Change in the workplace is a common occurrence. What is not as common is how leaders help their people navigate those changes. When a strategic change is announced and employees begin to internalize the impact to their roles, the work environment may become uncertain and less productive. When this occurs, leaders should rely on transition coaching to help the employee navigate through the change, accept the loss of the status quo, and support them in their need to remain focused on critical business priorities.

When changes take place in the workplace, there is generally a range of reactions and emotional responses that employees experience. During this uncertain time, it is critical managers communicate early, often, and effectively with their direct reports to gauge acceptance and potential resistance to the change.

Transition coaching is a process that enables leaders and employees to successfully navigate through workplace change. It requires a desire for mutual benefit to the individual and to the organization. Transition coaching, when implemented correctly may be defined as:

  • A partnership where the leader acts as an advisor to the direct report and facilitates the discovery of solutions to business related challenges
  • An exploration of the potential knowledge or skills that may need to be developed given the change in roles and responsibilities
  • An interactive process where the manager provides direct feedback related to overcoming obstacles of business performance, role requirements, and change agility
  • A method of meeting business challenges, fostering effective customer relationships, driving sales results, and enhancing professional development
  • Providing reinforcement to build confidence during time of uncertainty

Identify Coaching Strengths and Weaknesses. Prior to taking on the role of “Transition Coach,” it is important to assess one’s own ability to coach effectively. Coaching is much more interactive than it is directive. The emphasis lies in one’s ability to help direct reports identify issues or concerns related to the transition and encourage individuals to solve their own problems. Evaluate your own coaching ability to:

  • Communicate the purpose, goals and expectations of the change
  • Build trusting and credible relationships
  • Inspire direct reports to help themselves
  • Ensure follow-through with agreed upon next steps

Listen Actively and Show Empathy. In order to provide appropriate feedback, it is important to build trust and promote an atmosphere of open dialogue by listening. During transitions, direct reports should be encouraged to express how the change is impacting them. Additionally, an active listener may act as a ‘sounding board’ for direct reports to resolve their own challenges. Recognition and acknowledgement of the direct reports’ feelings allows for more meaningful exchanges during times of change.

Provide Actionable Feedback. People like to know where they stand. It is also helpful for individuals to view their contributions from the perspective of their leaders and peers. Direct reports can use constructive comments to broaden their awareness and gain momentum. To ensure that feedback is insightful and not accusatory, one must be clear about:

  • How goals are to be evaluated
  • Which goals were met and which were not
  • Why each goal is vital to the change initiative (not just the unmet goals)
  • What is the resulting impact on the individual, the team and/or the organization

As a transition coach, you will need to help individuals manage their emotions, including their “me issues,” build up their confidence, and reinforce their commitment to the transition. Even individuals who are more comfortable with change may experience feelings that are decidedly unpleasant — in particular, the feeling of being overwhelmed. An increased level of patience and support are needed when coaching through transitions. Remembering the tips above will strengthen your ability to coach others during a transition.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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