Change Management Needs an Update to Bring Meaningful Change

Paul Kurchina
Paul Kurchina in Community Advocates, Change Management December 06, 2017

Sir Winston S. Churchill once shared the wisdom, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to have changed often.” This statement, although more than 65 years old, remains true as we all deal with a barrage of digital disruption. The rise of hyperconnectivity and technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud computing, and advanced analytics are empowering businesses of all sizes — from the one-man startup to the international conglomerate — to optimize processes continuously and make enormous changes.

Digital transformation poses the ultimate challenge to change management, as it impacts everything from strategic positioning and industry structures to all tasks, activities, processes, and extended supply chains. However, most businesses are still stuck in a workplace culture that values consistency and stability more than imagining what’s possible every day. As a result, a significant number of projects fail to deliver on their initial target benefits, and many more miss budget targets and timelines.

In “The New DNA of Change,” in the Digitalist Magazine, executive edition, my colleagues and I noted that organizations can “make the most of frequent and successive opportunities such as waves of technology innovation by building a continuous change capability into their organizational design and culture.” But before doing so, they must adopt a new approach that can turn transformation into a real and ongoing competitive advantage.

Five Change-Management Superpowers for Adapting to the Constant Digital Evolution

Transformation, by nature, is radical and massive in scale — something that no company can maintain for extended periods of time. Too many organizations focus on change as an activity with a start and an end. During this interval, they seek to make step-change improvements. However, when they stop the activity, given the speed of change in today’s digital world, a gap widens as the business environment evolves and another big step change is required.

I believe a more sustainable model is the step-and-slope approach. Transformation can happen every once in a while, when external drivers are compelling enough to take action, but continuous improvement should become the focus between each significant change event.

The ability to change regularly benefits the organization and its employees over the long term. A step-and-slope approach reduces the number and size of each move, optimizes the business on an ongoing basis, and ensures step changes are maximized. However, these advantages are only possible if organizations focus less on outdated methodologies, tools, change plans, and resistance to mitigation and pay more attention to leading and embedding change with the right mindsets, capabilities, and commitment.

Organizations should foster what Carol Dweck terms a “growth mindset,” where every employee is encouraged to embrace problem solving and the continuous change associated with market and business shifts and to believe that they can grow and develop their capabilities over time. They should also encourage what the Arbinger Institute calls an “outward mindset,” focusing on each individual’s ability to work productively and support change while connecting and understanding others.

To accomplish these ideal states, companies should pursue five fundamental attributes (or what I like to refer as change management superpowers):

1. Flexibility

Create conditions that direct the workforce towards embracing change. In turn, employees feel a sense of accomplishment, value, and appreciation when they solve a problem on their own. This environment not only helps increase employee engagement, but, more important, encourages continuous innovation that makes a difference in how the business effectively and efficiently operates and serves customers.

2. Agility

Promote change that is constant, but never so fast that it becomes overwhelming. With an incremental approach, organizations, employees, partners, suppliers, and customers impacted by the change have an opportunity to experience and react to the initiative while it is still being developed, tested, and validated.

3. Autonomy

Remember that both individual employees and leaders have a significant role to play when undergoing change. By aligning organizational principles with personal empowerment to decisively respond to new dynamics, organizations become more fluid and adaptive as employees readily accept new ways of thinking and model new behaviors.

4. Power of Language

Create a strategic narrative that empowers leaders and employees to embrace change. With an all-encompassing vision of what the entire business is striving to accomplish, everyone involved can understand and adopt compatible behaviors to realize the shared purpose.

5. Resilience

Give all employees the tools needed to manage the psychological stress that comes with and from change. Learned listening, mindfulness, and meditation training can teach employees how to become aware of personal bias and perceptions about change while recognizing emotions and their impact on behavior. The more everyone can stay present and choose actions wisely, the more everyone can act on behalf of the business with calmness and clarity.

Business Success Is Achievable through a Culture of Constant Change

Everything about our lives has changed drastically over the last five years. We collaborate differently. We make decisions differently. We even view opportunities and risks drastically differently than ever before. And businesses are paying attention to every shift — large and small — in the hope of remaking themselves into a better competitor to survive an already intense marketplace in the long term.

But here’s one thing that has yet to change: how we approach it all. Change management comes in many forms: total quality management, re-engineering, rightsizing, downsizing, scaling, organizational restructuring, cultural change, turnarounds ... the list goes on and on. But no matter what you call it, a few will fail, a few will succeed, and most will fall somewhere in between with lackluster outcomes.

All too often, change is regarded as an initiative with a definitive beginning, end, and result. This majority mindset couldn’t be further from the truth. In an era where change can happen any moment and disrupt whatever your business is doing right now, change management has become a continuous journey of evolution and adaptation.

Discover how your organization can learn how to evolve endlessly and cope with the pain that changes cause. Read the article “The New DNA of Change.”