Coaching - Project Manager as Change Agent
Developed by Rikke Husum
Coaching is one out of many interpersonal skills that PMI (Project Management Institute), an organization that defines worldwide standards for project, program and portfolio management, recommends a Project Manager to possess . The standard defines coaching as a means of developing a project team to a higher level of competency and performance, applied with an individual or a team approach. Coaching is recommended in situations where a project team member is low performing due to lack of motivation, knowledge or skills .
When a change to baseline occurs, coaching can be applied as a corrective action  aiming to resolve a threat to a plan’s tolerances by getting a team member 'back on track' and aligned with new project objectives.
The fact that coaching is a commonly used term, representing 1. many different categories of coaching (e.g. Executive, Life coaching, Workplace coaching), 2. coaching in different contexts (e.g. personal or business), and 3. coaching with different focus (motivation or skills), challenges a Project Manager when coaching is applied in a business context. . Pitfalls are identified and addressed in the recommendations.
A Program Manager applying coaching is highly comparable to a Change Agent facilitating a change. Adopting four collaborative modes of intervening from change management can ease the application of coaching in a business context.
Coaching is found less applicable in countries with high power distance, in organizations corresponding to command and control paradigm control and in hazardous situations. Advice-giving can in these situations be recommendable.
This article is based on a literature study within the fields of coaching in perspective of the standards for project management. Besides the academic reader, Project Managers will benefit from reading the article as it provides substantiated 'hands-on' recommendations.
Keywords: Change to the baseline. Coaching as corrective action. Low performance. Lack of motivation. Lack of skills. Individual coaching. Facilitating a change. Intervening modes.
Change to the baseline
Changes happen in projects. They may be initiated by project team members, stakeholder requests, complaints or a wide range of other factors, however, it is the Project Managers responsibility to manage the change and implement corrective actions 
Such corrective actions are intended to resolve a threat to a plan’s tolerances or a defect in a product  and relates to the activities within the area of responsibility of a Project Manager which is The planning, delegating, monitoring and control of all aspects of the project, and the motivation of those involved, to achieve the project objectives within the expected performance targets for time, cost, quality, scope, benefits and risks.
If a change causes low performance in the project team, a corrective action could be to motivate a team member or enhance his skills. Whatever needed, a Project Manager must possess certain competencies and skills to succeed.
Project Managers competencies and interpersonal skills
A PM is assigned to lead a team responsible for achieving the project objectives. To do so he must possess three specific competencies, in addition to area-specific and general management skills, to be efficient. These three competencies are knowledge of project management, the ability to perform while applying his project management skills, and personal competencies such as attitude, core personality characteristics, and leadership. 
Keeping the fact in mind, that a PM accomplishes work through the project team and other stakeholders, interpersonal skills are important to possess. An infinite list of interpersonal skills recommended for a PM  is shown in figure 1. Such skills cannot stand alone, they are to be balanced with other important project management skills, as technical and conceptual skills, in the act of analyzing situations and interacting appropriately. 
When a change to baseline occurs, there is a potential risk that a team member will be negatively affected by the change. In a worst-case scenario, the team members will be demotivated, his performance will be affected, the progression of the project will decrease, and the project's objectives won't be achieved. In such a situation, several interpersonal skills are relevant to possess e.g. communication, trust building, motivation, conflict management, teambuilding and coaching. However, in a situation where fear is known as the main reason for people be resistant to changes, coaching skills stand out. Handling a team member's fear - whether it is fear of poor outcomes, fear of the unknown, or fear of realization of faults with change overlooked by management and their fear of resulting problems - requires dialog with a focus on regaining trust and confidence in the new situation.
Coaching is as mentioned, an interpersonal skill that a PM is recommended to possess and is fundamentally based on a dialog between two people, one conducting the coaching (the coach/PM) and the other being coached (the coachee/project team member).
Definitions of coaching though vary considerably. Emphasising an instructional approach proposes that coaching is concerned with the immediate improvement of performance and development of skills by a form of tutoring or instruction'. In contrast, John Whitmore, who in 1970s introduced the principles behind sports coaching to organizations, sees coaching as a process of 'unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them'.  Here the focus should be drawn to the word unlocking since it represents the facilitated change in mindset and attitude that is needed for a person to maximize own performance.
With reference to PMBOK® Guide coaching is seen as a means of developing the project team to a higher level of competency and performance. And the purpose of coaching is given as 'helping people recognize their potential through empowerment and development'. PMBOK® Guide includes the instructional approach as well as the 'unlocking potential' approach.
