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Helping Leaders Embrace Change through Coaching

Change can be overwhelming and difficult, especially if it’s constant. Seventy-seven percent of HR practitioners and leaders report that their organization is in a state of constant change. It’s especially so for those tasked with helping to implement change across an organization.

It’s been reported widely that organizations’ change management initiatives experience a high rate of failure. In fact, 85% of organizations can cite at least one failed change management initiative within the last two years! Both the human and the financial costs associated with a failed change initiative can harm an organization, so it’s important that organizational success is not left to chance.

This change management dilemma prompted the International Coach Federation (ICF) to partner with the Human Capital Institute (HCI) to conduct research on how organizations navigate change. The top cited reason for why change is unsuccessful is resistance from employees. Further, less than a quarter of our survey respondents indicated confidence in their employees’ change capabilities. What can leaders do to address this resistance?

What Steps Can Leaders Take
Our research identified communication, planning and leadership as the most critical factors impacting either the success or failure of a change management initiative.

An employee’s professional level in the organization can dramatically impact their personal experience with the change. Executives who are responsible for announcing the change initiative to the organization often fail to gain a deeper understanding about what it will be like for the individual who is responsible for a given task before, during and after the change initiative.

Our research showed that most leaders of organizations that underwent a recent transformation chose to invest in more traditional learning activities to help employees move the change forward.

Of the learning activities sponsored by leaders, more than half of all organizations surveyed indicated that they offered very formal activities (e.g., classroom training, web-based training, meetings with senior leaders) to help usher in their change initiatives. Unfortunately, these same activities were rated as some of the least helpful, with classroom training and e-learning appearing in the bottom three activities. It’s perhaps not a surprise that a traditional approach to learning when faced with change yields underwhelming results.

What Successful Change Leaders Do
Using specific talent and business outcomes as criteria, our research identified a sub-set of respondents’ organizations as high-performing organizations (HPOs). HPOs are more likely to report that change management initiatives meet or exceed their expectations for success and have greater confidence overall in employees’ change capabilities.


These HPOs were much more likely to leverage very collaborative learning activities for change management, such as one-on-one coaching and team coaching with a professional coach practitioner.

Unlike traditional development activities, which are generally broad, passive experiences, coaching puts the individual, team or work group in control of the development process.
The learning activities favored more often by HPOs also were considered most helpful to achieve the goals of their change management initiatives. Specifically, the following learning activities with a coaching focus were far more likely to be rated “very” or “extremely” helpful than more traditional, formal learning modalities:

  • Work group coaching with professional coach practitioner
  • One-on-one coaching with professional coach practitioner
  • Access to manager/leader using coaching skills
  • Team coaching with professional coach practitioner

Unlike traditional development activities, which are generally broad, passive experiences, coaching puts the individual, team or work group in control of the development process. Therefore, development becomes active and specific to individual needs. Coaching can also help employees explore any resistance to the change that they may be feeling.

Proactively Using Coaching through Change
Proactively Using Coaching through Change
For the organizations where coaching is already present, we found they are much more likely to use coaching throughout the change initiative rather than using it as a final effort to save a failing project. In these organizations, Human Resources/Talent Management/Learning and Development professionals who use coaching skills and managers/leaders who use coaching skills are most likely to be involved in change management initiatives. Furthermore, the following applications are the most frequently cited for using coaching for change management:

  • Addressing leadership style, strengths and blind spots
  • Overcoming resistance
  • Building resilience
  • Building change readiness
  • Finding processes and tools

Those who lead organizations with strong coaching cultures have already realized the impact that coaching activities can have when navigating the sea of change. For many, activities like team coaching have moved beyond a “nice to have” and become an organizational necessity that allows their employees to engage in a more collaborative and creative process for handling the challenges that inevitably come with launching a major change initiative.

To be successful, change leaders need to focus the effort, provide consistency and organization for the stakeholders, and address resistance, fear and unclear expectations and information gaps. They can begin by effectively communicating the rationale behind the change and empowering employees and teams with tailored support that will enable them to thrive in the face of change.

International Coach Federation
The International Coach Federation (ICF) is the leading global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals. To learn more, visit www.coachfederation.org