How to Coach for Change?

Jun 22, 2023

One constant since the beginning of time might be change, however, the fear of change is also a constant. Since times immemorial, humans have liked routine. It makes us feel in control of our lives. 

Heraclitus

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change

Gandhi

Paraphrasing Heraclitus, humans tend to resist change, knowing it may be inevitable. The ultimate expression of this fear is death. Who doesn’t want to live forever, even in sorrow?

Multiple models of change from Kurt Lewin to Prosci with the ADKAR model and many in between talk about awareness, key motivational factors, and communication as being critical in managing change. Navigating uncertainty and change is also a recurring theme in coaching, with several modalities focused on change management. Whether it pertains to leadership development or life coaching, there are numerous models to support people through change. But how valid are these models? If the change is obviously positive, then none of this is needed, except to convey how change helps. An increment, a promotion, and a transfer are all welcomed with both hands, and all these are significant changes. So is absorption into a larger company with better prospects. Why then are most M&A programs so difficult to implement?

The only reason change is feared and resisted is when its consequences are unknown. Resistance to change arises from the fear of the unknown, as in the case of death and public speaking. Added to this intangible fear is the potential loss of identity and ego. It’s obvious that in any situation except in a ruthless dictatorship, contemplated changes need to be conveyed positively with sweeteners highlighted and some discussion to make people involved, for the change to be smooth. This is common sense.

In all situations, there will be sections of people negatively affected by the change and others who may welcome the change. Suffrage for women in many countries and providing freedom to black people in the United States are such examples. The issue of abortion rights is a living example where the change is opposed for cruel reasons. Tradition and religion disempowering sections of society stand in the way of change. Untouchability is such an issue in India.

Whether at the individual or the collective level, we tend to deny, resist and fight change if it affects our status quo adversely in some way. This may be a shift of work from office to home initially, and when people got used to it shifting back. There is no new normal that’s acceptable unless it’s favorable.

Of all models we work with in coaching, we find two that relate to change when it is seemingly adverse to some. The first is the timeless Kubler-Ross model. There are time and effort factors through the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression stages until acceptance happens. This can be pre-empted and avoided if these stages are addressed before the change is implemented through open and honest communication evoking awareness. Most of this can be done collectively in large and small groups, with influencers coached individually. What is critical is to implement this communication in a safe and trusted way through authentic, humble, open listening and inquiry.

A model that can help with awareness creation is Barry Johnson’s Polarity. This model provides a powerful way to address the negative consequences of changes as seen by some and provides appropriate safeguards as may be needed. We have found a combination of these two models very effective in change leadership. In addition, conflicts and confrontations at the individual leadership levels of proponents and opponents of change can be addressed through the Empty Chair technique of Gestalt, and even more powerfully through Sensory Awareness coaching. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change 

AI techniques will be used more often in the future while implementing change. Some areas in which AI can be very helpful are data analysis of the past, present and post-change factors found relevant by stakeholders in implementing change through simulation models and matching these with the cognitive and emotional challenges likely to be faced. Such techniques worked in conjunction with systemic coaching approaches can be powerful scenario-planning exercises.

Reflection

  • If you are the leader responsible for implementing a change that may be resisted, can you play the devil’s advocate to empathize with those who oppose the change?
Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC

Ram

Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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