Coaching Managers Through Change

Coaching Managers Through Change

Coaching Managers

By Wendell Nekoranec, Dawn

Use coaching strategies and communication best practices to support managers through organizational change.

Today’s organizations are faced with increasingly rapid changes in technology, customer demands, and the competitive landscape. To sustain growth, weather various economic conditions, and achieve better organizational results, businesses must undergo change.

Dealing with change management can be daunting. Often the stakes are high, and the change can affect anything from organization structure to process, technology, and people. A training and development professional’s ability to coach managers on strategies that will navigate employees through the transition is one of the greatest factors influencing change success.

Training to coach

As a training and development professional, you play a valuable role before, during, and after a transition. In the months leading up to a planned change, schedule meetings with affected managers to focus on the implementation strategy. Ensure the right messaging reaches these mid-level leaders before rumors take on a life of their own.

Next, plan a staff meeting and provide guidance to managers who will be delivering the change message. Include senior leadership in the meeting—their visibility, comments, and commitment to the change will strengthen staff buy-in and help alleviate resistance.

A successful staff meeting requires preparation. In your supportive role, assist the manager with the agenda and key talking points. Mediate and clarify specific change activity as necessary during the meeting.

After the meeting, close the loop with managers by providing feedback, reviewing the coaching process, and discussing areas of improvement. Be available for one-on-one sessions to encourage follow-up questions in a safe environment.

Coaching to confidence

Exhibiting fundamental coaching behaviors that you want managers to imitate is a critical part of the success equation. When done effectively, good coaching establishes a rapport to build trust and gain alignment. Below are important practices to master and impart to managers to meet the change goals.

Attentive listening is one of the most important skills in the coaching tool kit.

  • Eliminate distractions and maintain focus by coaching in a minimalistic setting, silencing your cell phone, shutting down email, and closing the door.
  • Take notes and use them to summarize meeting talking points when providing feedback.
  • Give the manager time to complete thoughts without interruption. People often share more when faced with uncomfortable silence. Avoid planning your comeback while the manager is talking.
  • Offer signs of reassurance with verbal cues and slow nods that encourage the person to continue talking. Rapid nodding may suggest validation, but it also can unintentionally rush the conversation.

Body language should say, “You’re in a nonjudgmental environment that welcomes your point of view.”

  • Convey a calm, neutral manner by limiting body and facial movements. Avoid raising eyebrows, shifting eyes, and overusing hand and arm gestures that may distract from or prevent a transparent conversation.
  • Lean forward to indicate that you want to hear everything the person has to say.
  • Maintain eye contact and minimize blinking to keep the manager and you focused.

Exploratory questions clarify your understanding and give the other person an opportunity to experience an “aha” moment.

  • Begin questions with how, why, when, where, what, who, which, or if.
  • The phrase, “Tell me more about …” encourages open dialogue.
  • When appropriate, answer questions with questions to generate a deeper level of thinking.
  • Restate what you think you heard to clarify understanding.
  • End conversations with, “What do you think?”

Feedback and follow-up are opportunities to reinforce or correct actions, establish strengths, and gain understanding.

  • Give detailed feedback by addressing observed behavior that is unbiased and free of character judgment.
  • Commend a manager on what she is doing right.
  • Describe examples of what can be done to improve, particularly if a manager has not provided solutions.
  • Establish an action plan that includes a timeline.

Remember that coaching is not about telling managers what you think. It’s about getting them to reveal their own thoughts and discuss solutions. Your participation in the coaching process will make the concepts more tangible and increase managers’ confidence.

Talking about change

Supporting the manager means understanding his emotional state and confidence when considering the technical and operational aspects of change. When talking to the manager, use the skills highlighted previously and listen for what’s said and not said.

Although managers talk to their staff constantly, change is an emotional situation for them as well. And emotional conflict can lead to resistance. With this in mind, explore a manager’s confidence level by asking open-ended questions such as:

  • What are your thoughts about this change?
  • How do you think your employees will react?
  • What steps will you take to handle an employee who is upset?
  • What questions do you have about this change?
  • What previous experiences have you had dealing with change?
  • What challenges do you anticipate?

Focus on two areas when coaching a manager to talk to an employee about change. First, prepare an agenda that includes a list of topics and timelines. Managers should be familiar with how their teams will be affected by the impending change, including different processes, a new workload, structural changes to the office layout, and staff transitions.

Additionally, software conversions and improvements may require training for employees to get up to speed. An agenda will help the manager to stay on track when facilitating a meeting, and provide staff with the vision they need to start embracing the transition.

Reinforce the importance of including other managers, such as members of the change project team, at staff meetings. They will be key allies throughout the process. Inspire managers to apply and share learned coaching practices with others to create a positive experience for everyone.

Key considerations

While there are many factors to consider during a time of organizational change, training and development professionals should especially remember these four key takeaways.

Convey change as positive. Managers and staff will pick up on your tone and approach throughout the transition. Help them to understand that change will propel the organization toward continued growth.

Coach to comfortable levels of acceptance. Ensure that managers have the coaching skills necessary to be confident in their communication. This confidence in aptitude will translate to a positive attitude.

Be prepared to be challenged. Change is difficult. Planning for the unexpected will help you to embrace challenges and assist managers in overcoming obstacles.

Listen at different levels. Listen to what is said and what is not said. Seemingly little things can cause tremendous resistance, and even mask underlying bigger issues that aren’t discussed.

By training managers how to coach employees through change, developing change communication skills, and providing support throughout the change process, you will help the organization to successfully move into a new environment that will bring sustainable business success.

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