In this article, the terms motivation-focused coaching and skill-focused coaching will be used to easily distinguish between the two different approaches to coaching. Both approaches are relevant for a PM since low performance can be a consequence of lack of motivation as well as lack of skills.
- Motivation-focused coaching addresses motivation by facilitating a change in a person’s mindset and attitude towards accepting a challenging situation and unlocking own potential. This type of coaching has a nondirectional ask-not-tell approach and the coach uses a wide variety of cognitive and behavioral techniques to enhance the coaching dialog. Focus is on a person's self-discovery and is linked to personal rather than professional development. 
- Skill-focused coaching addresses skills and knowledge by helping a person to develop specific skills or achieve the knowledge needed to handle a new situation. This type of coaching is directional and has a tell-rather-than-ask approach, emphasizing advice and direct feedback. 
Anyone can in principle provide coaching. Since the middle of the 1990s, coaching professional associations such as the Association for Coaching (AC), the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), the International Association of Coaching (IAC), and the International Coach Federation (ICF) have worked towards developing training standards for coaches.
Coaching can be applied in different contexts a personal and business context. . In the role of a PM, coaching will always be applied in a business context, but it is relevant to understand the differences between the two contexts.
- Personal context Confidentiality: Yes, confidentiality is an essential prerequisite. Equality: Yes, a power-free space, where the coach is neutral and helps the coachee to self-develop, is important. Highest objectives: The goals and needs of the coachee are seen as the highest objective for the coaching.
- Business context Confidentiality: Confidentiality to a certain degree if not conflicting with the coaching’s highest objectives. Equality: Inequality. The leader is proactively using his position to frame the space for reflection and co-creation. Highest objectives: A company's competitive advantage or a project's progression is seen as the highest objective for the coaching.
In figure 2 three important differences between coaching in a personal context and a business context is seen.
Providing a picture of the common understanding of coaching it is relevant to mention three categories of coaching - Executive Coaching, Life Coaching, and Workplace Coaching. In Executive Coaching, a person with managerial authority and responsibility in an organization is being coached by an external consultant on e.g. strategic planning, skills, anger and stress management, and leadership development - in a business context. In Life Coaching a person is typically being coached on personal issues in a personal context e.g. work/life balance, managing finances and developing new career directions.
Less known is Workplace coaching. Here a nonexecutive person is being coached by a line manager or PM - in a business context. It focuses primarily on performance or skills enhancement rather than personal or professional development 
A coaching between a PM and a project team member, where the coaching dialog is conducted by the PM responsible for achieving project objectives, meets the prerequisites of a Workplace coaching.
Workplace coaching is applied either formally or informally. If informally applied, then the coaching is more likely to be short, focused dialogs during a workday, also called 'corridor-coaching'. In contrast, formal coaching typically involves formal sit-down coaching sessions where the Project Manager will be conducting the conversation, assisted by a formal structure. 
In both settings, the PM is responsible for driving a coaching dialog with the project team member with the aim of improving his performance and, consequently, the progression of the project.
PMBOK® Guide does neither mention nor incites a PM to acquire certain techniques, knowledge or experience within the field of coaching before applying it is given.
Potential pitfalls regarding the application of coaching in a business context are elaborated in the Limitations paragraph and recommendations on how to avoid these pitfalls, are given in the Recommendation paragraph.
Based on the presented information, three assumptions are being phrased pointing to major pitfalls regarding the application of Workplace coaching. A worst-case scenario, showing the potential consequences of the pitfalls, can be found in the appendix. Finally, three additional limiting circumstances are briefly touched upon.
As coaching is a commonly used term, with a reference to many different categories of coaching (e.g. Executive, Life coaching, Workplace coaching), coaching in different contexts (e.g. personal or business), and coaching with different focus (motivation or skills), an assumption will be:
The exact understanding of coaching will differ from one person to another - e.g. from Project Manager to project team member
As coaching in PMBOK® Guide is mentioned as a recommendable interpersonal skill, presented next to other interpersonal skills that one might see as a straightforward applicable skill e.g. communication, trust building, and influence - and the fact that no incitement of achieving certain techniques, knowledge or experience within the field of coaching is given, a second assumption will be:
A PM will lack techniques and basic knowledge within the field of coaching when applying it
As coaching with a high personal focus (motivation-focused coaching) can be necessary to apply in a business context (e.g. team member is lacking motivation) under the three conditions 1. only a certain degree of confidentiality, 2. inequality, and 3. highest objective for the coaching is the project's progression, a third assumption will be:
It is a challenging task for the PM to apply coaching efficiently while balancing a personal focus in a business context
Regardless of the potential pitfalls, a motivation-focused coaching in a business context is a recommendable corrective action for a PM if a team member is low on motivation or has a wrong attitude towards a project’s new objectives. A recommendation on how to apply a motivation-focused coaching in a business context, inspired by the work of a Change Agent, is given in the Recommendation paragraph.
