New business climate demands agility from managers, report claims

new business climate demands agilityA new report, The Big Reset Playbook: Change Agility (registration) from work trends analyst The Josh Bersin Company, claims that traditional approaches to change management have often fallen short of expectations, and that new workplace practices based on agility are now needed to manage change in a new business climate.  According to the report ‘businesses are looking to tackle the challenge of managing change in a new reality that includes the shift to hybrid working, globalization and The Great Resignation’. The research claims that in companies that successfully manage change, leaders and high performers reinforce the company’s mission and purpose, explain how their reinvented business models work, create cross-functional teams to design and implement change, and maintain forward momentum. 

The research suggests that companies which build change agility are more profitable, have higher rates of employee engagement and retention, and their customers are happier. The research is based on conversations about change and transformation that have taken place as part of the Big Reset initiative. Started at the pandemic’s onset, the company hosted Big Reset working groups composed of HR and business leaders across all industry segments. In these groups, leaders shared best practices and challenges spanning areas such as DEI, employee experience, technology, employee wellbeing, organizational design, and recruiting.

The research proposes a business resilience maturity model composed of four levels of business resilience, based on these leading best practices of adaptive companies that have surfaced over the last two years. It sets out ten lessons for change agility that hold true not just for the massive business changes brought on by the pandemic, but for any transformational change.

These are:

1 Every interaction is a potential change intervention. Change is not a one-off activity, but a series of effective interventions. Therefore, look for change opportunities in every interaction. Every meeting, communication, and team collaboration builds the change adaptability muscle, and employees both can and need to be brought along on the mutual organizational journey.

2 Effective change starts with listening to employees. Listening to employees, digesting the insights gained, and taking action on identified problem areas is integral to effective change. Employee communications take many different forms, from performance reviews and performance metrics, through to worker surveys. Listening and responding to people who are identifying barriers to change or suggesting change will help companies target change interventions more effectively. Companies that use advanced people analytics and action-taking are 6.7 times more likely to effectively manage change and 7.7 times more likely to innovate well.

3 Start a mission-first movement, not a marketing campaign. Conventional change management relies on getting employees onside for change initiatives by ‘selling’ it to them. But in today’s fast-moving digital context, when major change has to happen quickly, this approach is not feasible. Instead, CEOs need to make the mission and purpose central to change. If employees understand the reason for ongoing change, they are more likely to accept the need for it. Companies that do this effectovely are 4.3 times more likely to be profitable, 4.8 times more likely to have high levels of customer satisfaction, and 4.7 times more likely to adapt well to change.

4 Foster human-centered leadership to inspire change and transformation. Leaders need to do so much more than simply communicate the change they want to see; they need to be seen as living it. How they behave is important, and transparency is needed to drive change. A focus on the human here is key, and the best leaders are those who help workers translate the company’s mission and purpose to their individual work and, even better, individual purpose: these organizations are 8.2 times more likely to be change adaptable.

5 Transparent, fit-for-purpose communication sets the right tone. Communication is not just about what’s said, but how it’s said. HR and marketing must work together to design communications that appeal to different audiences, their specific workflows, and their identified needs. The first thing to get right is to ascertain the optimum communications channel for individuals or groups of employees: that might be email, or it might be better delivered during a weekly catch-up meeting. Research, and pick a lane(s). Companies that communicate well are 6.7 times more likely to adapt well to change and 7.6 times more likely to engage and retain their workforce.

6 Design thinking builds change adoptions into solutions. Traditionally, change management involves selling the change to employees who will be affected by it. In 2022, that is the wrong way around: your people need to be active participants in designing the change needed. Here, a design thinking approach not only helps design the right solution but also has adaptability for future change built-in.

7 Micro change management recommended. Planning for a big bang, big change can be overwhelming. Changing small things and tweaking behaviours can lead to the desired result, only a bit more at a pace everyone can cope with. Strategies for micro change management include starting by breaking down change into small steps and continuously measuring and learning from change.

8 Nudge technology puts behaviour change into the flow of work. Legacy change management approaches tend to rely on the stick and carrot approach, but neither of these are very successful at tapping into people’s intrinsic motivations for change. Nudge technology in the form of intelligent software that can pick up behavioural signals, could help—for example, by providing ongoing feedback directly in the flow of work, when employees are seen to reflect company values, or to help people understand how they are managing their time. Technologies like Cultivate, Culture Amp, Change Q, Emtrain, Humu, Microsoft Viva, and Workday Everywhere focus on nudging to make small behaviour changes easy and, in turn, create a big impact

9 Reward and recognize new, changed behaviours. Rewards and recognition are key to embedding new desired behaviours. They can be monetary or intrinsic, public or private, but most importantly, they need to be embraced by the employee base as fair, transparent and equitable. Companies that do this effectively will have measurable outcomes: our research suggests they are 7.3 times more likely to adapt to change well and 5.8 times more likely to innovate.

10 HR capabilities to foster change agility are critical Almost half of HR professionals (40 percent) polled don’t think they have the skills they need to drive change. Therefore, organizations need to support HR to build skills by assessing capability gaps, providing tailored coaching and mentoring, and developing corporate capability academies.

The research concludes that most change management initiatives are designed for once-and-done, “Big Bang” initiatives. Such approaches require changing both multiple internal process—and the associated employee behaviours—simultaneously. This just isn’t realistic, nor does today’s pace of change allow for the lengthy and complex planning it would necessitate. Instead, it is recommended to adopt a human-centered design approach and incremental steps: that way, we can accomplish micro changes that ultimately result in macro transformations.