In an ideal world, once a desired organisational change has been successfully implemented, its continued support among employees would be predictable, constant, and assured. Sadly for change managers, old habits die hard – particularly in the group setting, where a sense of individual responsibility for organisational shifts can be difficult to cultivate across teams, departments, satellite offices, and the business as a whole. Continued resistance and backward slides are all-too-common and addressing them is central to the ADKAR® model of change management, with Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and especially Reinforcement all having their part to play in ensuring change lasts in the long term.

The figure of “Coach” is indispensable when it comes to making change stick. Normally embodied by direct supervisors or line managers, these are the people who plant the seeds of change in the forefront of the employee mindset, bringing it out of the realm of a general organisational goal, into the world of actionable, achievable, and necessary reality. The Coach is one of an organisation’s best insurance policies against failed change, taking on roles that, if fulfilled adequately, can address resistance to change as and when it occurs most commonly.

Let’s look at some of the most common points of resistance, and the pivotal role of the Coach in overcoming them.

In research conducted in 2007, reflected in Prosci’s Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking report, participants cited three key reasons for resistance to change by employees. What many organisations don’t realise, however, is that with the right training and preparation, a supervisor or “Coach” is ideally positioned to address every one of them. Here’s what I found worked.

Lack of Awareness

A generalised, impersonal email or newsletter from an organisation’s executive leadership is unlikely to spark any interest in a planned change project among many employees. Anxiety and fear are both natural reactions to change and should be mitigated as early in the process as is possible. This is where the Coach’s roles as communicator and liaison must be brought to bear. The answers to the critical employee questions of “why”, “why now”, “what if” and “how does it impact me/us?” can only be convincingly answered by those people whose input they trust, whose work is closely linked with their own, and those with whom they have an established, personal rapport. This means that immediate managers are best positioned to convey information regarding the change and drum up ongoing support for the change at the individual level.

Lack of Job Security

Leon C. Megginson interpreted Darwin as follows

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.”

Survival of the fittest is no longer just the law of the jungle – in a modern, competitive job market, it’s the law of the workplace as well.

A good manager is looked up to by their team as an example of good performance and career evolution – a powerful motivational tool that can help create excitement and anticipation around organisational change rather than fear and uncertainty. In today’s fast-changing business landscape, agility and adaptability are buzzwords often used when discussing well-performing companies, but they are equally important for well-performing people, too. It is critical to the success of change management efforts that employees are made to feel included in the organisation’s forward trajectory, and that their acceptance of and compliance to the intended change is a positive employee characteristic that will not go unnoticed or unrewarded.

For change to become permanent, desired behaviours must be clearly identified, those who are undergoing the change must be informed and led through example, and new behaviours need to be practiced and reinforced in the team context. And since nobody is closer to an employee than is or her supervisor, these figures are in the best possible position to identify what resistance looks like and where it is coming from. Using the AKDAR™ model, they can home in on points of resistance, and address them accordingly.