Signal management

Legacy change management gives way to human-centric change agility, HR News, ETHRWorld

Josh Bersin

By Josh Bersin

Traditional change management involves project management, communications, deliverables, and timelines. It focuses on “driving change” in the organization and has often been designed around the implementation of a new system, major reorganization, merger or acquisition.

Today, however, the world has changed. Companies are now experiencing what we call “continuous change” and almost every change feels existential. How do you build a new “change management” practice when change itself happens all the time?

We studied the companies that responded most quickly during the pandemic and identified a new approach. We call it “change agility”, not just “change management”.

Defining change agility

Change agility, simply put, is the ability of your business, your people, and your processes to “change quickly as needed.” And we all learned that during the pandemic.

Our research study, Big Reset Playbook: Change Agility, looked at over 400 companies and what performed best during the pandemic. We studied a wide range of topics, including culture, employee experience, HR practices, technology, and organization design.

What we found was both profound and somewhat obvious. It is the “human-centred” strategies that facilitate and create change. Top performers reinforce the company’s mission and purpose, they focus on employee well-being and listening, they explain how their reimagined business models work, and they work in cross-functional teams to create change.

Change is not a one-time activity, but a series of interventions. Every meeting, communication, and team collaboration builds the muscle of adaptability to change, and employees need to be accompanied on the journey. Companies looking to succeed in change agility must start by finding opportunities for change in every interaction.

Start a mission-driven movement

Traditional change management relies on integrating employees into change initiatives by “selling” what is intended for them. When major changes need to happen quickly, this approach is not feasible.

Instead, companies must put mission and purpose at the heart of change. If employees understand the reasons for continuous change, they are more likely to accept the need for it. In 2022, a design thinking approach not only helps build the right solutions for the future, but also incorporates an ability to adapt to future changes. Employees can become active participants in designing the necessary change.

HR and marketing must work together to design change-driven communications that appeal to different audiences, their specific workflows, and their needs. The first thing to do is to select the optimal communication channel for individuals or a group of employees. The message may be best shared via email, or it may be best delivered in a weekly catch-up meeting – the right channel for the situation improves message reception

Leaders, on the other hand, need to do more than just communicate the change they want to see, they need to experience it. Their behavior is as important as what they say. Transparency and empathy are needed to drive change. Focusing on individual people is essential, and the best leaders are those who help workers translate the company’s mission and purpose into their individual work.

Nudges and tweaks in every interaction

Planning for a big bang, a big change can be overwhelming. Changing small things in regular interactions and modifying behaviors can lead to the desired outcome, and at a rate that anyone can cope with. Micro-change management strategies are about starting by breaking down change into small steps and continuously measuring and learning from the change.

Older approaches to change management tend to rely on the stick and carrot approach, but this approach doesn’t do very well at tapping into people’s intrinsic motivations for change. Nudge technology, smart software that can pick up behavioral cues, could help here. For example, it can provide feedback in the workflow, when employees are seen to reflect company values, or help people understand how they manage their time.

Rewards and recognition are key to embed new desired behaviors. Rewards and recognition can be monetary or intrinsic, public or private, but above all, they must be fair and equitable. Companies that do this effectively will achieve measurable results, notably, these companies are 7.3 times more likely to adapt well to change.

A new era of people-driven change management

A new era of change management has arrived; that puts people, not processes, at the center, prioritizes purpose over procedures, and unleashes the creativity of every employee to make change happen. However, nearly half of HR professionals (40%) don’t believe they have the skills to drive change. Organizations should support HR skills development by assessing capability gaps, providing one-on-one coaching and mentoring, and developing capability academies. A focus on people, iterative and agile practices, flexibility, new approaches and individuality must be prioritized as organizations look to the future.

The author, Josh Bersin, is an internationally recognized analyst, educator and thought leader in the global talent market.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and ETHRWorld does not necessarily endorse them. ETHRWorld will not be liable for any damage caused to any person or organization directly or indirectly.