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Jul 1, 2019

Most of us recognize that the pace (and magnitude) of change has dramatically increased over the last several decades, in large part due to technological advancements and changing social norms.

Yet what many fail to realize is, as Graeme Wood and the IPA declared years ago, the pace of change will never be this slow again.

While traditional change management methodologies have been used by organizations to control the ensuing chaos associated with change, modern organizations are embracing it as an inevitable aspect of today’s business environment. The ones reaping the most success are those who view change enablement as an integral part of the cultural fabric. Companies can follow suit if they:

  • Embrace it
  • Operationalize it
  • Incentivize it

Embrace it

Resistance is not only futile, it is unproductive. Change – in any sector – is bound to occur. In fact, the majority of children beginning elementary school today will end up working in jobs that do not yet exist. Further, the average lifespan of a technical skill is now approximately 18 months. The very nature of work itself has become temporary and project oriented (hence, why the “annual goal” set at the beginning of the fiscal year often quickly becomes passé).

The challenge companies are facing is how to go about hiring and preparing a new generation of employees in such a dynamic environment.

The answer is simple: Hire people who possess transferrable skills (including change agility) that will allow them to be successful in a variety of roles. Seek out individuals who have demonstrated adaptability and flexibility in prior positions, and who have proven adept at critical thinking and problem-solving. With artificial intelligence and new technologies automating rote, transactional functions, “soft skills” like communication, curiosity and creativity are beginning to take center stage.

Operationalize it

It is human nature to avoid change, especially when our current situation is relatively comfortable. However, in the new world it is vital that we create organizational structures that proactively instigate change. We need to create formally sponsored avenues to cultivate that change by devoting actual time, resources and dollars to exploring new ways of doing things while disrupting the old ways. 3M is famous for giving their engineers one day per week dedicated to chasing new ideas (which is the reason we have Post-It Notes today), and Google is the more modern example of this, as they encourage their people to devote 20% of their time to “side projects”.

One relatively new idea recently shared in a Harvard Business Review article is the creation of a “shadow board.” A “shadow board” is comprised of non-executive (think millennial) employees to leverage their insights and diverse perspectives alongside a traditional board. In fact, Gucci employed this concept when co-CEO Patrizio Bertelli realized that they had been “slow in realizing the importance of digital channels and the blogging online ‘influencers’ which are disrupting the industry.” The result was a 136% growth in sales from 3.497 billion Euro in the 2014 fiscal year to 8.285 billion Euro last year. Typical change management supports a top-down model for determining the vision and strategy of an organization, while a shadow board enables more of a bottoms-up model to ensure the voice of the front-line worker is heard.

Incentivize it

Human behavior is not that difficult to figure out – most people do what they are incentivized to do. For example, most managers resist letting high performing employees move to new opportunities inside of the organization as they selfishly (and understandably) want to continue to benefit from their ability to generate positive results. But what if that manager was incentivized to develop and deploy talent across the organization? Then, instead of hoarding high performing people, they would be rewarded for releasing them into new areas of growth and advancement.

The reason this is so important today is that it also meets the needs of the next generation of workers –who are looking to frequently switch jobs (and in many cases, careers). When individuals have visibility into opportunities for change inside their current organization, they are less likely to respond when a recruiter contacts them. With this kind of internal mobility program, the employee gets a new gig, the manager gets a positive rating (and additional compensation) and the organization retains the institutional knowledge and intellectual capital of its workforce.

While the concept of change may never be voluntarily embraced by humanity, future-oriented companies should make it a priority to pursue proactive ways to enable and empower their people to seek out and benefit from change. Those that do not embrace change may find themselves joining a growing list of organizations that used to be relevant and are now seeking to simply survive