Increasing Your Organization’s Capacity for Change

“I love change. You go first!” Even change management professionals like me seem to have a love-hate relationship with change. Whether you are talking about organizational change or personal change, all of us at some time or another have struggled with the “Change Beast.”

While we are staring at the difficulty of navigating change, change is happening all around us. And it is going at a faster rate than ever before. The pressure to innovate, respond to technology changes, be more transparent, and keep pace with the changes in a global economy are causing leaders to push their organizations towards adapting and adopting quickly. And bureaucracy has been tagged as a “villain” as citizens and stakeholders everywhere call for its elimination. Our leaders proudly declare, “Change is good!”

Yet few leaders seem to acknowledge the cost to the people involved in absorbing rapid rates and large shifts of change. When changes are introduced, leaders are encouraged to communicate a generic message:

“We need to change. Embrace the change. Get engaged and change.”

Strategic plans are developed and projects are initiated. If teams and organizations are not ready to absorb the change fast enough, leaders may ask, “Why have we slowed down?”  This is a good question. However, a better question may be, “Where are we failing to develop the capacity to change?”

In a physical realm, it is easy to understand that things slow down as they reach their capacity. Yet we forget this when talking about the need for organizational speed.

The authors of the book “Influencer: The Power to Change Anything” give us a helpful construct. Their framework includes three basic components that are propelled by motivation and ability:

  • Personal
  • Social
  • Structural

Enabling an organization to enlarge their capacity, and speed, for change, requires leaders to consider their approach to each of these components.

Personal Development for Change Capacity

Each individual has their own capacity and bandwidth for change. Navigating personal aspects of change require the development of supportive behaviors. When is the last time that you asked, “What habits do we need to change here?”  Habits are the seeds of behavior change. Leaders who leave their employees on their own to struggle with the will power to commit to change may discover later that their employees feel “change fatigue.” According to Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,”

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

This means that people who are forced to use willpower alone will eventually lose steam. Leaders need to be attentive to helping employees cultivate the habits that will support change efforts. Habits don’t require willpower. And the less willpower your team has to use, the more focus they can put on making change happen.

Social Support for Change Capacity

When considering change, leaders may overlook simple strategies involving what the authors of Influencer call out as “peer pressure” and “strength in numbers.” Enlisting the help of opinion leaders in the workplace as well as finding what Malcolm Gladwell calls “the tipping point” can help you gain momentum.  Momentum will ultimately speed up the adoption rate of your change. Creating sharing communities like WebEx Teams or Facebook Groups can also help people navigate change together. Such communities can make issues visible and create opportunities for collaboration as members of the group support one another. Leaders also need to ask frequently, “What do you need to support this change?” Pushing the team to think beyond routine status updates will open them to opportunities to enlist support when they need it.

Structural Support for Change Capacity

Often, change is handled as an “initiative” or “project.” Leads or project managers are assigned to keep track of progress and drive completion of tasks. But how many initiatives or projects do you know that have incorporated what Prosci calls a “change scorecard?” In their approach, Prosci recommends that you monitor three key areas:

  • Results and Outcomes
  • Adoption and Usage
  • Effectiveness of Change Management

You must also provide the tools needed for your employees to deliver on these three key objectives. Care should be taken to ensure that reporting does not become an administrative burden. Tracking and reporting on key areas should be automated whenever possible.

Addressing the personal, social, and structural support needed for change will, over time, increase your organization’s capacity for change, and subsequently their speed. Failing to address these three key areas will leave your organization lagging behind in their pursuit of the change your organization needs.

What methods have you used to increase your organization’s capacity to change?

Rebecca Mott is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a self-proclaimed change agent and continuous improvement leader with over 20 years of utility industry experience leading technical teams to solve problems. She currently coaches leaders and teams to apply Lean Six Sigma methodologies and engage by focusing on the power of “we.”

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