An Agile Approach to Change Management
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In the wake of Covid-19, organizations are fundamentally rethinking their product and service portfolios, reinventing their supply chains, pursuing large-scale organizational restructuring and digital transformation, and rebuilding to correct systemic racism from the ground up. Traditional change management process won’t cut it. The author borrows from agile software development processes to reinvent the change management playbook.
In the midst of a Covid-induced recession, and with some industries on the brink of extinction, change isn’t about fine-tuning — it’s existential.
But traditional change management — often characterized by heavy process, lengthy timelines, and clunky rollouts — won’t cut it right now. The type of change management required in this moment is quick, agile, and (in many cases) virtual.
The first step in well-known change management models is often to “create a sense of urgency.” Depending on the change you are pursuing, you may be able to skip straight to declaring a change vision that outlines a compelling vision of your future state.
Companies without a clear vision will spend too much time fielding stakeholder inquiries instead of tending to the necessary changes.
CEOs can accelerate the change process by empowering a group of trusted experts deeper in the organization who can be redeployed full-time against the challenge at hand.
Companies should also look to build an external network of advisors who can quickly be tapped to weigh in on business threats where in-house expertise doesn’t exist.
To eliminate friction and delays, the group of internal and external experts will also need to quickly align on guiding principles and open a physical or virtual “war room” to drive collaboration.
When time is of the essence, these teams can help tackle challenges and opportunities as they see them, including those that aren’t visible to leadership but are critical to supporting the change agenda.
nternal social media and collaboration platforms are likely the fastest and most effective way to drive understanding of your change efforts and recruit the people who will champion the transformation.
This more informal channel created greater authenticity, enabled two-way dialogue and made it possible for the CEO to assess employee sentiment as the change efforts unfolded.
Employee influencers should be tapped to initiate online conversation around change efforts , leveraging positive peer pressure to bring colleagues on board and creating a sense of virtual community around the initiative.
Recent events have confirmed what many change leaders already knew — though your change vision is critical to driving alignment and buy-in, that picture will seldom stay the same from the start of a change project to its finish.
The fact that many companies are bringing employees back to work in phases allows for the agile iteration and continuous learning. They should take advantage by piloting change tools and processes on early returners and improving them with each subsequent wave.
The virtues of the shift from annual performance reviews to frequent check-ins should be apparent to leaders looking to drive rapid behavior change. More frequent feedback enables real-time coaching and allows managers to place the emphasis on what is most needed from the employee in that moment.
Reward programs can also help drive swift behavior change. Retailers instituted hazard and overtime pay to support their change efforts at the onset of Covid-19, and many of their employees rose to the occasion, taking on tough assignments to keep the business humming.
Non-financial rewards play an even larger role in more challenging economic times. Korn Ferry research indicates that these non-financial rewards (e.g., meaningful work, career development, training, recognition) are more instrumental in talent engagement and retention than base pay and variable pay programs.
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When facing crisis-driven change, consider these modifications from Sarah Jensen Clayton to accelerate and streamline your process.
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