Country, culture or hazard
Other limiting circumstances regarding the application of workplace coaching is a high power distance, a command and control paradigm and a hazardous situation.
- In countries with high power distance a coaching approach can be non-applicable since the coaching attitude implies and certain employee autonomy. 
- In a company or department corresponding with the Command and control paradigm (CCP) the application of coaching can be less successful. The reason is that coaching is a natural part of the Interaction learning paradigm (ILP) and thus requires a less hierarchical structure, and a more shared value-based approach than the Command and control paradigm supports.
- In situations where e.g., a change causes a hazardous situation and an immediate corrective action is needed, coaching will not be applicable. The reason is that regardless of focus, a coaching is based on a dialog. 
Recommendations are given in perspective of the pitfalls argued for in the Limitation paragraph. The recommendations are targeting a PM who is challenged by a decrease in team performance because of a change in a project. He wants to apply coaching to get the team member 'back on track'. The PM is aware of mindset and attitude being the primary reason, skills secondary.
First step - get basic knowledge
Given the main pitfalls, a recommendation will be to get fundamental knowledge about coaching in a business context, before applying it. Find recommended books in the Annotated Bibliography paragraph.
When knowing basic coaching techniques, the PM should start practicing by applying an informal coaching dialog on a daily basis. This will help the PM to detect and immediately respond to minor setbacks in a team members mindset or attitude .
If a need for more formal coaching is detected, framing the coaching session upfront is very important for the outcome . It can be done by telling that the coaching will be applied with the project's progression as highest objective e.g. by highlighting the three prerequisites in figure 2.
With a change in a project's objectives, often new knowledge or skills are also needed in order to comply with new requirements. This argues for applying skill-focused coaching as well motivation-focused coaching. In a situation where a corrective action will be to develop a team member’s skills in addition to increase motivation, it is recommended that skill-focused coaching will be applied next to motivation-focused coaching. This will increase the outcome of the skill-focused coaching due to a mindset of acceptance and access to full potential.
A next step for the PM will be to get a deeper understanding of how mindset and attitude can be limiting a team member's performance, and to investigate different coaching strategies. A way to approach this is to look into Change Management literature and the role of a Change Agent.
Next step - be inspired by a Change Agent
By looking into change management literature, a PM can get inspired by the way a Change Agent facilitates change, since it is directly comparable to a PM applying motivation-focused coaching. Three arguments support this recommendation.First, a PM and a Change Agent have comparable skills. Figure 3 shows that Change Agent skills are very similar to the interpersonal skills a PM is recommended to possess. This argues for the possibility
Secondly, when comparing the main arguments for choosing an internal Change Agent , as opposed to an external consultant, with the role and responsibilities for a PM , they are found directly comparable:
- the person responsible for managing the unit or subsystem that is to be the (initial) target for change is committed to acting as change agent
- It is agreed that a particular insider has the time, knowledge and commitment to manage the change more effectively than an outsider
And thirdly, the term 'facilitating change' which is used in change management is comparable to the process applying motivation-focused coaching. Both aims to move a person's mindset and attitude from a current stage X towards a future desired stage Y . In our case stage X could be 'Team member is low performing and lacks motivation due to a change that has induced fear' and stage Y could be 'Team member is highly motivated and performs at a high level".
In terms of applying motivation-focused coaching, a PM can be inspired by the intervening modes that a Change Agent uses.
Apply different intervening modes
Four different modes of intervening, all with a collaborative approach, are found helpful to a PM applying motivation-focused coaching. An important argument for recommending these modes of intervening is based on their potential for unlocking a project team members frozen mindset, simply by presenting an opportunity to see the situation from another perspective. 
Shortly described, the modes of intervening can help a project team member to reflect and self-develop through four different approaches
- Challenging mode
Challenge an undocumented belief. The PM's objective is to confront the project team member and call attention to contradictions in action and attitude aiming to help the project team member to identify an alternative. (How do you know that this is true? What if I see it differently, am I wrong then?)
