The impact of under-developed change capabilities on managers, leaders and your organisation

In my last article ‘Why change management is becoming a bad word’, I brought up five factors that need to change in order to prevent the further downfall of change management. In the next few articles, I will be breaking down these points in more detail.

In this article, I would like to discuss the need for organisations and change professionals to start building internal change capabilities in order for change to be successfully implemented and sustained and it looks like I am not alone in recognising this need. A recent study, where CMO representatives were surveyed, highlighted that building a foundation of strong organisational capabilities was crucial to CMO success, with 98.75% of participants selecting that a successful CMO needs to built on a foundation of strong organisational change capability.

So what is the impact of under-developed change capabilities on 1) managers, 2) leaders and 3) the organisation.

  1. Impact on managers: Managers with no change knowledge or tools will experience change fatigue.

Imagine if a ship captain goes out to face an ocean for the first time. The only thing the captain is given is the ship’s manual. He is responsible for the lives of 10 new crew members who have never gone out to an ocean of this size. Then a storm hits. The crew panic. The captain has no idea how to empower or motivate any of them into action. What will the result be? 1) Each crew member will hide out in their cabin, leaving the captain to fend off the treacherous waves until the storm passes, which will lead to an over-worked, exhausted captain. 2) The crew will all run around trying to do something with no direction eventually running out of motivation and hope, while the captain still tries to fend off the waves by himself, because let’s face it, he has no time to talk them through it now, leading to an over-worked, exhausted captain. 3) The storm becomes too big for the captain to take on and the entire ship and its crew sink.

This is exactly what we do to managers when we throw them in the deep end of a change project and expect them to know how to take their teams through it seamlessly. Like leaders, many managers rise to their positions due to technical expertise or meeting their KPIs. Then they are hit with a major change project. It could be a restructure or a systems overhaul or changes in performance measurements or a relocation. The change professional hands them a manual and waves them goodbye at the shoreline as the team and their captain steer off into the unknown. The manager has not proactively taken the time to find out how to navigate through unpredictable waves, they don’t know what motivates each of their team members towards change, they have not taken the time to understand their fears or limitations when it comes to change or each team member’s unique strengths and skill-sets which can help the crew navigate the sea.

Building managerial change capabilities before major changes, leads to a team that can seamlessly take on any change project regardless of its complexity.

Opportunity for change professionals– Start working more closely with managers to help them understand their teams and provide them with tools and strategies to engage and empower teams through the change process.

2. Impact on leaders: Leaders with minimal understanding of human behaviour and motivation, will not welcome the importance of role-modelling during change.

Whilst the number one challenge in change management is constantly reported as a ‘lack of executive support and active sponsorship’, I would take it a step further and say it is not enough to have executive support, we need executive role modelling. Even if leadership are “supporting” the change, when it comes to implementation, many continue in their old ways. An example, is commonly seen during implementation of an ‘open-plan’ setting, where the leader speaks about the importance of breaking silos, yet they remain in their corner office with the door shut. Another example, is when organisations boast of a new culture that promotes professional development, yet leaders refuse to allocate a sufficient budget for their team’s professional development.

Many leadership positions are based on technical expertise and on meeting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and rarely on how to motivate others towards positive change. However, leaders cannot be blamed. If they have not been equipped with knowledge on human behaviours, what motivates teams, what intrinsically drives people towards change, how can they be expected to take others through the change journey? This is not a matter of leadership training (that’s a given), it’s about delving deeper into what drives teams towards change and what they can do as leaders to drive change.

Building leadership’s knowledge of how to drive teams towards change creates a culture of empowerment and role-modelling, which ripples throughout the entire organisation.

Opportunity for change professionals: Showcase evidence to leaders and executives on the importance of alignment throughout the organisation.

3. Impact on the organisation: Lack of awareness of the complexity of change leads to conflict within the organisation

While change professionals are aware of the complexity of changing mindsets, behaviours, habits and processes, the priorities and views of other teams, managers, leaders is often different. Many view the change aspect as an after thought, a ‘nice to have’ or ‘let’s tick that box’. One change management recruiter said, ‘we are often asked for change managers in the middle of a project or if we’re lucky a few days before its commencement’.

The lack of awareness of the complexity of change, leads to a lack of prioritisation of the change aspect ultimately leading to misalignment
between departments and even leadership.

For example, conflicts commonly arise between project managers and change managers, because each have a different level of awareness of the complexity of change and hence prioritise different aspects of the change initiative. A project manager primarily focuses on the project scope, requirements and measures, while the change manager focuses on the people side of the change. If change capabilities were built throughout the organisation, project managers and change managers can better align the needs of the people with the needs of the project rather than seeing these as conflicting. Once both determine a common set of priorities, they can start working through them more collaboratively.

Building internal change capabilities creates a unified understanding of the need to facilitate change and leads to a collaborative approach to change implementation.

Opportunity for change professionals– Start building an internal understanding of the complexity of changing human behaviour and the impact this has on project outcomes.

About the Author: Academic-turned-entrepreneur, Lydia Moussa, combines knowledge from her PhD in change implementation research, with years of on the ground change facilitation experience. Lydia has facilitated change in over 300 organisations and has since founded The Change Hub. Lydia and her team combine change evidence with pragmatic application to build organisational change capability, clarity and confidence, creating a change wave that ripples throughout an organisation and beyond.

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