Software Engineering

Organizational Change Management Coaching Methods


During our video call, the engineering manager, let’s call her Jo, barely made eye contact. She seemed disempowered and hopeless. I’d met Jo at a SaaS company in previous meetings as part of my project management consulting. But this was a coaching session, which made all the difference. In contrast to consulting, which usually involves advising on solutions to business problems, coaching is largely about listening, with a few key questions to help the subject clarify their thinking and work out the best way forward.

Coaching tends to be particularly useful in organizational change management, when roles and expectations can become confusing or unclear. But it can be used any time as a practical approach to support people who are struggling, or who need guidance to reach their full potential. Coaching has been shown to engage, empower, and motivate people to achieve more. Every company has individuals who could have a huge, positive business impact with the aid of coaching.

By the end of our first coaching session, Jo’s perspective had changed from “What do they want from me?” to “What do I want for myself?” As we progressed, her confidence grew—she was able to be more assertive in her role, push back on unreasonable requests, and even spend time on the professional development of junior team members. She was working more effectively and ensuring that her team was too; the positive impact rippled out to her projects and the wider business.

I’ve been a project management and company operations consultant for many years, helping a wide range of businesses define and improve their tools and processes and implement changes to manage their projects and operations more efficiently. Adding coaching tools to my skill set has boosted the chances of success when introducing changes—which we project managers often do—because people feel more fulfilled by and motivated to do their jobs.

Formally studying and gaining a coaching qualification can give you a broad range of tools and models, but anyone can start coaching. This guide will equip you with a foundation of coaching knowledge and basic techniques that you can use when implementing change in an organization as well as in your day-to-day project management activities.

What Is Coaching?

Coaching is defined by the International Coaching Federation as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Talking to a coach can feel like to talking to a therapist but is far more goal- and action-oriented. As a coach, you are wholly focused on your coachee and helping them explore their thoughts—they are the expert. This is in contrast to a consultancy mindset, in which you are the hired expert.

When Should You Use Coaching?

The need for behavioral change is often highlighted by workplace change. Perhaps an individual has moved into a leadership role and their old behaviors no longer fit; maybe they lack confidence or have built up some unproductive habits such as people-pleasing or abrasive communication.

For coaching to be successful, however, the person you’re working with must want to modify their behavior. If you want a team member to be more proactive but they themselves don’t feel any need to change, coaching is unlikely to help. If a team member expresses that there’s an adjustment they’d like to make or something they’d like to learn, discuss whether they’d be interested in coaching for that area. When an individual agrees to participate in coaching, you can get started by following these four steps:

1. Align Expectations and Build Trust

Before you begin, have a discussion with the coachee about what coaching is and how it will differ from your usual interactions so your expectations are aligned. Ensure your coaching sessions are kept separate from “normal” work conversations by setting aside a specific slot dedicated to coaching; this will get you both in the right mindset. Mixing coaching with consulting or managing in the same conversation can be confusing and is likely to result in a less successful outcome.

An essential part of this relationship is confidentiality. In a coaching environment, the coachee needs to be able to trust you with more personal information than they might ordinarily. They’ll need to know that this information won’t be shared or used outside the context of the coaching conversations. Creating trust is crucial and needs to be considered when building coaching into an existing professional relationship, so include this in your discussion. In coaching terms, this is called “contracting” and is an essential first step in every coaching relationship.

2. Use the GROW Model

The GROW—goal, reality, options, will—model is the simplest coaching structure for anyone to use in a work context. It was co-created by a pioneer of executive coaching, Sir John Whitmore, in the 1980s and is still one of the most popular methods today.

While the four areas below are in the order they should be discussed, it’s normal to jump back and forth between topics occasionally during conversation. Aim to split the time evenly between each area.

Goal

Where does the coachee want to get to?

Define what a successful session would look like. Revisit the goal with the coachee occasionally during the conversation:

  • Are we making good progress?
  • Is this still the best goal for this conversation?
  • How does what you’ve just said impact the goal?

Reality

What is the current situation for the coachee?

