This year, I have done a lot of coaching with my son. He is almost 18, just graduated from high school, and has had a difficult year. Just as his senior year began, our family moved approximately 1,000 miles from California to the Salt Lake City area.
While most high school seniors enjoy their last year in school having developed a history with teachers, achievements in their selected extracurricular activities, and having friendships developed, my son was in a new school with no friends and no history.
To make matters worse, we moved from a small community where less than 200 students attended the high school to a school with 2,500 students. There were more students in his new school than there were in the entire town we used to live in!
Needless to say, he felt lost in the sea of new faces and felt alone. He went from being active in many extracurricular activities to not being involved in any, and his grades suffered as he struggled to care about school.
My son found himself in a changed environment—one that he hadn’t chosen, but one that he was required to adapt to. Throughout the year, he and I have had several coaching moments. I have had to talk him through the stages of change to help him adapt to his new school, his new life in Salt Lake City, and to find within himself a desire to refocus on his school work and look toward his future.
In the workplace, it is the responsibility of leaders to coach others through changes. Although these changes may ultimately be beneficial, it is difficult for the average person to accept change when it is thrust upon them. Change can come as a result of many factors, both internal and external.
Change may be driven by a need or requirement to achieve a specific purpose, or it may be spurred by the natural evolution of a changing work or business environment. Whatever the cause, change is usually unwelcomed.
It is important to remember that change threatens one’s competency. Going back to my son’s experience, he knew everyone at his old school—students, faculty, and administration alike—and they knew him. He knew what was expected of him in that environment, and he knew how to get things accomplished when he ran into obstacles. At that school, he was competent.
His grades were good and we was an active member of his class. At his new school, his competency was challenged, his fears were drawn to the surface, and he felt threatened. He withdrew from being actively involved and put up barriers that hampered his success.
As change happens in the workplace, similar fears may be brought to the surface. Pushed outside of our regular routines and comfort levels, we feel exposed and open to failure. By keeping employee’s fears in mind as change is introduced and implemented, leaders can provide support by stating expectations clearly and providing adequate time for adjustments to take place.
Staying open to questions and remaining aware of how your employees are handling the changes will help employees move successfully through the change period.
Accepting and adjusting to change is complicated. There are many stages to the acceptance process. To help your team members move through these stages, it is important to know what they are, how to identify them, and what to do with them when they appear. They are similar to the stages of grief. These stages include:
- Shock—one may feel threatened or fearful of the future. There is a perceived loss and the person may act distracted and be less productive.
- Anger and Denial—one may act defiantly or withdraw from others.
- Resistance—one may become highly emotional and combative with others. They may ignore the “new” way and hold on to the “old” way.
- Acceptance—one begins to explore their options and alternatives. They demonstrate some willingness to adapt to the situation and explore new possibilities and opportunities.
- Advocate—one becomes more oriented to the future as their fears and emotions are dispelled and they adopt new routines. The new way becomes standard and comfortable.
Throughout the year, my son experienced all of the stages of change. Had I not coached him through this process, the outcome may not have ended with acceptance. As leaders, it is important to coach and guide employees through these stages as they experience them to increase the likelihood that they will reach acceptance. Some people become stuck in a stage for a while, and their progress may falter.
Their effectiveness will become limited, which will impact the organization’s ability to succeed. Stalls in progress may extend for great lengths of time. It is vitally important for leaders to exercise empathy towards their employees. It is important to understand the feelings and emotions associated with each of these stages and help employees move towards the next stage so they eventually accept the change for what it is.
Change is an inevitable part of life. Some changes are welcome, but most are not. As we understand the effects that change can have on us and our employees, it is important for leaders to recognize the change process and help their team progress through that process. Knowing how to coach people through change will increase the organization’s ability to convert change into success and reduce the negative aspects that change can bring.