As well as being a productivity specialist, I am a professional coach. So why am I blogging about this ? It may sound obvious, as working through a change process can be one of the most demanding activities that staff and leaders get involved with. Coaching is a widely used term, and sometimes misunderstood. It is often confused with consulting and mentoring. Coaching is a clearly defined process of high-end facilitation, which is detached from knowledge transfer. It requires specific skills that go beyond directly helping staff and leaders with work and processes.
It is sometimes assumed that staff and those working at the shop floor will face the biggest personal challenges when dealing with change, but in my experience this is not true. Likewise it is sometimes assumed that senior leadership will have the greatest personal and organisational challenges, but again in my experience this is also not the case. For the purposes of this discussion, I will discount any potential headcount reduction from the equation. The shop floor staff should buy into any organisational change that leads to productivity improvement, as in theory it will make their lives easier. I always tend to see less resistance than could be expected. Senior leaders drive the changes and they also have the strategic intent in addition to the resources. So assuming the programme is being being executed correctly and as per plan, they should not see the greatest personal challenge. In my experience it is the middle management layer that have the greatest struggles, as there may be a sense of entitlement based on experience, “flying hours” and career progression. This is not always the case, but it can be a barrier to effective implementation. It is also noteworthy that middle management are also fundamental to any success with the change process. This cohort, not only know the key process elements, but also have the ability to improve them on a daily basis.
Quite often shop floor and middle management are excluded from any coaching programme, which is a mistake. All levels of the organisation need to be “coached” in order to enable the successful implementation. The emphasis will be different for each group or demographic, but using external coaches can be very powerful at bringing a different perspective, and advanced facilitation skills. By external coaches, I don’t just mean from outside firms, but from other functions which can bring a level of neutrality. If we think of classic “change models” such as the ones designed by John Kotter and others, they all have distinct phases and elements, ranging from creating a sense of urgency, planning, communication and execution. Each cohort in the management chain will be responsible for delivering different elements, and ideally should be coached by those with the appropriate skill sets. I have rarely come across programmes that happen successfully without some form of coaching intervention. Coaching not only facilitates the changes, but it helps staff get over any fear factor, and also allows people to self-correct. This is no substitute for training, and knowledge transfer, but these interventions are symbiotic.
It is critical to ensure that key “change agents” at every level have access to the right support, at each stage. Throughout any change process, it is unlikely that the staff who have responsibility for the day to day delivery of work ( and must be involved in the change process to an appropriate level) will have all the correct skills to deliver the change successfully. In addition to leaders being able to communicate they must also delegate appropriately to deliver effectively. In this process, they must push the executable work down to the lowest acceptable level. This assumes the staff are properly trained and that there are quality assurance processes in place.
If you are interested in knowing more about effective and efficient change please contact us, and we can have a discussion. I also recently presented a paper at the International Coaching Federation UK Conference in London on “How to have impact in Hostile Environments.