. They discovered that many change management programmes cost more and took longer than anticipated by organisations, but their findings also indicated that high-performing organisations have more successful change management strategies in place and that those with strong coaching cultures, are likelier to have better business outcomes.

They determined that the key features of change management are communication, resilience and leadership and that each contributes to the success or failure of a change management initiative.

Canvassing HR managers, learning and development practitioners, talent management professionals and internal coaches, the ICF and HCI ascertained activities such as one-to-one coaching, team coaching, and work group coaching were ranked by respondents as being the most effective in achieving the goals set out for change management projects.

The survey also revealed that coaching was being employed to help address leadership style, overcome resistance, build resilience and prepare the workforce for change.

Organisational change is a company-wide endeavour

Employers need to be able to fully capitalise on their people’s skills when faced with times of organisational upheaval.

That means creating corporate cultures where the employee experience is built around continual learning to enable workers to be more resourceful, resilient and agile. That can be achieved by looking at how performance is reviewed on an ongoing basis, how goals are set and how ongoing development opportunities can be integrated into a whole career cycle.

A coaching culture embodies each of these elements, but it is also about giving employees more autonomy within their roles and empowering them to work cohesively and collaboratively within the organisational environment.

Workplaces until now have taken on a traditional hierarchical structure where decisions come from the top and workers at the grassroots have little opportunity for decision-making or problem solving.

What was once conventional thinking is outdated and organisations need to move with the times if they are to benefit from the diversity and talent hidden within the depths of their talent pool.

Developing a change-ready workforce

Generally, uncertainty does not afford the luxury of time for critical decision-making and contextual uncertainty adds to the woes. Covid has been profound and far reaching and in the event of future crises, business models need to evolve to enable leaders and their employees to be more change ready.

When looking at the history of business, the coronavirus pandemic will be a defining moment in how businesses pivoted in the face of change – a point in time where a ‘new normal’ was established.

Looking ahead, strategic scenarios need to consider the human side of change and embed ways of enabling whole workforces to lean into change and withstand the shock. Intelligent scenario-planning coupled with the strong investment in developing core employability skills and competencies can reduce and remove some of the obstacles in responding to unforeseen change.

As the data from the ICF and HCI tells us, coaching in its many various forms can provide an effective and efficient way of anticipating and dealing with future threats and possibilities. For CEOs and leadership teams, it is paramount for them to employ ways in which they can scale this type of learning and development to fit the size of their operation.

Coaching and coach skills training at scale

Coaching has cast off its elitist tag and it should be a developmental tool made available to everyone within an organisation irrespective of their level of responsibility or paygrade.

The good news is that coaching is becoming more accessible and affordable because of digital transformation.

Online learning is growing in sophistication, and organisations are beginning to see the merits of gamification and artificial intelligence. The shift to working virtually has accelerated the move away from the classroom and workers can access a wide range of top-quality training wherever they are in the world. Self-directed learning that supports behaviour change such as the AoEC’s Introduction to Coaching Skills programme, are key in the upskilling a large number of staff and a fraction of the cost of classroom training.

Karen Smart head of consultancy said: “I think we need to be more aware of the human side of organisational change. Mindset and behavioural patterns have a huge influence on how successful change initiatives are. A strong people investment strategy which is designed around building resourcefulness, motivation and belonging offers many positive benefits for the whole organisation. Coaching skills are proven to be an invaluable tool for a wide range of needs and here, are central to helping leaders be heard and understood and employees feel confident and comfortable in a scenario where big and complicated change is going on.”