The need has never been greater for organisations to be adept at managing change. Whether driven by innovations in technology or global disruption, the unpredictable nature of change means organisations need to be "change-able", where managing successive change is no big deal.

Change as part of the organisation's DNA

Up until now, most change efforts have focused on the change itself and, with relief, project leaders have managed to deliver change despite the organisation. That's not good enough to deliver change in the current cyber-driven era. We need to mature our thinking about the role of the organisation in delivering change.

A change-able organisation is one where leaders have been intentional about wanting to create a change mindset, culture and change expertise that is part of the DNA of the organisation. It's one where you move from change being the remit of a few, to putting the capability into the hands of many. This is no small achievement as it is as much about taking down past practices and barriers, as it is about creating new ways of thinking and behaviours.

What we need to remember is that if we want to create a change-able organisation, we need to develop change-able people. The expectations and standards placed on leaders, through to the expertise developed in employees and the permissions we give them, are what create agile, adaptable organisations. 

3 components to creating a change-able organisation

1. A spotlight on leadership

Creating a change-able organisation doesn't just happen - it is the result of intentional and deliberate action from leaders. The quality of leadership thought and action will determine how responsive and agile the organisation will become. Leaders' own personal mindsets, attitudes and behaviours have a significant influence and there is a greater need for emotional intelligence. Some questions to ask include:

  • What type of change leader do you want to be?
  • How committed are you to developing an agile organisation?
  • Will you support the change but also defend the status quo?
  • How prepared are you to have difficult conversations if required?
  • How prepared are you to co-create with others, especially those with different perspectives? 

Secondly, leaders need to create the best organisation-wide conditions for change. They need to pay attention to the key levers that operate across the organisation, create the best opportunity for successive changes to be implemented, and deliver the results they were designed to deliver. Leaders should look at the extent to which the following levers are in place and determine which need attention: 

  • Clarity of vision
  • Strong culture
  • Effective leadership
  • Excellent communication
  • Deliberate change implementation 

Imagine how powerful it would be to engage employees in diagnosing the extent to which these conditions are in place and to contribute to creating better ones. 

Thirdly, leaders need to give thought to establishing change principles that direct the approach for different projects. Change principles answer the question: what is it about how we approach this change that will give us more chance of success? They include (but not exhaustively): 

  • Having a change mindset – taking into account all the elements required to deliver the impact required.
  • Thinking of the organisation as a system – no change happens in isolation.
  • Co-creation and collaboration – the sharing of divergent views and different perspectives, coming together to co-create rather than just review other people's ideas.
  • Adaptive planning – flexibly evolving and adapting plans for progressive delivery of components of the change 

2. Use a change framework that converges project and change management practices 

Change management and project management still tend to be seen as two separate disciplines and at best run in parallel to deliver a change. That's not agile -it is a barrier to an organisation being change-able.

Project management and change management practices need to converge to deliver change. Put another way, if an organisation is doing something new, the person appointed to lead the change needs to make sure all the elements that will together contribute to delivery of the change are part of the planning and designing of the change. This means all the relevant technical and process elements, as well as the human elements of organisation structure, culture, the impact on people, training and communication. The change team need to be aligned behind one common goal, appreciating the contribution each of the elements makes to achieving it. 

To converge the practices doesn't necessarily mean the roles of project managers and change managers need to converge, although increasingly it might do. What's important is that each project has the right skillset and capability on the team and that people work together to deliver the planned outcome. 

3. Developing change expertise throughout the organisation 

Leaders in change-able organisations will have understood that organisational structures need to adapt and talent needs to be released, especially innovation. Legacy mindsets of change being controlled by only a few people will be a thing of the past and there will be an expectation that all employees will be at least change aware, supported and able to work in a sometimes ambiguous environment. In these organisations, all managers and leaders will have a change expertise that helps them initiate change and also implement change led by others. 

Change isn't going to come off the agenda: 2017 is a time to honestly reflect on how change-capable our organisations are and to be intentional about creating change capability as part of the DNA. 

Anna Davis is the managing director and founder of Crossing Jordan® Limited, an independent change management consultancy. With specialist expertise in change management, organisation design and strategic capability development, she works with senior leaders across a range of industries and cultures to deliver high performance.

Crossing Jordan® Limited has designed and developed Change Dimensions® – a practical change management business tool delivered as three leading-edge intuitive Change Apps®. These apps help you manage change, on the go and on any device – change at your fingertips.


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