- Theorizing mode
Apply a theorizing cause-effect approach. The PM's objective is to find theories and conceptual models that are relevant to the project team members situation. A cause-effect approach will help the project team member to understand the problem and plan remedial action.
- Information-gathering mode
Encourage to collect data that will illuminate a point of concern. The PM's objective is to guide the project team member to arrive at a better level of awareness from where he can evaluate and reinterpret the situation.
- Supportive mode
Allow feelings, emotions, and concerns to be expressed. The PM's objective is to support a project team member to give himself permission to talk about the feelings and emotions that impede clear and objective thinking. This involves empathetical listening and withholding judgment.
All four modes have strength and weaknesses  The Supportive mode, for instance, is to be used carefully and only with a clear framing of the business context. The reason is that this intervening mode addresses emotions and feelings, which, as an underlying belief, are expected to be handled in a context with confidentiality rather than in a business context.
When to give advice
Change Management theory also present a fifth way to intervene with team members when a change to baseline occurs. This approach is prescriptive, as opposed to the other four approaches which are collaborative. Given its nature, the advising mode of intervening is not to be seen as a recommendable approach in regard to motivation-focused coaching. Advice-giving reduces opportunities for the project team member to develop self-directed learning skills. However, the advice-giving mode of intervening can be applied in skill-focused coaching. 
Furthermore, the prescriptive intervening mode is mentioned, as it is important for PMs, who might prefer a coaching attitude towards project team members, to be aware of the need for clear leadership in situations where circumstances conflict with collaborative intervening modes. Such circumstances could be the three limiting circumstances mentioned earlier (high power distance, command, and control paradigm as well as hazardous situations.)
This article concludes that coaching is a recommendable interpersonal skill to possess as a PM, but only applicable when PM has basic coaching knowledge and knows which pitfalls to avoid. Coaching can be applied as a corrective action when a change to baseline occurs and a project's progression is challenged due to a project team member’s low performance. A coaching can be directional and have a tell-rather-than-ask approach when the focus is on skill development. When the focus is on motivation, the coaching is nondirectional with an ask-not-tell approach and has a high focus on unlocking potential by self-development. The context wherein coaching is applied matters. In a personal context (e-g- Life Coaching) essential prerequisites for coaching are confidentiality, equality, and the coachee's goals and needs as the highest objective for the coaching. In a business context (e.g. Executive coaching and Workplace coaching) the conditions are rather different. Confidentiality is only present to a certain degree, there is no equality due to reference power and the project's progression is the highest objective for the coaching, not the team members personal goals or needs.
Based on a literature study within the fields of coaching in perspective of the standards for project management, three assumptions were given leading to each their recommendations.
- As coaching is a commonly used term, with a reference to many different categories of coaching (e.g. Executive, Life, and Workplace) it is assumed that different understandings of coaching will occur. A recommendation stating that PM must provide a clear framing of the business context, upfront, is given.
- As coaching in PMBOK® Guide is mentioned as a recommendable interpersonal skill, presented next to other interpersonal skills that one PM might see as a straightforward applicable skill e.g. communication, trust building, and influence, it is assumed that a PM will lack techniques and basic knowledge within the field of coaching when applying it. A recommendation stating that a PM must achieve basic knowledge within the field of coaching is given (Relevant literature is listed in the Annotated Bibliography). A further recommendation states that informal coaching should be applied as a start for PM to practice coaching dialog.
- As coaching with a high personal focus (motivation-focused coaching) can be necessary to apply in a business context (e.g. team member is lacking motivation) given the conditions for coaching in a business context, it is assumed that it is a challenging task for the PM to apply coaching efficiently while balancing a personal focus in a business context. A recommendation stating that a PM should get inspiration from change management literature and especially focus on four intervening modes that a Change Agent uses to facilitating a change.
Coaching is found less applicable in countries with high power distance, in organizations corresponding to command and control paradigm control and in hazardous situations. Advice-giving can in these situations be recommendable.
