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Coaching through change

By Jeremy Freeman

Scrabble tiles spelling out "time for change"
As youth development practitioners, managing change is central to our practice. Whether it be with youth, adult volunteers or staff personnel, coaching through change is a foundational skill that helps us leverage the full extent of the potential around us. For example, a volunteer who has maintained overall control of a program is required to change when two or more volunteers are asked to co-lead the program to help its growth and expansion. 

The challenge in change is, unsurprisingly, that it requires us to change! We often resist change, especially when it requires us to give up or modify previously held roles, values, actions, ways of being or power. In a recent course I took titled Leading Change, Transitions, and People I found the ADKAR Model to be instrumental in helping me think through a process that builds change through relationships. As we reflect on this model, I invite you to consider the ways it can embed itself in the context of change you are currently managing.

A - Awareness. People need awareness that change is needed.

As I coach volunteers, I may have observations or data to initiate change, but unless there is personal awareness of the problem, individuals will resist change. Part of the role of a coach is to help bring to life, in a trusting and nurturing way, the opportunities where change can enhance practice. In the example mentioned at the head of this post, bringing awareness to a seasoned volunteer may involve sharing data around the number of new participants eager to join, and observational data around further responsibilities that are not currently being upheld.

D - Desire. People need to feel the desire to create and support change.

Unless there is a more positive outcome on the other side of change, there may be resistance. Painting that picture to others requires conversational intelligence, which means stressing the dynamic relational connections, building trust, and listening as people share their struggles and concerns. Youth, for example, may be motivated to change habits when they see and observe their peers learning and leading in high-level organizational roles.

K - Knowledge. People know what needs to change and how to go about doing it.

Part of the role of a good coach is laying out concrete action steps that walk others through change. Transferring knowledge can be done in a variety of ways, and as educators we are positioned well to bring research-based and effective solutions to others. When coaching youth development volunteers, one of the key indicators we can use to share knowledge can be found in the volunteer research & knowledge competency (VRCK) domains. 

A - Ability. People need to be skilled to successfully implement the change.

Strengthening skills through coaching, training and mentoring are excellent strategies to support others in implementing change. Prioritizing skill building at all levels of youth development programming is crucial.

R - Reinforcement. People need to see reinforcement in order for change to be sustainable.

When new ways of being are developed it is important for us as coaches to provide positive reinforcement and feedback. Celebrating small wins and evaluating the impact of change is a crucial part of cementing change for long-term success.

Whatever change you are managing right now, I hope the ADKAR model is helpful to you. What challenges are you facing in leading through change? What strategies could you use to develop one component of the ADKAR model to support youth, volunteers or staff in meaningful change?

-- Jeremy Freeman, Extension educator

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  1. If you are looking for some follow up on what coaching means and how it differs from training or management, this short article does a nice job of laying out some key principles:


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