Coaching: the key to effective change management

Findings from the latest ICF / HCI annual study ‘Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management’

Coaching is the most effective activity in supporting successful change management initiatives, and we are starting to see this reality reflected in organisations’ budgeting and resource allocation decisions. However, there is clearly a way to go, with the largest proportion of budgets still being allocated to activities that respondents acknowledge are not optimally effective in supporting change.

These are some of the key findings from the latest global joint annual study from the International Coach Federation and Human Capital Institute, 'Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management', which was released in October 2018. All of the study’s 432 participants were internal to organisations, with 49% in HR roles and 25% being managers/leaders. There were no external coaches included in the study.

Coaching and change management are a perfect fit

Coaching-related activities are by far the most effective way to support change management initiatives. When asked which activities were either ‘very or extremely helpful’ in helping achieve the goals of change management, four of the eight top rated items - including the top two – related to coaching.

Coaching’s uptake in change management lags its effectiveness

The effectiveness of coaching related activities in supporting change is not yet reflected in their level of usage. For example, just 16% of respondents said that their organisations currently used work group coaching to support change … despite 78% of respondents acknowledging that this modality was very or extremely useful in this respect. The results were similar for team coaching, which was used by just 25% of organisations in the survey, despite being seen as very or extremely helpful in support change by more than two thirds of respondents. One to one coaching - the equal highest rating method of supporting change - was used by just 29% of organisations in change management initiatives, and leader-as-coach was used by 38% of organisations for this purpose.

Face-to-face training & e-learning are still the most widely used modalities

Organisations are yet to fully align their focus and spending with what they say actually works. The most common change management activities in the study - by far - were classroom training and web-based training/e-learning, which were used to support change by 59% and 57% of respondents’ organisations respectively. This is despite the fact that only 49% of survey participants found classroom training to be very or extremely helpful in this respect, and just 34% had this view of web-based training/e-learning.

What it means for HR Professionals, Leaders and Coaches

Human Resources, Organisational Development and Learning & Development professionals have a great opportunity before them. If they reallocate a proportion of funding from training and e-learning initiatives, towards coaching initiatives - including one-to-one, team and group coaching, as well as leader-as-coach training - they are likely to have a significantly more positive impact on their organisations’ change management outcomes. In doing this, they will also be earning themselves a greater voice in organisational decision making. It’s a win-win.

For executives and managers, adopting a leader-as-coach approach is one of the most powerful ways to ensure their change initiatives deliver successful outcomes. Leaders would be well served in building their coaching capabilities, such as by undertaking coach training from a reputable training provider (such as an ICF-accredited coach training school). 

For coaches - both external and internal - the research suggests that organisations will start to shift more of their budgets towards coaching-related activities over time, as the effectiveness of coaching in supporting change management becomes more widely understood. Coaches can help speed up this process by sharing this research with the organisations they serve.

Today, change is constant, and coaching has a central role to play in helping organisations successfully deliver that change. It’s a powerful opportunity, and the future for the coaching profession looks brighter than ever.

About Revel Gordon

Revel Gordon PCC is the Director of Brand Development of the International Coach Federation’s Australasia Chapter. An executive and team coach, Revel has helped CEOs, executives and their teams at over 100 organisations around the world navigate disruption, opportunity and change, including at Google and Atlassian.

Revel can be contacted at