Change Management : Why Coaching Matters

There is a beautiful story of Buddha when He became enlightened. Have you heard that story? Let me tell you. When Buddha got enlightened, He remained silent. For a long time he did not say a word. Folklore says that all the angels in heaven got frightened and said, “Once in a millennia someone blossoms as fully as Buddha. Now He is silent, He is not saying a word!”. The story goes that all the angels approached Buddha and asked him to say something, anything, but not be silent. Buddha said, “Those who know, they know, even without my saying, and those who do not know, they will not know by my words. Any description of life to a blind man is of no use. One who has not tasted the nectar of existence, of life, there is no point in talking to them about it. So I am silent,” The discussion goes on, finally the angels say, “Yes, we agree, what you say is absolutely right. But, Buddha, consider those on the borderline. There are a few who are in between, who are neither fully enlightened nor totally ignorant. For them, a few words will give a push. For their sake, you speak something, say something“.

This story is quite philosophical but for those that are in the business of , there is a striking similarity. New ideas are picked up happily by some and resisted fiercely by some others. For those who know either they already know or they are in that space where you are open to ideas, willing to absorb new things. And for those who don’t, nothing can convince them. The change could be anything – transformation to agile, introducing DevOps, roll-out of a new system blah blah blah.. it does not matter….. The pattern always repeats. When change to status quo is introduced, a few will love and a few will loath about it.

However a majority of the population remains on the fences. They are the ones who have not made an opinion yet and / or are quiet about it. This is also generally categorized as 10/80/10. 10% who actively embrace the change, 10% who actively fight it and the 80% who are the fence-sitters. They are probably open but waiting for others to try it first. Or they could be negative and waiting for others to fail first. Regardless these folks provide a window of opportunity.

Transformation change agents and advocates need to spend a lot of time primarily with this audience, especially when you are at that bottom stage of the J curve in the Satir Change Model.

Well you do need to spend time with the ones resisting as well the early adopters and “converts”; for both these groups carry the power to influence the fence-sitters either positively or negatively. With the resisting ones a concerted effort is needed to contain the damage their negative opinion does to the change initiative ; as well as to influence them to “see the light”. If their first attempt at trying the change was a disaster or maybe simply unpleasant putting them off, work with them to make them try once more. Reasonable time need to be also spent with the early adopters and converts to encourage them to continue on the path as well as move forward. They are your biggest advertisements. Peer to peer messaging is a big motivator and game changer.

However as coaches and change management advocates, a great amount of time, a bulk of your time need to be spent with the fence-sitters to explain them the need for change, what the change is all about, motivate them to give it a try and help them through it. Effective and efficient is about providing clear direction, regular feedback and positive engagement to the 80%. It’s also about being in the trenches with these folks. This is where bulk of the people reside and a real change in this audience ensures that change will stick around and become the next status quo. Coaching matters and is critical to the success of any change management process.

As in the story of Buddha, a few words will give a push. The role of the coach is to enable that push.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..