Hayes, J. (2014). The theory and practice of change management, 4th edition. Palegrave Macmillian This book provides extensive insight into the dealing with change. Four chapters are good reads for a PM dealing with low performance caused by a change in the project. 5. Starting the change (Role of a Change Agent, and skills) 6. Building change relationships (Intervening modes - strength and weaknesses) 12. Motivating others to change (Methods - Involvement, facilitation, and support) and 13.Supporting others through change (The stages of psychological reaction to change)
Molly-Søholm, T., & Jacob Storch. (2013). Ledelsesbaseret coaching. L & R Business. This book provides you with a brief introduction to the history of coaching incl. how and when coaching was introduced to organizations (business context), as well as a deeper understanding of how coaching applied in a business context and a personal context differs, and what to be aware of as a leader applying coaching. (The book is in Danish)
Cavanagh, M., Grant, A. (Anthony M. ., & Kemp, T. (2005). Evidence-based coaching. Volume 1, Theory, research and practice from the behavioural sciences. Australian Academic Press. This book presents key presentations from the First Evidence-Based Coaching Conference (July 2003 at the University of Sydney, Australia). For basic knowledge and an introduction to the coaching field, read the Introduction and chapter 1- What is Evidence-Based Executive, Workplace and Life Coaching? by Anthony M. Grant
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Committee, P. M. I. S. (2004). A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute. Inc.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Great Britain. Office of Government Commerce. (2009). Managing successful projects with PRINCE2. TSO.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Molly-Søholm, T., & Jacob Storch. (2013). Ledelsesbaseret coaching. Ledelsesbaseret Coaching. L & R Business. Retrieved from https://findit.dtu.dk/en/catalog/2192969265
- ↑ Dent, E. B., & Goldberg, S. G. (1999). Challenging " Resistance to Change " THE JOURNAL OF APPLIED BEHAVIORAL SCIENCEMarch. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.949.8416&rep=rep1&type=pdf
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Cavanagh, M., Grant, A. (Anthony M. ., & Kemp, T. (2005). Evidence-based coaching. Volume 1, Theory, research and practice from the behavioural sciences. Australian Academic Press.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Grant, A. M. (2010). It Takes Time: A Stages of Change Perspective on the Adoption of Workplace Coaching Skills. Journal of Change Management, 10(1), 61–77. https://doi.org/10.1080/14697010903549440
- ↑ Home - Hofstede Insights. (n.d.). Retrieved February 15, 2018, from https://www.hofstede-insights.com/
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Baungård Rasmussen, L. (2011). Facilitating change: using interactive methods in organizations, communities and networks. Polyteknisk Forlag. Retrieved from https://findit.dtu.dk/en/catalog/2395961761
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Hayes, J. (2014). The theory and practice of change management, 521. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2
A worst-case scenario
A worst-case scenario based on the three assumptions could be as follows:
A PM finds it necessary to do something about a low performing project team member who, due to a change in the project, is lacking motivation. The PM is inspired to apply coaching as he in the PMBOK® Guide can see that it is recommended when a project team member performs at a low level. As he finds communicating and trust building quite easy he has no concern regarding the application of coaching. How hard can it be to ask some questions helping the project team member to reflect, accept the situation and 'get back on track' contributing to the project's progression?
The project team member finds himself demotivated and low performing due to a change in the project that brings about a feeling of fear. His wife has a friend who is a self-employed Life coach and lately he has been reading a book called 'The inner game of tennis' by Tim Gallway addressing the importance of mindset and attitude to perform the best. So, when his PM invites him to a coaching session he feels confident and relieved that he can be honest about his situation - and bring on his reservations about the changes.
The day of the coaching session, the project team member arrives at the PM’s office and he is asked to take a seat. Even though the setup is quite formal the PM seems quite relaxed and initiate the coaching dialog by saying 'So, are you doing OK?'
After a while the coaching dialog gets going, the project team member feels confident with the setup and is very honest with the PM about his fear of the unknown. As he perceives the situation to be different from their normal meetings, he feels confident about involving the PM in a confidential dialog he has had with a colleague the other day. concerning another project team member being disloyal to the project.
The coaching session ends after 45 minutes, the project team member and the PM shake hands and go their separate ways.
Short analysis: The PM and the project member has two very different understandings of coaching. The PM has no coaching skills and no knowledge or experience with coaching. He doesn't know the importance of framing the coaching upfront - and that it is a must when a motivation-focused coaching is applied in a business context. Due to the project team member's knowledge about coaching from Life coaching, which is linked to the personal context, he has an underlying belief that the coaching will be confidential. And when the opposite is not clearly framed upfront, the project team member will act as if it was. The PM, on the contrary, is aware of his responsibility towards a project's progression why he will take any information that compromises the project into close consideration and act if needed.
A consequence of the misalignment, the project team member's underlying beliefs regarding confidentiality and equality will be compromised resulting in mistrust and a potential worsening of a situation. Or, if the PM realizes his mistake by not framing the business context upfront, and chooses not to act on the given information, he will somehow omit his obligations regarding project management.