The penny has dropped that we now live in a disrupted world, where technology drives speed and customisation into our increasingly convergent home and work lives, and where societal staples take on new meaning. Consider how we are starting to apply new meaning to the following: work and our jobs, organisational structure and hierarchy, sharing resources, justice and values. Our interpretations and aspirations are now influenced by opportunity in the broadest sense of the word.

Much is being written about the challenge and opportunity leaders face in creating and sustaining change-able organisations to remain competitive in this era. Leaders need to create an environment where a change mindset and culture of change is secured as part of the organisation's DNA. These are important macro considerations but let's spare a thought for those employed in the work of planning and delivering change; the people who might be in change leader or project leader roles, or unsuspecting line managers given the work of leading a change. 

What makes a great change professional in a disrupted world? Do we need to rethink the meaning of managing change and change management?

Because the debate about the difference between change management and project management continues, for the purposes of this discussion let's settle for this position: "A great project manager has a change mindset and a great change manager has a project mindset." 

Our focus is on delivering change, not the job title.  There are three key elements to consider:

  1. The context of delivering change
  2. The practices of delivering change
  3. The behaviours of delivering change 

The context of delivering change

We haven't lost sight of the importance of strategy and change still has a high-level goal and purpose, with associated budgets and delivery schedules. However, we are cutting ourselves free of the mindset that thinks it can pre-determine the route or the final end game.

The context and experience for change leaders is that, during the design and delivery of a change, the direction might be altered by external and internal environmental factors. If an agile project methodology is being used, the change leaders will expect things to change; they will know that while the direction of travel is set, each sprint could lead to an altered course. 

The challenge for the change leader is how to plan and design for a change that no longer has a defined end game. How do they flexibly plan and design the other project workstreams? For example, with a system change, the other relevant workstreams might be: processes, communications, training, culture and organisational design. Some of these can fit into each agile sprint but some are overall end-game dependent.

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The practices of delivering change

The quality of the change and project thinking that goes into the planning and design of the change need to be more robust than when conditions were less volatile.

Change leaders and the change team need to be fully aware of how a change affects the different parts of the organisation system and what it will take to deliver it. It requires a mindset of fine-tuning the workstreams all the way through to when the change is considered implemented, given that change doesn't end and moves into continuous improvement. What's different is that they are likely to need to be able to do this at pace, as change becomes quicker and more transformational, without risking the quality of decision making.

It's important to remember that there will still be changes that are more transactional and smaller scale that are not under the same pressure. There are also organisations whose work might not benefit from iterative deliveries and follow a longer-term waterfall approach. Would NASA when developing the next space technology or Airbus designing the next generation engine, use an agile approach?

We also need to allow for the practices of delivering change to evolve, as there is no one, right way.  What's important is the quality of the questions we are asking and the decisions being made to reduce the ambiguity for those involved in designing the change, as well as those sponsoring or being impacted by it.

The power of change is likely to move from the control of a few into the hands of many, with individuals being equipped and having the authority to design and deliver change at a local level. Some organisations such as Google, have a day a fortnight for people to take an issue, find the people who can fix it, and fix it. The findings are that the combined motivation, prioritisation, collaboration and outcomes, far outweigh the cost of a day spent away from their day job. As an expression, this should be moving to the archives soon as we rethink what a day job means.

The behaviours of change

The behaviours associated with change need to evolve and move into the next generation. This applies to all employees, as levels, hierarchies and pyramids are replaced with groups of individuals coming together to solve problems based on their expertise.

These behaviours are as much about mindset and attitudes, as they are about specific change and project expertise. They are not new, they are already part of organisational language but it is time for them now to become established practice. The command and control behaviours that lead to fixed attitudes and rigid ways of approaching a change don't work anymore; it is less about power and more about leading in ambiguity.

Some of the priority behaviours are: 

  1. Having a change mindset: keeping the end in mind, focusing on the purpose of the change and considering all the elements that are required to deliver the change.
  2. Organisational system thinking: nothing happens in isolation.
  3. Collaboration and co-creation: bringing the right people together, to create the solution.
  4. Political practices: until politics is removed from organisations, we need to help change leaders navigate it and grow in confidence in dealing with it, to start to break down one of the main barriers to change.
  5. Specific change expertise: making the right choices about who is chosen to lead organisational change; just because someone is available, it doesn't mean they are able to lead change. The expertise required is a combination of process and practice, as well as knowing the questions to ask; high-potential questions leading to better quality change decisions. 

Delivering change in a disrupted world requires organisations to be change-able. This results from shifting the culture and developing capabilities throughout the organisation, enabling people to respond to the context with the relevant practices and behaviours.

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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