If you have ever tried to diet, begin an exercise regimen, or quit smoking, then you know how hard changing a habit can be. Even more difficult is helping other people change. No matter how skillful or engaging your coaching is, you often don't see the results you hope for in your employees or clients.
Read on to discover the keys necessary to helping others unlock personal change.
Five stages of personal change
Coaching is an essential part of every effective manager's toolkit, but change coaching often fails because we deliver the right tools at the wrong time. The reality is that everyone has a different level of readiness for change. More than 30 years ago, researchers James Prochaska, Carlo DiClemente, and John Norcross introduced a breakthrough model of the five stages of personal change:
By recognizing the stage of change that your employees or clients are in, you can provide the appropriate coaching to help them move to the next stage and ultimately achieve lasting change.
Ignorance is bliss
People in this first stage may not be aware that a problem even exists. Other times, they recognize an issue but don't fully realize the effects of their actions. As a coach, you can help the individual recognize the problem at hand.
Putting it into practice: The abrasive manager. Imagine a manager who is smart, articulate, and decisive. This individual moves up the ranks quickly, but his arrogance offends his peers and staff. Finally, after a heated argument with his boss, he is assigned a coach to help improve his communication skills.
The coach asks probing questions to investigate whether the problem manager is even aware of his need to change. The coach then confronts him about the impact of his actions with anecdotal evidence and data from a 360 survey. The goal is to highlight the issue and increase awareness of the problem's severity.
Contemplation: Sitting on the fence
Ambivalence is the cornerstone of the contemplation stage. Individuals are seriously thinking of making a change, but they have not committed to any plan. As the coach, you can help the individual recognize different options and encourage her to decide on one.
Putting it into practice: The pros and cons of talent development. Picture a chief financial officer who is faced with a tough decision around providing additional development opportunities to her employees. She values developing people, but she isn't fully convinced of the return on investment for her firm.
In response, the director of talent development encourages additional analysis. She suggests that the CFO consider the values and strategy of the firm and question how each possible alternative will align with the corporate identity and direction. She refrains from pushing the CFO, but focuses on helping clarify her choices.
Preparation: Getting ready for action
In the preparation stage, individuals have committed to change but need to get ready for action. They might be facing a new challenge, recovering from a failed attempt, or simply in the process of planning their next move.
Putting it into practice: A performance issue with a peer. Think about a friend who is struggling with the need to confront a peer about a performance issue at work. Your colleague is fully aware of the problem and has decided to address the issue, but isn't quite ready to initiate the conversation. He comes to you for advice.
You help brainstorm ways to initiate the conversation and guide him to clarify his objectives. You know that commitment is essential in this stage, so you focus on affirming your friend's decision and highlighting the benefits of taking the leap.
Action: Making it happen
The action stage of change can be deceiving. We see proactive behaviors and we mistakenly assume that this stage is the true definition of change--lots of action. Coaching people in this stage is highly gratifying; everything you suggest is readily implemented.
Putting it into practice: Learning to delegate. A first-time manager is aware of her struggle to delegate. She is reading a book on delegation and has spoken to other managers about their strategies. In staff meetings she is making intentional efforts to hand off more tasks and is resisting the urge to check in until projects are due.
The young leader's boss affirms her efforts to seek advice and connects her to a mentor. He pushes her to consider what she can do to replace the activities that she is giving up. As a result, she starts investing more time in strategic planning and managing her budget.
Maintenance: Staying the course
The maintenance stage brings the sweet taste of victory. Enjoying success is important; however, caution is needed so that old habits don't return. As a coach, you can help the individual celebrate success and provide accountability to stay the course.
Putting it into practice: Maintaining work-life balance. A senior leader you know has tried many times to achieve work-life balance. After serious conversations with his family and boss, he finally sets some healthy boundaries on work. He creates new habits to ensure he is fresh and vibrant at home and at work. It has been three months, and he feels like a new person.
To cement his new habits, the leader has begun to surround himself with people who will encourage him to stay on course. He is honest with them when he begins to slip back to his old ways.
Change is complex. Coaching works best if the recipient is ready and willing to change. By avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to coaching, you can increase your-and your clients'-likelihood of success.
* Daniel Hallak is the professional development specialist for Seattle Pacific University's School of Business and Economics, and the principal coach at Next Step Career Consulting, a career transitions practice; firstname.lastname@example.org.