Building resilience to changing conditions

New research from ICF and HCI shows how vanguard organizations navigate change management through a strong coaching culture

By Tim Harnett

It’s been more than 20 years since John Kotter’s seminal book on change management, Leading Change. In 1996, Kotter found that only a third of change management efforts succeeded.1 In the years since, change has come at organizations more rapidly, affecting leadership change, acquisitions, new product development and more.

Recent research suggests the needle hasn’t moved much. According to a 2016 report from the Human Capital Institute (HCI), 77 percent of HR practitioners and leaders report that their organization is in a constant state of change, and 85 percent report unsuccessful major change management initiatives in the past two years.2 However, new data from HCI and the International Coach Federation (ICF) shows that there are steps organizations can take to increase employees’ resilience during times of change.

For the past several years, ICF and HCI conducted studies to identify organizations with a strong coaching culture. ICF’s benchmarking index identifies coaching best practices to determine when organizations have reached that level. This year’s study focused on how a coaching culture affects change management — a rapidly escalating topic area. We spoke with Mark Ruth, director of research and education for ICF, about the study findings and how organizations tackle change.

Get ahead of the change and be proactive in your response

There’s a great deal of complexity and ambiguity around change and change management, with continually shifting priorities. With processes changing all the time, Ruth stresses the importance of being proactive about change management. “Change readiness means you’ll be more successful with change management,” Ruth says. “Everyone experiences change, but no one really does it well. We want to know why.”

The best organizations use coaching to embrace change head-on, rather than wait to react. “If you integrate coaching into a change management initiative after it’s started to derail, you’re already too late,” Ruth says.

Build a strong coaching culture

ICF identifies six markers of strong coaching cultures. To be labeled as such, organizations need to demonstrate that at least five of the following elements are in place:

  1. Employees who value coaching.
  2. Senior executives who value coaching.
  3. A combination of external coach practitioners, internal coach practitioners and managers/leaders using coaching skills.3
  4. Managers/leaders and/or internal coach practitioners who have received accredited coach-specific training.4
  5. A dedicated line item in the organization’s budget for coaching.
  6. Equal access to a professional coach practitioner for all employees in the organization.

Since 2014, an average of 17 percent of ICF/HCI survey respondents have indicated that their organizations have strong coaching cultures. “Our study shows that organizations with strong coaching cultures have higher levels of innovation, employee engagement and retention than organizations that don’t,” Ruth says. “Organizations with strong coaching cultures are great at completing large-scale strategic change; 59 percent can successfully address strategic change compared to 45 percent of other organizations.”

Integrate coaching into change management learning activities

ICF and HCI asked respondents which learning and development activities their organizations offered as part of change management initiatives. Ruth admits they were surprised by the results. “Among 14 change management learning activities, the most frequent offerings were classroom training, e-learning and meetings with senior leaders,” Ruth says. “However, coaching activities — one-on-one coaching, team coaching and work group coaching with a professional coach practitioner — were rated among the most helpful in achieving the goals of change management initiatives.”

“Organizations with strong coaching cultures have higher levels of innovation, employee engagement and retention than organizations that don’t.”

Organizations with strong coaching cultures are outperforming their peers in terms of change
management initiatives. In the future, they’ll be better equipped to handle the new reality of work — one where processes and initiatives are in a near-constant state of change. When organizations use coaching at all stages of the change (planning, executing and sustaining) they’ll be better able to control any unforeseen change roadblocks, assuage employee fears and get everyone on the same page about the future.

To access the full report on coaching cultures and change management, visit

1 Aiken, C., and Keller, S. (2009). “The irrational side of change management.” The McKinsey Quarterly, Number 2.
2 Filipkowski, J. (2016). HR’s Role in Change Management. Retrieved from
5 ICF defines a professional coach practitioner as someone who provides an ongoing partnership designed to help coachees produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources and creativity that the coachee already has. An internal coach is a professional coach practitioner who is employed within an organization and has specific coaching responsibilities identified in their job description. An external coach is a professional coach practitioner who is either self-employed or partners with other professional coaches to form a coaching business. A manager/leader using coaching skills is a leader who uses coaching knowledge, approaches and skills to create awareness and support behavior change.
2 ICF defines an accredited coach training program as any program consisting of coach-specific training that’s met the rigid criteria required to be approved by a professional coaching organization.

The International Coach Federation (ICF) is dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high ethical standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of credentialed coaches across a variety of coaching disciplines. ICF is active in representing all facets of the coaching industry, including Executive, Life Vision and Enhancement, Leadership, Relationship, and Career Coaching. Its 29,000-plus members located in more than 135 countries work toward the common goal of enhancing awareness of coaching, upholding the integrity of the profession, and continually educating themselves with the newest research and practices.