Coaching Employees Through Change

By Jeff Nevenhoven, Senior Consultant, Life Cycle Engineering

Spring is in the air and so are the welcome sounds of spring: the crack of the baseball bat as it hits the ball high into the sky, vendors shouting out their treats for sale, and cheers and jeers from the fans. High school, college and major league baseball teams have once again begun their quest for a championship season. The typical professional baseball team has over a half dozen coaches on its staff, all of whom have the purpose of developing and improving the knowledge, skills and abilities of their team members. While each coach focuses on a different skill, such as hitting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning, their primary goal is to develop the players individually and collectively into a winning team.

The roles of athletic coaches are very similar to the role of team leaders, supervisors, and managers within the business world. In today’s successful organizations business leaders play the role of coach and mentor, while the role of commander and controller is a thing of the past. Today’s leaders focus on developing their employees into “all-star players” by removing obstacles, leveraging and developing strengths, sharing information, instilling key behavoirs and engaging employees in the growth and continuous improvement of the company.

These winning leaders play another critical role in organizational success – they help employees transition through the constant change in today’s business world. Today organizations experience change in many shapes and forms, from continuous improvement initiatives, downsizing, and mergers to technical upgrades and changes in leadership. If there is anything else guaranteed in life besides death and taxes, its change within today’s business world.

Organizations that successfully transition through these types of change realize that accomplishing a change initiative is ultimately linked to all employees, from the boardroom to the factory floor, performing their roles, responsibilities and duties differently. In order for employees to perform their new responsibilities differently and successfully they need effective coaching and mentoring as they progress through the change process.

Change occurs one person at a time. Even moderate to large scale transformational change initiatives, such as Reliability Excellence and Operational Excellence, are only successful if individuals change how they think and act when performing their day-to-day activities. Successful organizational change is the result of several individuals transitioning from their own current behaviors to their own future behaviors. Whether – and how quickly – the organization will realize its return on investment depends on how effective you are as a “coach” at helping employees efficiently make the change.  

Along with ongoing coaching and mentoring, one of the most essential things that you can do as a business leader is to involve your employees in the change process. Allowing and providing the opportunity for employees to be involved in the change process paves the way for engagement and ownership. This approach takes a traditional “top down” driven change and turns it into a more sustainable “employee owned” change initiative. In baseball, players are involved every step of the way, from off-season practices and meetings, to spring training and then on through the regular season. Together with their coaches, they share the desire to be winners, they understand the “why” and “what’s in it for them”, they are fully vested in the process, and they work together as one team.

Coaching and mentoring an employee through the change process encompasses a variety of activities. These include explaining why the change is necessary, communicating the positive and negaitives for supporting or not supporting the change, soliciting and including their ideas, clarifying performance expectations, giving positive and or constructive feedback, providing training, removing obstacles, acknowledging and reinforcing success, addressing resistance, and ensuring both coach and employee have a mutual understanding of expectations and critical behaviors.

Just like a major league baseball coach, you will need to provide continued guidance, support, motivation, open communication, oversight and feedback to your employees both as a group and as individuals. All of these activities are necessary to ensure that key changes in behavior occur and are sustained, one employee at a time.

Similar to professional athletes, employees need to be involved, inspired, supported and reassured that they are developing and performing towards desired expectations. Employees want to be part of a winning team and your organization wants to be successful. You, as an effective coach, can make that possible.

Here are three straightforward steps to take when coaching employees:

Step 1: Communicate the business need for change

  • Share with employees at an individual level the business need for the change, vision of the future, benefits received from changing and consequences for not changing.
  • Connect the change to specific roles and how these roles impact the desired results. Ensure employees understand WIIFM (What’s in it for me).
  • Provide two-way communication so that the employees can ask questions, and share concerns and ideas; give them a voice in the process.

Step 2: Involve employees in the change process

  • Allow for as many employees as feasible to be part of the change process.
  • Include these employees in the planning and design process.
  • Provide employees with the responsibility to train other employees.
  • Engage employees in the evaluation process and in developing corrective/continuous improvement plans.

Step 3: Coach and mentor employees as they transition through the change

  • Demonstrate desired behaviors by “walking the talk” and providing an environment for sharing, learning and continuous improvement.
  • Inspire and motivate employees to achieve their full potential; remove obstacles.
  • Develop action plans to help the employee transition through the change.
  • Provide feedback on performance and reinforce positive behaviors and outcomes; acknowledge and celebrate success.

The next time you sit back and watch your favorite team play, whether it’s baseball, football, basketball, hockey or another sport, think about the efforts and actions taken by the coaching staff to prepare the players to play effectively as a team. Then reflect on your team and coaching efforts. Are you taking the best approach to successfully build a winning team? Are your employees engaged, inspired and performing effectively as individuals and a collective team? Or are they simply doing what they are told to do? Command and Control, or Coaching and Mentoring, pretender or contender, your leadership style can and will directly impact the performance of your team.

As Senior Consultant for Life Cycle Engineering, Jeff  Nevenhoven thoroughly analyzes and develops solutions that align organizational systems, structures, controls and leadership styles with a company’s business vision and performance objectives. Jeff’s experience as production assembler, service engineer, maintenance supervisor and project manager enables him to effectively work with employees throughout an organization to implement solutions that remove functional barriers and prepare and lead people through sustaining change. You can reach Jeff at jnevenhoven@LCE.com.

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.