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Coaching for Change

How coaching can support a people centred approach to organisational change management

Why Change Initiatives Fail

A global survey by McKinsey & Company concluded that only by changing constantly could organisations hope to survive. However, the McKinsey survey also claimed that some two-thirds of all change initiatives failed. Why? Although myriad factors are cited in the change literature, the inability to engage people is the factor noted longest and most often. As organisational behavioural experts Kenneth Thompson and Fred Luthans noted, a person’s reaction to organisational change “can be so excessive and immediate, that some researchers have suggested it may be easier to start a completely new organisation than to try to change an existing one.”

This phenomenon, often referred to as “human resistance to change,” is possibly the most important issue facing the field of organisational change.

A multitude of reasons for this phenomenon have been researched. What they have in common is that people understand and react to change differently because of their assumptions, expectations and perspectives. So how can the human resistance to change be overcome? The Human Capital Institute (HCI) and the International Coach Federation (ICF) have partnered to research coaching cultures in organisations and explored how coaching can be integrated with change management initiatives. Their survey showed that coaching-related activities are rated the most helpful in achieving the goals of the change management initiative.

When people face change

There is not a fixed recipe for managing change. Even though the goal of any change initiative is most like to move organisations, people and culture from A to B, change simply does not work in a linear way following a certain amount of steps. When leading change managers will need to tailor their strategies to the emotional responses their people and teams are likely to be experiencing during different stages of the change process.

The Change Curve provides a framework for mapping these emotions. Knowing where individuals and teams are in this process allows management, change leaders or coaches to have greater efficacy and impact in helping people move forward.

Sliding through the change curve

Change managers often take on the role of project managers. Their goal is to implement the change as efficient and effective as possible - on time and on budget. Unfortunately, the personal situation of affected employees is often overlooked. Even though coaching is often associates with personal or team-related performance improvement, self-optimization and problem solving, coaching can also help those affected by change to better deal with it, to look at it from different angles and to check their own attitude.

For coaching to be a success, it must however not be misused for change in order to bend those affected towards the intended change. Hence the change manager as a coach cannot credibly assert his or her impartiality, because of a potential conflict of interests. Instead affected employees and teams should be offered the possibility of neutral coaching, for example by an external coach.

Change occurs one person at a time

Transformational change initiatives are only successful if individuals change how they think and act when performing their day-to-day activities. Successful organisational change is the result of several individuals transitioning from their own current behaviours to their own future behaviours. Whether – and how quickly – the organisation will realize its return on investment depends on how efficiently employees make the change.

When leading change organisations hence must plan for the “human resistance to change.” In addition to supporting individual sliding through the different phases of the change curve, a Change Coach can support project managers, teams and management in the realisation of their change project. She or he focuses on the obstacles encountered, aims to understand the "system dynamics" and makes the interaction of forces and interests transparent.

For coaching to be a success, it must not be misused for change in order to bend those affected towards the intended change. Instead coaching capitalises on people’s strengths, spurring everyone to share responsibility and pool their resources. Working with a change coach not only saves the change leader’s time, so that she or he can concentrate on running the business, it makes people feel as if they have more control. In the workplace, this translates to an environment where people are more at ease with risk, have higher energy and show greater resilience, all of which are key factors in successfully handling change.


International Coach Federation (ICF) and Human Capital Institute (HCI) (2018). Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management.

McFarland, Walter (2012) "This is Your Brain on Organisational Change." Harvard Business Review.

McKinsey & Company (2008) "Creating organizational transformations." The McKinsey Quarterly.

Solèr, Ivo (2018) Mitarbeiter-Coaching im Change-Dschungel. HR und Leadership, Kaleidos Fachhochschule Schweiz.

Petersen, Glen (2017) " Leverage the change curve to boost your change management process." Generator Talent Group.

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