Challenge 50. Build in-house change capability

Nut to crack: How do you maintain the ability to lead and guide change?

If change is a daily occurrence, how do you ensure that every manager sees it as their daily job to lead change instead of something they do “on the side”? How do you boost the professionalism with which they lead change? And how do you ensure that every employee knows that change is a constant? These questions are central to this challenge.

Nutcracker: Make change part of the “regular” work and apply one language

If a manager feels primarily responsible for running operations but views changing and improving these operations as extraneous to their job descrip- tion, that is the first concern to tackle. You gain ownership for leading change when every leader and employee understands and embraces that you are always doing two jobs in parallel: running the daily operations and improving or renewing those same operations at the same time.

This requires letting go of the belief that you are constantly moving from the status quo to a new one. Instead, it involves understanding that change is leader-led, but its speed and intensity are not. Sometimes you take small steps during a specific period, and then you are recharged for several giant, intensive steps; there are relative rest periods, but that is different from stabili- ty or standstill. Especially in the Western world, it is one of the most persistent beliefs to tackle; change is a daily matter.

Equip people with simple tools that help them lead change in the work area for which they are responsible. It helps if you introduce one language in your organisation to describe what leading change entails. When determining the change language and methodology, you usually come across supporters of many theories and practices. But whatever language you use, my recommen- dation is to make three things clear to everyone:

  1. Leading change is your daily job
  2. Change is leader-led
  3. Change is iterative

If you then can equip all employees with basic change management skills, it is recommended to teach them at least these three basics:

  1. Build and communicate a case for change (Challenges 1 and 2)
  2. Make a change plan (Challenge 13)
  3. Measure change progress (Challenge 45)

The following practical example elaborates on how to build in-house change capability in your organisation.

Real-life example: Every leader is a change leader

Within a large energy group, it was unusual to see “transforming the business” as part of someone’s normal range of duties. This applied to business leaders who did not see it as their job to lead change, as well as to strategic, financial, hr or it business partners. Change was therefore often bundled into a project and sometimes into a programme. However, the results of these projects and programmes were disappointing; with a few positive exceptions, millions were lost to bad implementations. At the same time, change consultants were at work throughout the organisation, both in the business units and support departments, but the knowledge they contributed wasn’t anchored in the or­ ganisation.

The Strategy Director saw this as a shortcoming that he wanted to fix. He mobilised his hr, Finance and it colleagues and teamed up with one of the strategy consultants tasked with strengthening the internal transformation power. This initiative to bring leaders together in a working session proved insufficient. A few delightful days with the entire management team later, and a hundred grand down, he was forced to admit that this initiative had certainly inspired business leaders and staff departments but had not led to the desired change in leadership.

Together with his colleagues, he therefore decided to do things differently. As part of the new business strategy, he included the set­up of a Change Acceleration Team in the budget, with a reporting line to him and the ceo. The goal of this team was to enable its people to successfully lead changes associated with the new business strategy.

This was not the first rodeo for Julia, the new Change Acceleration Team director. She hypothesised that the root cause of the problem was the overestimation of individuals’ change capability. She therefore started with a review. She reflected with the top team on the change initiatives that had taken place in the past three years – successful and unsuccessful. This showed why some failed, and some succeeded. Next, she had them analyse the most important change initiatives ongoing based on those success and fail­ ure factors. Conclusion: three of the eight initiatives were on a collision course, three had issues, and two were on track. Julia developed a series of interventions with the top team to get the worst three back on track. Together with the ceo, she managed the execution of those change initiatives.

Julia then mobilised the management team as train the trainers of their direct reports. In change acceleration sessions, these business leaders were coached in their role as change leaders and enablers, just like the top team. Also there, they systematically looked back on change successes and failures, and applied the success criteria to the initiatives currently ongoing or in the pipeline. As a result, the change knowledge they gained was immediately converted into action to get change initiatives back on track. The Change Acceleration Team provided suitable measuring instruments to measure change progress systematically and coached the management team and their direct reports in its application.

Almost four years later, the Change Acceleration Team can scale back to a team of a few people because it is now in the dna of leaders and business partners of staff depart­ ments to lead and enable change in a structured manner.

The change methodology and associated language are anchored in the training manual, which supports every new employee and manager in their career.

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