Coaching is a familiar word. There seem to be coaches everywhere, in sports, business, and even life coaches. Think of someone who coached you well. Identify what the coach did that was effective. Chances are, the coach kept you focused on the goal, pushed you to work hard, praised you when you did well, and gave you corrective feedback when you didn’t. This is essential when coaching people through change. As you might know from your own experience, people respond differently to change. Some people are eager to make the change, and others resist. In this article, Seth Coffing, a devoted coach, mentor, and leader with a proven track record, describes how to coach for change.

A Common Scenario

Let’s say you observe that an employee, Anthony, has not been keeping his workbench tidy. It is looking messy and there are empty drink containers, fast food bags, and old Lab Updates. You tell Anthony that his workbench isn’t up to standard. He says, “Yes, I’ve been meaning to get to it. I’ll do it before I go out.” Anthony cleans his workbench, and the next time you see it, it’s clean as well. But if you gave another employee, Brett, that same feedback, he might say, “Well, I’m busy. Don’t have time for housekeeping.” Anthony welcomes the feedback and changes his behavior quickly, and Brett doesn’t.

When someone resists change, it is easier to break through that resistance when you have a strong relationship with them. When you know someone, in this case Brett, well, you’ll probably have a good idea of why he is resisting the change in his behavior and how to deliver your coaching message to overcome his resistance. Howard Gardner, in his book Changing Minds, discusses the seven “R’s.” Resistance is an “R” that inhibits change. The other six “R’s” can help you change Brett’s mind about his behavior. If you know Brett well, you’ll know which one or two of the six will be the keys to reducing his resistance.

  • Reason – “Brett, our standards note the importance of a clean workbench because safety is a key value for us. Trash in an area can cause falls.” give Brett a logical reason, and he’ll implement the change.
  • Research – “Let’s refer to our expectations, as you can see, a clean workbench is a clear part of professional behavior. Our standards are well researched and well documented. We’ve validated that this is what safety experts have defined, and we expect them of ourselves.” Let Brett know that this behavior has been documented as an expectation to convince him to change.
  • Resonance – “Brett, if you were a manager walking through here and saw a workbench full of trash, what would you think? What would you think if you went into a restaurant and all the tables were dirty? You’d probably think the workers and managers didn’t care.” Help Brett “walk a mile” in the client’s shoes, and he’ll get it.
  • Reframing – “Let’s consider how the workbench affects safety-conscious co-workers. What are different ways co-workers could think of you based on how the workbench looks?” Coach Brett to see through others’ eyes to reduce his resistance.
  • Resources and Rewards – “What help do you need?” “What supplies would help?” Who knows, maybe all Brett needs is for you to hand him a trash bag.
  • Real-World Events – “Brett, I understand that you’re concentrating on getting your work done on time, and that is important. Right or wrong, some people will assume that if your workbench is sloppy, then your work is sloppy too. It’s not a fair assumption, but it is a real one.” Brett knows life isn’t fair and that people can and do make incorrect assumptions.

If you have built a trusting relationship with Brett, you might know that he is most open to changing his behavior when he reframes the situation and puts himself in someone else’s shoes. Brett realizes that he sometimes forgets how things seem to other people, so when you develop a coaching plan with Brett, you focus on supporting him in keeping an eye on the big picture and the assumptions others may make about him based on his workbench.

As you develop your coaching relationship with Brett, you take note to do all of the following:

  • Communicate regularly – How is Brett doing? Are there opportunities for positive feedback? How does he evaluate his commitment to keeping a clean workbench?
  • Organize a plan for employee success – Identify what Brett agrees to do daily. Does he do a “once over” inspection? Should you ask coworkers to let him know if he lets cleaning go for too long?
  • Analyze employee performance – How is Brett doing against the success measure? If the measure of a clean workbench is 100% of the time, where is 99%?
  • Commit to the coaching process – When and how will you follow up to coach Brett?
  • Help employees overcome obstacles – If Brett has a particularly busy week and starts to let cleanliness slide again, how will you help him overcome that?

Because you are confident in your ability to coach and you have built a relationship with Brett that lets you choose the best ways to overcome his resistance to change, both of you will be successful in changing behavior.

About Seth Coffing:

Seth Coffing is an experienced coach with a proven track record built over 19 years of coaching at all levels, and 17 years teaching K-12. Among his basketball accomplishments are a #1 ranking in the country for NJCAA DII, 2011 BCAM and Bank Hoops Coach of the Year, and 2012 Conference Coach of the Year. He has recruited numerous student-athletes and helped them go on to earn degrees and successful professional careers.