It might be blasphemy, but after 20 years in change, with most of it spent supporting multi-billion-dollar federal transformations, I challenge the notion of the traditional organization change framework of “people, process, and technology.” While the simplicity is appealing, it’s missing a key element: perception.
Perception is the lens through which everyone experiences change. Each person’s lens generates habit-based thinking, behaviors, and limitations. A person’s perception is typically so baked into a person that they cannot tell you what it is or how it differs from others – it just is. They can’t help but see through their lens. The impact of their perception can show up as optimism, control, trust, funding constraints, political maneuvers, collaboration, fear, transparency, enthusiasm, or bias. And because a person’s perception is so ingrained, it’s a challenge for them to see its influence (good or bad) on how they approach, respond to, or lead change.
Individual perceptions influence decision making, emotional responses, and actions, which impact an organization transformation at all levels from the sponsor and change champions to the governance members and system users. Perceptions of anyone touching the design, development, and deployment of the change can help or hinder the initiative’s success. That includes the change leadership team comprised of the Change Sponsor, Change Champions, Change Governance Board, and Program Management Team.
With unchecked perspectives, change leaders operate with a blind spot – much like a vulnerable quarterback who doesn’t see the pending sack barreling their way. To help members of the change leadership team account for their perceptions, I recommend the inclusion of a Change Coach on the change management team. Someone with both change management and executive coaching certifications.
A Change Coach can help change leaders understand, address, or reframe perceptions that negatively impact both the person’s and the initiative’s success. A Change Coach offers an objective lens as they are not delivering the change. A Change Coach is not aligned to the change, but rather to the people leading it; their success is the change’s success. A Change Coach understands a change ecosystem, key functions, and core deliverables – and can help change leaders navigate them more effectively.
Recently, the International Coaching Federation and the Association of Change Management Professionals created a partnership to “explore the numerous synergies between change management and coach,” starting with a coach for the change sponsor, or executive in charge.
To me, leaders who work with a Change Coach should expect confidential one-on-one sessions in which they identify an issue (e.g., concern, challenge, opportunity, relationship), explore key factors, set goals with associated actions, and reflect on progress and outcomes. Plus, personal work between sessions. Work with a Change Coach centers on outcomes and accountability – the same as a well-managed organization transformation. According to the International Coaching Federation, “leaders who participated in coaching saw a 50-70% increase in work performance, time management, and team effectiveness.” All of which improve the likely success of change, whether it’s a targeted optimization or large-scale transformation.
I recommend the Change Coach be embedded in the change program management office (C-PMO) – at the heart of the transformation – with the charge to help leadership process the change and how they show up in it. A Change Coach can support the PMO director, a contracted project manager, the change sponsor, or department lead.
A few components of this new model to think about:
- Access: It’s important that staff perceive access to a Change Coach as a benefit, so provide education about coaching to help folks fully utilize the resource. You’ll also need a structure or tool for how to “book” time with the coach and how much time is available so that the coach is available regularly for the broad leadership team.
- Confidentiality: Whether you have an in-house Change Coach or they are part of the contract team, the work this person done is private. You can work with the individual to determine how to obtain themes and/or recommendations based on their work to inform future initiatives. Just be sure those who use the coach are clear if/how the coach shares content.
- Assessments: It needs to be clear that the organization sees using the Change Coach as a positive on a person’s annual review as it indicates a commitment to the transformation, personal growth, and team development.
Having a Change Coach work with change leaders keeps an essential element of change – the people leading it – on a reflective, productive, and supported path which serves them, their team, and the organization now and for changes to come.