Embedding the Seeds of Change: how to build a change-capable organization.

For years now, organizations have embraced the importance of staying nimble – of maintaining the necessary responsiveness to changing market forces to be able to grow when necessary, shift focus when it’s required, innovate to meet customer need, and stay on top of their industry. The quest for corporate agility is nothing new, and neither is the large amount of thought and research devoted to solving the riddle of how to cultivate that coveted skill.

So how do you manage this feat when you’re a large company with thousands of employees?

These days more and more focus has been placed on the role Change Management practices play in helping organizations gain a competitive advantage; data continues to demonstrate that Change Management expertise helps projects meet or exceed their timelines and business goals – in fact projects are on average six times more likely to succeed if a change methodology is successfully employed1. Because of this, organizations increasingly understand the importance of internal change capabilities and expertise. Many organizations have embraced this trend to the extent that they are building Change Management Offices (CMOs) or Change Centers of Excellence (CeOs), in order to provide consultative support and consistent methodology and tools to project teams throughout the organization. In fact, the latest Prosci Best Practices in Change Management report shows that the formation of structured CMOs is up – now at 38% of respondents2.

There’s no doubt that the emergence of CMOs, and the resultant improvement in project implementation, will lead to an increased ability to respond to market forces. But we think you can go further. These 2-5 person CMOs are primarily tasked with owning and maintaining the organization’s change methodologies, and offering consultative support to project managers3. They also typically procure change management talent to embed on high value, high risk projects. In other words, they are project-focused.

What would happen, if instead of focusing on projects, you worked to nurture change-embracing behavior across the entire organization, at all times?

Let’s examine the typical technology startup, since they are well known for this kind of organizational agility. Their normal operation mode – at all times, not just around projects – is the ability to embrace and successfully adjust to change. In fact, change capability is systemic throughout the company, and is actually a necessary part of the skillset of each individual employee.

In other words, to achieve that level of business agility, the ability to successfully manage and respond to change is built into the DNA of the company, including at the level of the individual employee. This means that as change continually presents itself – whether in response to a new competitor, growth, new IT systems, or a wide variety of other business stressors – the startup and its employees are all well equipped to keep the company on its trajectory of growth.

So… the ten thousand dollar question: can you apply this to your organization? We think you can. The key is applying the lessons of the nimble startup to how you build your people programs. Instead of purely relying on a central CMO or CoE tasked with helping large projects manage change successfully, think about the following guidelines to take it to the next level.

Six ways to embed change behavior into the very fabric of your organization:

  1. Equip leaders and employees with solid change skills – and embed those skills into competency training.
  2. Work change principles into job descriptions and hiring guidelines in order to source change capable employees.
    Put change language in value statements in order to communicate clearly to the organization the importance of being a change-agile employee.
  3. Work change principles into employee goal setting, and reward and recognize for change-ready behavior.
  4. Train people to recognize when they are resisting change, and teach, incent, and reward them to self-correct.
  5. Communicate clearly and regularly about how employees contribute to the organization’s success and strategic goals; make sure they know their effort matters.
  6. The idea is that all employees should instinctively work in a change-capable manner at all times; how they think, act, and react should reflect solid change principles. This way you’ll be building a nimble culture of change capability – and an agile state will become the ‘new normal’.

What are those key change principles that you should be building your nimble culture around? A change capable employee will:

  1. Seek to understand first: They will actively seek information about new work situations, and strive to understand the rationale and implications for changes in work responsibilities or the environment in general.
  2. Self-diagnose: They will understand when they are exhibiting what looks like resistance – and stop, pause, and determine a better path forward.
  3. Approach with cautious optimism: They will treat change and new situations as opportunities for learning or growth, identify the benefits of the changes, and speak positively about the change to others.
  4. Manage themselves through the change: They will develop appropriate strategies when needed to alter conditions that create stress and to sustain physical and mental health during the change.

To sum up: in order to support a nimble organization, you need to build a truly change-capable organization. And to build a truly change-capable organization and achieve long-term sustainability, you need to weave change principles into the very heart and soul of your business. How will you know when you’ve achieved this? You will see behaviors that are proactively readying your organization for change, and you should notice an advanced understanding, and the continuous evaluation of, change impacts and risks as business decisions are made. In other words, your workforce will be able to react with more awareness and agility to changing market and customer expectations. And we think that’s a very exciting thing.

Note: If you’d like to get a better idea of how change-capable your organization is in its current state, take a look at our Change Capable Diagnostic, or contact us at info@peoplefirm.com.



About the author:

Beth Montag-Schmaltz, PeopleFirm

Beth is a founding partner of PeopleFirm and a recognized researcher, practitioner, innovator, and thought leader in the field of adoption and change execution methodologies and tools. Throughout her 19 -year professional journey, she has designed and managed complex change management programs for strategic and high-risk corporate initiatives. Beth brings a wealth of knowledge, experience, and creative energy to guiding organizations and their leaders through a structured yet uniquely tailored process that produces concrete returns on their investments. As an author of cutting-edge articles and white papers, Beth provides companies with the unconventional wisdom to reach and often exceed their business goals through a practical approach to leading people through change.


1 Prosci, 2013 Best Practices in Change Management benchmarking study
2 Prosci, Best Practices in Change Management – 2014 Edition, pg 17
3 Ibid, pgs 192-193