Change Management: A Short History of People at Work

It started with a bunch of old dudes staring at numbers.

Statistics. Numerical analyses of how people respond to changes around them. In the 1960s, Everett Rogers came out with Diffusion of Innovations. Over the next forty-one years, statistical studies of how people adopt new ideas and technology were documented more than five thousand times.

In the decades leading up to 1990, psychologists and scholars around the world were all about human behaviour and social dynamics. Their studies contributed greatly to what we know about how humans experience and internalise change, yet little had been applied to organisations and groups. In 1982, Julien Phillips published a model of change management in a journal, but it took his peers a decade to catch up with his ideas.

When early organisational change pioneers in the ’80s branded their work as “change management services”, various industries began to invite change management consultation and practices. One of these pioneers and founder of Conner Partners, Daryl Conner, published Managing at the Speed of Change in 1993. In it, the “burning platform” refers to the sudden and radical change of behaviour that is sparked by dire circumstances. His lesson: There’s nothing like choosing between certain death and probable death to get you to commit to making a change. The leadership commitment needed to succeed in effecting major change is nothing short of intense.

A huge shift in understanding occurred as firms tried to keep up with and incorporate advancements in technology in the workplace in the 80s and 90s, when this study of change moved into a business context. Conner Partners provided management techniques to many. Their understanding of human performance, coupled with strategies for the positive adoption of technological innovations, influenced the leadership styles of big firms and many industries.

The 1990s brought forth a number of contributors to the method of change management. Aside from Daryl Conner’s Managing at the Speed of Change, seminal books published at the time include:

  • Todd Jick’s Managing Change
  • Jeanenne LaMarsh’s Changing the Way We Change
  • John Kotter’s Leading Change
  • Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese

During this time, top leaders began to grow dissatisfied with the top-down method of effecting change. They decided to create a new role for the change leader: to support the people side of change. The 2000s brought us the Association of Change Management Professionals, formalising change management as an area of study and as a profession. Today, more and more, change management is adopted into company culture, as a common approach to business, rather than referred to as a tool for dealing with particular projects.

Change management has grown out of a study of human behaviour, into a driving force for united progress – for communal success. Change management encourages leaders to remember the human side of the workplace, to invest in the growth of each individual team member, and to create a supportive environment for positive change.

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“I’m too busy to coach”. Three arguments why this is a myth.

The morning I started writing this month’s newsletter, I was having a learning/supervision call with one of the participants on our coaching and mentoring training course for leaders. The participant is a senior manager in a large utility company. During our conversations he said something along the lines of: “It is difficult to find the time to coach. I am running from meeting to meeting.”

This is a regular concern of many leaders. However, there are three important aspects to consider:

  1. Coaching gives leaders a great return on investment
  2. You don’t need to “find time” to coach
  3. Coaching is very effective (when you know how)

1. Coaching gives leaders a great return on investment

I will argue that coaching the team will give the leader a handsome return on his or her time. If the leader’s style is directive, telling the team members what to do and how to do it, and approving many of their actions and decisions, then he/she reinforce the team members’ dependence on him/her and their feeling of helplessness and being disempowered.

Through coaching you can help them grow, build new competencies, gain confidence and increase their motivation; all of which makes them more independent, empowered and higher performing. An important benefit of this to you is that you can reduce their dependency on you, reducing the time you need to get involved in daily details and allowing you to focus on thinking ahead  – and maybe even to get a better
work/life balance, wouldn’t that be great 🙂

2. You don’t need to “find time” to coach

Coaching should not be seen as adding more work to a busy leader’s schedule. Instead look at changing how you use your time in your 1:1 and team meetings, as well as your daily conversations with your team members and colleagues.

Most enlightened leaders will have regular 1:1’s with their staff. You don’t need to call these conversations “coaching” to take a coaching approach. When your team members bring a problem to you, be it technical, relationship or a question of prioritisation, instead of giving them solutions, use coaching to help and challenge them to take ownership and solve their problems themselves.

A good way of thinking about this is: “How can I help Joe to learn, so he can solve this sort of problem or issue himself without coming to me in the future?” Every time you succeed, you have helped Joe grow, motivated him, reduced his dependency on you and reduced his demands on your time. You are both winners 🙂

3. Coaching is very effective (when you know how)

Last but not least: Are you effective when you are coaching? There is a big misconception that coaching is a slow process. This is clearly born out of people trying to coach without the mindset and skills to do it well. Too many attempts to coach with little or no training in the “art”, but if your skills are not up to scratch the process will be slow, clunky and ineffective. Typically when the leader-turned-coach struggle, they will revert to a ‘telling’
approach, only reinforcing that the team member is helpless and can’t think for him/herself. At the same time both parties get a sense that coaching isn’t working.

Coaching when done well can be very fast indeed! During our training courses we will practise “Water cooler” coaching as we call it. We teach the participants to use coaching to respond to a throw-away comment and in less than 5 minutes turn it into an opportunity to help the other person take ownership and move forward. This is always a great demonstration of how powerful coaching really is – when you know how!!


  • You cannot afford to not find the time to coach!
  • Coaching will give you a great return on investment.
  • Incorporate coaching into your normal meetings and conversations
  • Build a strong set of coaching skills so your coaching is effective

Author: Jan Bowen-Nielsen
From August 2011 Newsletter

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Is coaching a ‘soft’ leadership approach?

Coaching Myth Busting:
Is coaching a ‘soft’ leadership approach?

Coach and coacheeCoaching has become a real buzz-word in many organisations and many managers will claim that they coach. However few have received quality training in the ‘art’. This leads to a number of myths being perpetuated around what coaching is, how it is used and the impact it can have.

Many of these myths or misconceptions are born out of poor quality coaching experiences where both the coach and the coachee leave the sessions disappointed.

An example of a myth is:

“Coaching is a ‘soft’ leadership approach”

I would argue that coaching is often a more challenging approach, where the leader encourages or even ‘forces’ the team member to own the solution.

Let me give an example:

A team member approaches his line manager saying “I cannot get Joe Bloggs to attend my
meeting!” The line manager may give advice such as “Tell him that he needs to be there if he wants any influence on the outcome” or she may say “I will go and talk to Joe Bloggs’ manager” in an well-meaning attempt to be helpful.

In both cases the line manager has re-inforced the team member’s helplessness and the dependency on herself. Both may in the short term make the line manager feel better about herself, but long term she will just get dragged further into advising/helping the team member do his job.

If on the other hand the line manager took a ‘harder’, more challenging coaching approach she might ask “What have you tried so far?, “What else can you do to get him involved?” and “What will you do next?”. This shows her belief that the team member has the resources to solve the issue and it will increase the team member’s motivation, self-direction and confidence.

Coaching is certainly not a ‘soft’ leadership approach, but often the brave approach, where
the leader is confident enough to recognise that he/she doesn’t need to have – or to show that he/she has – all the answers.

What is your experience? Comments invited.

Author: Jan Bowen-Nielsen
From May 2011 Newsletter

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