Changing how we think about change
This last year has seen seismic change in our personal lives and our world of work. We have all learned much about our ability to adapt and change to these new circumstances. However, even before the pandemic arrived on our shores, private and public sector businesses have been going through a period of rapid and disruptive change, driven by ambitious digital transformation programs.
The drawbacks of a program-centric approach to change management
In our work delivering business change to clients, we see many good practices as organizations work hard to ensure their people are ready, willing and able to adopt the change. Yet many still apply a project-by-project approach to change management. When a transformation program is being planned or a new system is being rolled out, specialist change management resources are bought in to support the program — by assuming ownership of the workstream, supplementing an organization’s internal capability or providing strategic advice.
This program-centric view of change management may get the immediate job done, but it does not equip the business to deliver change in the future. Tacit knowledge and expertise may be lost when external consultants move on or the project team disbands, so the change approach and tooling will most likely need to be reinvented next time and the change network reinvigorated.
Greek philosopher Heraclitus was quoted as saying “Change is the only constant in life”
Making change part of your organizational DNA
We have seen a shift in thinking where some organizations have started to take greater ownership of their change management delivery. We recently built a new internal change team within a front-line UK government department while simultaneously helping deliver a major transformation, including implementing a new business critical system. This has provided both resilience and a self-sustaining capability which allows them to continue with their ambitious ongoing transformational journey. Greek philosopher Heraclitus was quoted as saying “Change is the only constant in life” and there are many benefits to treating change as a continuum rather than as discrete projects. For those organizations seriously looking to develop more robust internal change capability to cope with this relentless pace of change, our experience reveals three areas of focus:
- Change leadership and sponsorship
Building an internal change capability is a change program in itself — after all, your goal is to change how your business manages change. It requires a culture shift with all the supporting components of a typical change program. Like all effective change initiatives, change must be driven forward as a senior or board-level agenda item. Agreeing upon the organizational design in the accountabilities, reporting, project tasking and internal charging provides an enduring framework. Deciding where the change capability lies within the organization is often one of the more emotive and challenging decisions for leadership
- Culture and behaviors
Recently, after repeated low scores in Great Place to Work surveys, one Atos client wanted to change the way business change was delivered. Employees felt business change was done poorly with little coordination between projects. Moreover, the change was technology-driven, not business-driven. Most people understood the need for change, but they wanted change done with them, not to them. Dispensing with this “us vs. them” behavior required a culture shift — not just by the program team delivering the change, but also by those in the organization who were asked to not only adopt the change, but to own it as well. As a result of this shift, we observed that business areas became more empowered, better engaged with higher adoption, and more confident in assessing their own change readiness.
- Learning and development
Building and embedding a new business change capability requires recruiting, training and developing people. Recruiting change managers from within the business is cost effective, as these people already know and understand your business, culture and processes. However, it is important to ensure that internal change managers have the soft skills to engage, consult and facilitate, as well as the hard skills required to successfully manage change programs. Upskilling is pivotal, so when we recently created an internal change team, we developed a modular change training and development program delivered alongside capability assessment tools. To further accelerate their learning, we set up a side-by-side coaching and mentoring program. For an internal change team to be self-sustaining, the development must be ongoing and enduring. A key success measure was when they assumed ownership of the capability development program for their change managers, proving their ability to fly solo.
So, why do it?
There are many benefits to having the organizational ability to deliver ongoing change from within the organization, but building this capability requires a substantial investment, leadership commitment and organizational effort. The advantages of having this capability are clear; the ability to become more agile and rapidly align resources to a change effort or business need, as well as building a change culture and the resilience to deal with and adapt to whatever we find around the corner.