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One thing is sure between birth and death – and that is change. True on the organisational level, as well as the individual one. Every organisation, every business, goes through transformation as it grows, with evolving structure, leadership, personnel, aims, stresses and successes – and will go through different transformations as it downsizes, merges or winds up its business.

Change is a constant feature of our working context – and so we should be good at managing it, one might think. Yet that very phrase “managing change” often strikes fear in the heart of managers and taps into inner uncertainties. What happens as a result? People avoid planning for change, neglect reflecting on what they need in order to navigate change successfully themselves, react defensively or angrily to suggestions about change. And as a result, undermine healthy organisational development.

When you are inside the change process, it’s sometimes hard to get a perspective, either on the systemic issues or the intrapersonal ones. This is where coaching can help.

What supports effective organisational development and change?
Research conducted by the Human Capital Institute and the International Coach Federation (ICF) in 2018[i] centred on change management and the role of coaching in change management initiatives. There were 432 participants in the study, including HR, L&D and TM professionals, coach practitioners and managers. The research found that: –

>High performing organisations have more confidence in their employees’ change capabilities

>Coaching activities (1:1 coaching, team coaching, work group coaching with a professional practitioner) are rated as the most helpful in achieving the goals of change management activities, although other types of activities such as training or time with senior leaders are more common

>The most frequently cited reasons for using coaching activities for change management are addressing leadership style; overcoming resistance; building resilience and change readiness; finding processes and tools.

>There is a correlation between using coaching to lead an agile culture and increased confidence in employees’ capabilities in planning and executing change, (looping back to the first finding above).

Core features of successful change management
For the research, respondents were asked to think of real examples of change at work and the characteristics of both successful and unsuccessful change management. They reported that the key features of successful change management were communication, involvement, planning and leadership … and the features of unsuccessful change management were communication, leadership and planning.

Working with leaders to develop their leadership style alongside their ability to engage and motivate others, plan strategically and communicate effectively, is the territory of the professional executive coach.

Tips for engaging effective coaches
>Choose coaches who are credentialed members of a professional association. The coaching profession is regulated by its professional bodies, the largest of which is the International Coach Federation (ICF) with nearly 36,000 members world-wide, around 28,000 of whom are credentialed. To achieve any ICF credential, generally marked by the initials ACC, PCC or MCC (the most experienced/highly skilled level), there is an assessment of live coaching against graded competency levels.  Like members of other professional associations, ICF coaches sign up to a strict code of ethics, and is the only one with an independent review body in case of complaint.  

>Evaluate the level of professional experience of the coach. The sector they have worked in prior to being a coach (many people come to coaching as a second career) may be of lesser importance than their understanding of systemic issues, strategy and the level of seniority of previous clients.

>Select horses for courses. The experienced external coach who could both challenge and support your CEO may not be the best person to coach a team or work group through an aspect of organisational development. For that need, choose someone who has had a thorough training in team coaching, which includes multiple level contracting, systemic awareness and a grounding in group dynamics

>Spend time designing the contract. What do you want as outcomes? What are the accountabilities? How will you measure impact? What is the level of commitment of your own team? Time in design will aid clarity about the engagement and underpin successful outcomes.

Sarah Gornall, President UK ICF Chapter – International Coach Federation

[i] Filipkowski J, Ruth M, Heverin A (2018) Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management (2018) HCI and ICF, available from  

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