The increasing pace, complexity and unpredictability of change means that being able implement change consistently will determine your future competitiveness. A strategic change capability is the extent to which an organisation is equipped to deliver change and its associated benefits again and again.
In this article we outline the case for developing a strategic change capability, its key elements, and provide some tips for getting started.
Why invest in a strategic change capability?
Many organisations consistently fail to deliver change, or have some success without being able to repeat or transfer that success to different business units, geographies or functions.
Signs of a lack of change capability include:
- Fragmented, unfocused change efforts
- Conflict and confusion from competing initiatives and approaches
- Slow and inefficient implementations
- Limited uptake of change and realisation of benefits
- Over-reliance and overspending on external consultants
A strategic change capability creates the conditions for efficient, repeatable, transferable realisation of benefits by lifting change to a strategic level, making it a leadership priority and investing in the structures, processes, technologies and people that enable it.
That might make it sound like you have to be multinational business to develop your change capability but you don’t. Rather, it’s about ensuring accountability, providing co-ordination and having a constant approach (or common language).
Elements of a change capability
There are a number of elements of strategic change capability, which need to be tailored to the vision and mission of the organisation and take into account the prevailing organisational culture. There is a close and complimentary relationship between a culture that promotes business agility, and a strategic change capability.
Change Capability requires change to be at the heart of the enterprise leadership framework that determines how leaders are recruited, developed and rewarded. This helps to drive effective executive sponsorship of and accountability for transformation and change initiatives, and set a platform for change leadership at multiple levels.
- Take accountability
- Emotionally commit
- Are visible advocates
- Support and challenge
- Commit resources
- Manage key stakeholders
- Remove blockages
Change Leaders come from within the operation and may take up a formal role (e.g. sponsor, change agent, champion). It is critical that Change Leaders understand and accept what is expected of them, and have the required skills. For this reason they may be formally recruited and should be deliberately developed.
Another, separate, role is that of Change Delivery leadership. This also requires leadership but is focused on delivering the projects that are designed to transform the business. Both are required.
Clear roles and responsibilities will underpin leadership accountability for change. There are two primary, strategic responsibilities that an internal Change Capability can discharge, ideally under the ownership of a dedicated member of the executive leadership team.
The first role, which might be held by a Chief Transformation Officer, is for holding executive sponsors to account, helping the organisation to focus and prioritise change investments, managing an Enterprise Change Plan and providing impartial review.
Secondly, a Change Centre of Excellence provides expertise and support to change programmes, maintains and develops a shared Change Management Methodology, up-skills and shares knowledge, and may provide resources that can be loaned to programmes.
Organisational Change Plan
An integrated organisational change plan provides focus and priority for all change initiatives across the business, and should be owned and reviewed at executive level. In addition to determining the priorities for investment, by aligning with business strategy, the change plan supports the effective allocation of resources, reviews progress and ensures co-ordination and minimisation of conflict, not only of delivery but of the impact that initiatives will have on stakeholder groups. In turn all key programme-related plans and governance should flow into the enterprise plan.
A Structured Methodology
An enterprise Change Management framework provides a common language that helps speed up behaviour change, organisational learning and change maturity while avoiding the cost of duplication, confusion and minimising the need for external consultants. Change Management should compliment common Project and Programme Management methodologies that enhance quality, efficiency and reliability of initiatives. Although we wouldn’t endorse all comments, this is a reasonable
Systems that support effective change include collaboration, communication, knowledge management and planning tools. The ability to capture, share and re-use learning is critical to repeated success in change.
Some tips for developing change capability
Start with Leadership
Leaders have created change, long before “change” was a thing, and their commitment to the success of the initiative is critical. Accountability for enterprise-wide change must start at the top, and unless leaders are bought in and prepared to remove blockages, further attempts to build change capability will be of limited success. It is imperative that the Change function is represented within the executive team, in order to hold other executives to account for delivering change.
Get the Vision and Mission clear
Building Change Capability to meet a weak Vision and Mission is like starting to build a spaceship without understanding where it will fly to. Your own strategic context will determine many of the decisions that need to be made, the pace of investment that you make, the breadth and depth of the change function, and so on. There’s no point in building something that will fly to Mars if you only need to go to the moon. Do what’s best for you, not what your competitor or what fashionable companies are doing.
Be mindful of Culture
Likewise, the prevailing culture of the organisation, through its underlying values, beliefs and assumptions, will determine a great deal. Understanding how your culture might help or hinder existing change efforts and your change capability programme will help you to avoid potential pitfalls and plan appropriately. It is also important to note that a well-implemented change capability may also require culture change, but it will in turn strengthen your ability to make future cultural changes.
Manage it as a Change Project
Start as you mean to continue – take the opportunity to learn by doing and build good practices. Make sure that sponsorship is in place (will you have the CCO in place before you start?). Get access to a structured change methodology from the beginning, ideally one that is evidence-based and clear on the approach to achieving behavioural change. Be clear about the end state, develop an appealing vision and case for change, change impact analysis, engagement plans.. ..and so on.