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Capabilities for Managing Continuous Change
To deliver planned change, managers need to have the right capabilities to be able to plan, design, implement and sustain change.
Managers also need to be able to facilitate change in their operational areas, and importantly be able to engage organizational members (and other stakeholders) in order to build commitment and ownership of the change/s, so that benefits can be achieved and embedded into daily operations. This requires a mix of capabilities, such as change management, communication and stakeholder agility, and resilience.
The principles and practice of change management must be an integral part of management capabilities. This means being able to apply a systematic approach and application of knowledge, tools and resources to deal with, or juggle with, a number of change scenarios simultaneously as well as engaging and managing individuals and teams. This requires capabilities in a number of areas including the following:
- Analytical skills - in order to understand change, interpret the outside world, set objectives and align strategies and tactics with objectives. This also requires an ability to discern trends in the face of complexity and ambiguity.
- Project management - for the planning and implementation of change/s project management skills are needed which comprise the activities of planning, setting clear, measurable objectives for the change and evaluating their achievement by using clearly defined success measures or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), as well as monitoring and control to keep the project focused and on track through to its completion so that all intended potential benefits are delivered and risks identified and managed.
- Systems thinking - as an approach to problem-loving this sees complex entities as a series of components with each part interacting with, and influencing, the rest. Systems thinking skills will help manages to view the organization as a whole system that is sustained by the extent to which its parts are aligned to the overall purpose of the enterprise.
- Design thinking - the need for a frictionless, connected stakeholder experience of change in organizations requires the capability of design thinking, a people-centric, structured and creative approach to problem-solving. Building a design thinking capability will enable managers to explore the expectations of organizational members and discover, and positively expand upon, the drivers that motivate members to engage with organizational change/s.
- Creative agility - managers need to be constantly seeking new ways to engage people with change as well as identifying solutions to challenges and opportunities. This requires innovation and creative thinking and being open to listening to the views and ideas of others.
The ability to communicate with individuals and teams needs to be a core capability amongst managers.
Effective communication can help managers to promote awareness and understanding of why change is necessary, as well as providing opportunities for organizational members to voice their ideas, hopes and concerns.
To ensure high-quality communication during organizational transformations managers need to be aware of the different types of communication, ranging from those that provide the greatest amount of information to those that provide the least.
Effective communication can increase employees' and other stakeholders’ acceptance of change and encourage their engagement with it. This means that managers need to focus, not just on tactics, such as communication channels, messages and timing, but also pay attention to the targets for the communication and the kind of language which needs to be used for different types of audience.
This will help to avoid some of the common communication pitfalls, such as:
- The wrong messengers. Individuals tend to believe information from people whom they know and trust, therefore managers need to understand employees, and their needs and expectations, in order to identify who the best person is to communicate with them about changes.
- The change is too sudden. Managers need to prepare their staff for change, allow time for the message about the need for change to sink in and provide opportunities for feedback.
- Communication is not transparent. Communication should be honest and include the rationale for the change and the desired outcomes and benefits.
- Communication is too narrow. If the communication focuses too much on detail and technicalities and does not link the proposed change to the impact on what it means for different teams, it is unlikely to resonate with them.
- The communication is often in the wrong language. Communication needs to be translated into the kind of language which the recipients understand. The language of the boardroom can, for instance, be different from the language of the shop floor.
So, managers need to ensure that clear, consistent messages are communicated and that stakeholders have opportunities to engage in dialogue and feedback about proposed changes.
Managers need to be able to build and maintain relationships with internal and external stakeholders. This requires stakeholder agility, which means being able to engage and build rapport and support with stakeholders and being able to deal with multiple stakeholders in a variety of ways.
It is therefore vital that managers have the ability and resilience to build trust and credibility with stakeholders.
Resilience is critical for managers in order to cope with change.
This requires the ability to think positively, maintain perspective, develop a strong network of supportive relationships, and an ability to cope with challenges by taking care of one’s wellbeing.
Resilience helps managers to make sense of change more quickly so that they are able to understand the impact on themselves and others.
Resilient managers are not, however, immune to the challenges of change, they experience the effects just as other organizational members do, but they tend to move through the transition faster and respond more positively. Furthermore, they may come to terms with change/s more quickly, and experience much less turbulence throughout organizational transformations.
By building their resilience managers will be able to more effectively anticipate, prepare for, cope with, and survive the effects of transformations.
In sum, capabilities to anticipate, prepare for, implement, and sustain planned change need to be acquired, developed and embedded in an organization.
In other words, there needs to be the ability to adapt, modify and transform organizational structures, systems and processes, along with successfully engaging with, and gaining commitment from, stakeholders.
Building such capabilities requires learning and development in order to provide managers with the knowledge, abilities, and skills necessary to adapt to new and different ways of working and reinforce the required behaviours to work more confidently with continual change.