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09 Nov, 2011

Coaching through transition, not just through change by Susan Grandfield

Posted by: The Coaching Academy In: Coach Spotlight|Coaching Articles|In The Spotlight|Personal Success|Success Stories

"Coaching through transition, not just through change"

If there is one thing that’s certain at the moment, it’s that there is a lot of change going on.

Every organisation is experiencing some kind of change, whether it is large scale, strategic change or small scale incremental changes to enable them to stay ahead of their competitors. Either way, change is a fact of life and it is becoming more and more a part of daily life for the people in those organisations.

If there is one thing that is not certain at the moment, it’s when that change is likely to slow down in pace and when the outcome of some of those changes will become more certain.

Those are two of the biggest challenges that organisations, and the individuals that are part of those them, are facing right now…..the pace of change and ambiguity.

The pace of change

Never before has change been happening so fast. You only have to look at how quickly social media has taken hold of communication in the workplace as well as in our non-work lives to get a sense of just how fast:

• In just 7 years Facebook has generated 500 million users
• 80% of companies use LinkedIn as a recruitment tool
• You Tube receives over 2 billion viewers every day and
• Over 600 million searches happen on Twitter every day!

The changing face of communication and the use of technology to aid communication is just one example of the many changes people are experiencing. Take a minute to consider (and you might even want to write this down) what your role looks like today and what it looked like 5 years ago. What is different? Consider how you communicate with the people in your team, how you interact with your manager and other teams in the organisation, what is your primary role?, how have your responsibilities changed? what are you measured against? and so on.

Organisations are facing increasing pressure to be more efficient, to “do more with less”, to embrace technology, to compete for a decreasing spend by consumers and so on. The impact……….organisations are having to change, or rather, the people within those organisations are having to change. And that change is not easy. The change doesn’t just require the adoption of different process or purchase of new equipment, it is not just about re-structuring and rationalising the workforce.

Change requires a transition which can be a painful, emotional and rocky journey.

It’s the transition that’s difficult

As William Bridges said:

“it isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is situational, transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.”
Managing Transitions (1981)

For change to be effective and achieve its goals, a transition needs to occur and that takes time. Change can be fast (i.e. a new process for doing X is rolled out across the business) but transition is slow (i.e. people fully engaging with the new way of working).

Time is precious, and managers are under pressure to deliver results as quickly as possible. So, the danger is, that they don’t give themselves, or the people they manage, sufficient time to make the transition. Which requires them to “let go” of the past first, before they can fully embrace the future.

Go back to the changes that have happened in your role that you identified earlier. What aspects of your role from 5 years ago are you still holding on to? What elements of the way you did things before, still exist in your role now? Do you still find yourself talking about “the good old days”?

It’s not that when change happens we should forget the past and cut all ties with it. After all, it is the past that has got us to where we are now. So, there are elements of what we did well in the past that should be brought with us into the future. However, if clinging on to the way things were done in the past means you have one foot in the past as you step into the future, it is unlikely that you will be able to fully make the transition into the new way of doing things.

One of the reasons can be a lack of clarity about what that “new way of doing things” is really going to be like.

Dealing with ambiguity

People need to go through the painful “neutral zone” which is filled with uncertainty, confusion, disorientation, lack of focus and discomfort. The potential impact on the organisation is reduced productivity, increased absenteeism, dysfunctional teams and stressed managers.

The top 3 three reasons why organisational change fails are:

1. employee resistance
2. leadership issues
3. communication

These three reasons all stem from a lack of clarity, focus and direction.

Employee’s resist change if they don’t understand the need for the change, what the change will entail and the benefits to them of making the change. Leadership issues arise when leaders are either unclear themselves, about the change, or are unclear in how they communicate about it to their teams. Communication is the holy grail of change management and yet it is very often over or under-done.

These three reasons result in a situation in which there is ambiguity about the future and the way forward which is unsettling and makes it difficult for people to let go of their familiar, often comfortable past and step into the unknown future.

The role of the coach

So, what role does a coach have in helping people to make the transition?

1. To encourage people to “try on” the new situation, see it from a different perspective and identify what could be good about it
2. To enable people to explore their feelings about the transition, give themselves permission to experience those feelings and, crucially, help them to generate the momentum to move on
3. To create a sense of focus so that people know where they are aiming and what they need to do each day to get there
4. To help people build their resilience and accept change as “the norm” in organisational life
5. To help people regain a sense of control over the change by focusing on what they can control rather than what they can’t.

In summary

Being able to deal with the pace of change and the ambiguity around change is becoming an increasingly important skill set for individuals and managers to develop. In fact it is more than just important, it is vital:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change.”Charles Darwin

As a coach, you have the tools and techniques to enable people become more responsive and therefore survive the change process.

2 Responses to "Coaching through transition, not just through change by Susan Grandfield"

1 | Jane Drapkin

November 9th, 2011 at 2:00 pm


This is a very timely article Susan, given the impact that change has on stress in the workplace and the news from CIPD that stress is the number one cause of sickness absence. How do we convince employers that it is worth investing in coaching to help their staff cope with change, as opposed to them either providing counselling or leaving it to the line manager to support their team?

2 | Susan Grandfield

November 9th, 2011 at 6:11 pm


Hi Jane, thanks for your comment and yes, this topic is a hot one right now and one that all organisations need to consider and take a proactive approach to.

Your question is an important one. I am sure other people have their own views, and here is mine:

In my view, counselling is a reactive approach i.e. it is about helping someone deal with change when they are already feeling unable to cope. It is also more focused on the past and what we really need to do is help people face the”new beginning”.

Coaching is more proactive and can help people get ready for the process of change and understand what to expect as they go through the process. That way they will be developing the skills and the resilience to deal with change before they get “stuck”.

“Leaving it to the line manager” may not be an effective strategy to take however, getting the line manager involved is! We should encourage organisations to ensure line managers are part of the change process. However, those line managers need support and the skills to be able to do that, so the coaching could/should start with them.

I would be interested to hear other people’s points of view….

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