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Personal Change Management: When It's Time for a Coach

By Rebecca R. Hastings  1/1/2006
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WHETHER OR NOT A JOB CHANGE IS PLANNED, it's an event that poses a personal change management challenge. For some, such a change may be seamless. For others, however, a coach may help effectively manage the transition.

Coaches can play several roles in helping an individual execute a job change. "During a job search, people often use a coach to help them identify what type of job to look for," says Beth Bloomfield, PCC, CMC, of the Annapolis-based coaching firm Bloomfield Associates LLC. "Or, they may have figured out what type of job they want but need a strategy to land it."

In other cases, "job seekers use coaches when they want a sounding board and help making better decisions," says Annette Wellinghoff, SPHR, president of Coaches@Work, a Miami-based coaching company. "Sometimes they realize they are in a critical development phase and want some support that will help them identify the type of company and type of job that will help them develop faster. At other times they have received critical feedback and need to understand what is derailing them."

Job transitions may bring positive life altering results, if approached the right way. "Coaching during a job change is one of the most viable personal growth opportunities," says Wellinghoff. "That kind of powerful event lets you really contemplate who you are." When accompanied by coaching, job changers often experience "a lot more self-insight, empathy and forward momentum," she adds.

Coaches can provide specific guidance to HR professionals seeking a new challenge.

"More and more people are looking to move away from what they have been doing," says Bloomfield. "The field of HR is changing quite a bit; some people may want to specialize in a particular aspect of HR or become a consultant."

Yet given their unique perspective, some HR professionals may question the value of a coach, particularly in cases where they have developed a strong professional and social network. However, coaches say they offer their clients a unique perspective; one that cannot be found in other relationships. For example, unlike therapists, "Coaches view the future, rather than the past," says Wellinghoff. "They offer insight and perspective as well as creative alternatives and help making sound decisions," she adds.

While family, friends and significant others may also be useful sounding boards, "their support is wrapped up in their own interests and agenda in the relationship," Wellinghoff says. "A coach's only agenda is to support the client's agenda."

Coaches are not mentors. "Mentors are helpful for providing guidance and networking within a specific profession or industry. But coaches bring special knowledge and training related to personality that mentors may not possess," Wellinghoff says. Coaches often encourage clients to use mentors, however, as part of their transition strategy.

A coaching arrangement should be entered into with caution, to ensure the investment of time and money is beneficial. Wellinghoff says there are three primary things to look for when selecting a coach:

  • Connections. "Interview several coaches and see how you feel when you do so," she says.
  • Qualifications. "Make sure the person has background, qualifications, experience and relevant certifications."
  • References. "A good coach will offer references to talk to about how their experience with a coach helped them."

    Bloomfield agrees, but stresses that qualifications are key. "Coaching is still a pretty new profession, and it's not regulated so it's sort of like the Wild West," Bloomfield says.

    And, like any professional investment, coaching does come at a price. "The range is all over the place," says Bloomfield. But there may be options to cover the cost. "If your employer is helping you out the door, you may want to ask them to cover the cost of coaching," Bloomfield says. "And if you're working with headhunters they may offer it as a service and add it into the fee they charge employers," she adds. "Some coaches may even take a certain number of clients each year on a pro-bono basis," says Wellinghoff. "Don't just assume you can't afford it," she adds.

    In addition to a financial investment, coaching also involves an investment of time. For example, "plan on three to six months of coaching time for a job search transition," says Bloomfield.

    "The really important thing for people to realize about a coaching relationship is that it's a two-way partnership," Bloomfield says. A coach guides a client through a thought process to figure out what obstacles, options and outcomes exist. But, says Bloomfield "It's not going to happen overnight."

    If a client feels the coaching arrangement is unproductive, it's important that they raise the issue with their coach. "Good coaches will offer a money-back guarantee," Wellinghoff says, before coaching even begins. But individuals should trust their instincts when deciding whether or not to end a coaching relationship. "It's an awful lot like dating," Bloomfield says.

    Unlike earlier decades, there is currently no shame in using a coach. "These days it's more socially acceptable to have a coach," Wellinghoff says. "People now see it as a positive thing."

    Coaching can provide valuable insights for those who are open to what a coach can offer. "In some cases coaching helps individuals realize that they are not happy with the path they are on so they choose to pursue something completely different and are much happier as a result," says Bloomfield.

    "Part of what holds us back is our past," says Wellinghoff. "When we think who we are is who we will always be." Coaches redirect that kind of thinking into positive change. For HR professionals, that is a natural fit. "HR people really understand that work has meaning. After all, work is a primary way of expressing our purpose in life," says Bloomfield.

    Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is online writer/editor for SHRM.

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