3 Keys To Coaching Your Team Through Change and Transition

I always enjoyed speaking with my  elderly neighbor, Richard Harrington, prior to his passing at the age of 94.  He shared many experiences from his long life as an award-winning photo-journalist. He was equally mesmerized by my kids and their comfort with technology at such an early age. When Richard passed away, he was still mentally sharp and had seen a lot of change in the world.

We've seen more change in the last decade than our grandparents saw in their lifetimes. Here's the thing, though: The world is changing, technology is changing, customer consumption habits are changing, and organizations are changing - but people are not. It's because of this that in the drive for change, stress runs so high. Whether we're looking at the response to austerity measures in Europe or labor relations in North America, the need to change is creating challenging levels of tension. There's no question that it's easier to plan change than to manage people during its implementation. Change is necessary in a changing world, but if mismanaged, the result can be a serious decline in productivity.

Whether you look at the rise and decline of Blockbuster Video's 9000 stores, or the challenges of Blackberry in the mobile market, the lesson is clear: Sustainable growth requires constant innovation and change. Here are a few things that leaders need to watch for while managing through the process...

3 Things Managers (Change Leaders) Need to Keep in Mind

1) People don't change - they transition. That's why managers at all levels need to coach people through it, vs. managing them to do it. When people experience change in the form of job/organizational change, job loss, grieving the loss of a loved one, or going through a divorce, they will inevitably go through stages of transition until they arrive at a new perspective and acceptance of the new reality. Change strategist Dr. William Bridges documents that transition is a 3-phase psychological process that people go through.

  1. Ending - Letting go of their old perspective
  2. Neutral Phase - a sort of "no man's land" in between the old reality, and what the future holds
  3. New Beginning - Starting over again with new passion, vision, and sense of purpose. This essentially is a new identity.

2) Different Strokes... Not only is change a process of transition with stages, but it is a process that will be approached differently by different people. In a team where there are a range of behavioral styles, you will encounter a range of approaches. Managers need to understand the behavioral style needs of their Direct Reports, in order to tailor their coaching styles through transition.
In some cases, a team member may feel they are no longer a fit with the new focus, in which case the job of the manager is to be open and coach them to be successful elsewhere (within the organization or not). At the end of the day, it's about engagement that stems from a "Right Fit" with the new role. Better to have a team member engaged elsewhere than remaining unengaged in the evolving role.

3) Nurture the Culture. Continuous change requires continuous learning. Organizations need to embed a coaching culture that equips managers with the capacity to coach staff to evolve through comfort zones with confidence (rather than fear), practice continuous learning, and ultimately to embrace the new ideas and innovation to serve changing client needs. The challenge comes in balancing the urgency of change (Step 1 of Creating Change in Harvard Professor John Kotter's 8 step process) with the strategic coaching of people in transition, to result in effective organizational transformation.

Whether it be the Yellow Pages brand navigating to a new digital value proposition,  a political administration leading change, or a media provider evolving to a mobile platform culture,  change is constant. What is certain is that organizations that end up succeeding will be those that succeed in aligning change with a culture of coaching the transformation of their people.  Coach your team to transition through the change. Align a coaching style that matches their respective communication style and  lead a culture that helps teams get comfortable with ongoing transformation. After all, Organizations don't innovate or get results - people do.

In the Spirit of Growth,

Chuck Reynolds


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