This is an area where a coachee tends to spend a lot of time: Let the coachee decide whether to continue the discussion. Sometimes people simply need to vent at the expense of a forward-moving conversation. Your role as a coach is to keep an eye on the time and reflect what is happening, but the agenda is ultimately the coachee’s choice.

Options

What are the options for moving forward?

Let the coachee generate ideas that will help them move toward the goal. Avoid getting tied to one solution and refining it too early; instead, summarize and reflect back what they’ve offered, and ask what else might be possible. The most difficult part here can be stopping yourself from offering your own ideas or asking leading questions. Only when the coachee has no more ideas to give should you suggest anything, and even then, offer it without judgment or detail: Let them reject, ignore, or change it.

Will

What actions will the coachee commit to?

Get clear on this:

  • What exactly will they do? When?
  • What are the steps?
  • What are the risks or potential blockers?
  • What could improve the chances of success?
  • How committed are they to this path and what would help increase this commitment?

You can offer to help, perhaps by holding them accountable, or in a more hands-on way, but almost all the work should be done by the coachee.

3. Master the Coaching Conversation: Silence, Powerful Questions, Reflections

As a coach, your side of the conversation is relatively minimal—but essential.

Practice Silence

  • Give the coachee lots of time to think. Don’t jump in with your opinion or the next question; talking will interrupt their thought process.
  • Time to Think by Nancy Kline is a great resource for further information about the power of silence.

Ask Powerful Questions

  • Keep your questions open, with a view to understanding where the coachee is coming from and helping them discover a deeper understanding of themselves. A colleague would ask, “Have you tried X?” whereas a coach will ask, “What have you tried?”
  • Avoid “Why” questions: These can lead to defensive answers.
  • Keep it simple: Ask single questions rather than stacking a complex set of thoughts and questions together.
  • Most importantly, focus only on questions; avoid giving answers or talking at length yourself. This session is for the coachee to talk.

Reflect and Confirm

  • Listen closely—really listen—to how the coachee is coming across and the meaning behind what they are saying.
  • Reflect back what you’re noticing. Do they seem energized or subdued when talking about something? Have they used a particular phrase multiple times? Do you sense there’s something they’re not saying? Could the way they’re coming across to others cause issues? Offer these observations neutrally: You could be wrong, but what you’re picking up on could push them to explore something important.
  • Summarize and paraphrase occasionally during the sessions, using their own wording, if you can. This can help them move on or generate new options. Sometimes, when they hear someone else repeat their thoughts, they can perceive the dissonance more clearly (e.g., “So because you gave a bad presentation when you had the flu, you think you might be fired. Did I understand that correctly?”).
  • Get the coachee to summarize for themselves and make notes at the end, so they have their own action plan, in their own words.

4. Adopt a Coaching Attitude

What underlies all this—and what the coachee will perceive—is your attitude. As their coach, you need to regard them as the expert on their own life. They are capable of finding the best solutions for their problems. Aim for an attitude of curiosity, and what coaches and therapists call unconditional positive regard.

Your normal working relationship with the person might be friendly or fraught; you will no doubt have already formed opinions about them. Try to discard assumptions and discover the person anew. This can be difficult, but you will more likely establish a trusting relationship and get a successful outcome. You’ll probably find that this changed approach also has a long-lasting impact on your professional relationship.

Boost People, Boost Outcomes

Coaching is a powerful tool for professional and personal development. In a business context, it can be incredibly useful in helping people adapt to change and live up to their potential. Adding coaching to your skills will enhance your project management capabilities while improving the workplace experience of your team members, the overall business culture, and project outcomes.

Whether you’re delivering a project or transforming a whole organization, you’re working with people and they are the most critical element. No matter how many new processes, tools, or templates you introduce, the single biggest impact you can have is to ensure people are being supported to perform at their best—and coaching can help you do this.

This guide will enable you to get started on the coaching path, but ensure that you keep reading and learning. You can never be too good at coaching, and the empowerment it promises is always mutually beneficial.