Top tips on using coaching in times of change

Five top tips on using coaching in times of change

  1. Use coaching to support those who are leading the change first. “They are the ones who need to hold their focus during times of chaos, which always exists at the apex of change,” says Katherine Tulpa, chair of the Association for Coaching.
  2. If you recruit an external coach, make sure they have a business background and understand your environment. “Coaching that does not look to business strategy is merely a message,” says François Moscovici, partner in White Water Strategies, a leadership consultancy that offers coaching.
  3. Make sure that HR is operating as a business partner. “Work alongside the organisation in meeting change programmes,” says Annette Capper, HR director at TDG.
  4. Use coaching methodologies (such as the GROW model) thoroughly. “They must cover the process, not merely spell it out,” says CIPD learning and development adviser John McGurk.
  5. Be clear what success looks like. “Get agreement on where shifts need to occur that would indicate that a change has been successful,” says Tulpa. Gillian Ince, head of training, Europe, at Claire’s Accessories, adds: “Climate surveys are also a good measure, as is labour turnover.”

Coaching has remained a key development tool throughout the recession, helping organisations cope in times of change. Stephanie Sparrow reports on its enduring popularity.

Coaching is proving to be one of the great survivors of the recession. Research to be launched at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) Coaching at Work conference later this month (24 September) found that almost 90% of organisations now use the development method, while 51% consider it a key to learning and development that is “crucial” to their strategy.

John McGurk, the CIPD’s adviser on learning and development, is not surprised.

“Coaching has great scope to improve employee engagement, empower people and boost morale at a time of great uncertainty,” he says.

“It can definitely help in times of change because coaching creates a lot of capability and changes mindsets.”


Katherine Tulpa, chair of the Association for Coaching and founder of consultancy Wisdom8, agrees. “Coaching is all about change, whether that be external, such as aiming for different results, or internal, looking at self-realisation, beliefs and values.”

She adds that if such coaching has an objective perspective, it can provide clarity on what an organisation is trying to achieve and why, help maintain focus, challenge obstacles and assumptions, and support learning.

“Learning from change enables us to become stronger and more enabled for future change,” she says. “The value of learning from change could even be said to be more valuable than the change itself.”

Elsewhere, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from providers and employers that coaching is regarded as an essential tool for these times of great change.

“Coaching is always at the forefront of what we do,” says Gillian Ince, head of training, Europe, at retailer Claire’s Accessories.

“We went through a reorganisation earlier this year, and coaching was absolutely fundamental to the success of that.”


Ince says it helped some employees to deal with individual and departmental changes, and others to refresh their thinking. She offered one-to-one coaching to guide employees through what she refers to as the “Sarah change curve” (of shock, anger, rejection, acceptance and healing).

The unique quality of coaching, and the reason why it can harness the energy of the organisation and get it through change, is that it is led by the individual: it depends on their buy-in to work.

“The coach is there to make it a smooth journey, not to give the coachee the answers,” explains Ince.

These expectations make it important to prepare the coachee beforehand, and to be happy with the match between them and the coach, adds Peta Hay, head of the Academy at Tesco, the retailer’s internal centre for leadership and development.

“Coaching has worked most successfully where we have spent time making sure it fits the individual, and that focus has been more rigorous than it has been in the past,” she says.

Hay maintains a directory of 20 external coaches she is confident understand the business (she invites them to an annual dinner and debate for this purpose), who are likely to be coaching between 1% and 2% of senior Tesco employees at any one time.


“We use coaching to enhance business performance,” adds Hay. “Typically, the people we would endorse for coaching are those who have had a significant job change, and we use it in a positive way.”

All employees following development programmes have access to some type of coaching, with personnel managers in stores able to coach people at all levels.

Organisations that embedded coaching pre-recession are likely to be reaping the benefits now. This is certainly the case at transport giant TDG, according to the firm’s HR director Annette Capper.

Capper believes HR departments such as hers, which had recognised the potential of coaching and trained themselves accordingly, are well-positioned to guide their businesses through change.

“We went through a whole programme of upskilling a couple of years ago,” she says. “We did some ILM [Institute of Leadership and Management] qualifications, coaching qualifications, train the trainer and neuro-linguistic programming. The work done then has been a good foundation.”


Capper makes coaching available to employees who need it, such as line managers who are supporting others, or employees going through consultation. In such contexts, the coaching is helping employees to take ownership of the situation; what it must not do, she stresses, is act as a sticking plaster. The way to do this is to ensure the coach adopts a questioning method.

“One of the fundamentals of the coaching approach is to ask, not tell,” says Helen Bailey, managing director and coach at leadership and management coaching specialist Pinna.

Bailey points out that coaches need to ask coachees to describe, in their own words, what they are finding difficult, as this can lead to further questioning on what they need to do, which in turn helps employees to see a way ahead.

Rapid change also throws the spotlight on the authenticity of leaders, particularly if they have to deliver bad news. An external coach can help in this instance, says Emma Judge, a leadership and coaching specialist at coaching company Positive Organisations, because they are not bound by what she calls “internal filters”  in other words, influences.

“The crafting of a leader’s personal message within the business message is essential,” she says. “It can give them the tools to deliver in a direct manner, which can be the best thing to do, because people pick up on authenticity.”

As organisations and their people continue to navigate unprecedented change, Judge’s definition of an external coach seems apposite: “Think of a coach as a critical friend who guides a journey you haven’t been on before.”

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