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How to build organizational change in the digital era-EN

Picture of Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred Maeso Aztarain

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“Until 2020, many leaders thought that change was under their control. Right now, the level of disruption is at a completely different level. Change has changed” – BTS, “What does it mean to be a change-ready organization?”

The level of change that companies must face today is on a different level from what we were used to just a few years ago.

There is a very simple exercise that we can do to visualize this: let’s think about how our lives have changed in the last five years. I’m sure we can agree that it has changed a lot. But the next question we should ask ourselves is, with the vision we have of the world today, do we think that in the next five years it will change more or less than in the last five? Let’s reflect for a moment on the potential impact that artificial intelligence may have in the more or less immediate future not only in our professional lives, but also in our personal lives and in our relationships with others. Scary, isn’t it?

Here’s the clue: Change, increasingly accelerated, is already a constant for all companies. And while the level of change is skyrocketing, 70% of companies’ change initiatives fail, according to various studies (as explained, for example, in the following McKinsey article). Considering these numbers, it seems clear that the traditional ways of managing and leading organizational change do not work. We need new approaches, new ways of understanding organizational change that ensure that each change increases the organization’s overall capacity to change, reducing the time it takes to learn and adapt to change. What are these new approaches?

5 universals of organizational change

Lean Change Management, for example, propose a different approach to change compared to traditional models. Its author, Jason Little, thinks that we should re-focus on those humanistic traits and social rules that we apply in our personal lives which we should also apply to organizations. Putting people and not processes at the center.

organizational change
5 Universals of Change | Illustration of leanchange.org

To illustrate these differences, he defines in his philosophy a set of common properties of all changes that he calls the 5 Universals of Change. These aree the following:

  • Cause and purpose on urgency of change
  • Co-creation on gaining acceptance
  • Experimentation on task execution
  • Meaningful dialogue about conveying information to people
  • Response to change about blaming people for resistance

Let’s take a closer look at each of them:

Cause and purpose on urgency of change

Traditional change approaches discuss the need to create a sense of urgency to mobilize people to change. Not only do we have to change, but we have to change now. In a way, this approach reminds me of the “student syndrome” (a concept mentioned by Eliyahu M.Goldratt in his book Critical Chain) which more or less means that we only study when the exam is approaching. Once the exam is over, the retention of knowledge, the learning generated is minimal. This also applies to professional life.

Driving for a sense of urgency might make sense in the short term, but it doesn’t make a real difference to people in the long term.

organizational change
How to build organizational change in the digital era| Illustration by Andy Baraja

Investing time to generate a sense of shared purpose, and aligning ourselves with this purpose, will generate a greater commitment and intrinsic motivation that, in the middle and long term, will generate a higher level of learning and adoption of change.

So how can we contribute to align ourselves with the cause and purpose? Sharing the organizational vision and goals, visualizing and being very transparent in the progress towards those goals, involving all stakeholders in a meaningful and continuous dialogue, promoting storytelling as a way to inspire people by connecting the past and present with the future of the organization, are examples of ways in which we can work on creating that shared purpose, which if it is to be truly shared, requires co-creation.

Co-creation on gaining acceptance

Traditional change management approaches focus on getting acceptance of the plans from the people who will be affected. A team of a few people draw up the plans, which are then thrown by surprise to the people who have to implement them. If anyone disagrees, they are a change resister, which must be fought. But as Jill Forbes said, “those who write the plan, don’t fight it”.

Managing complexity requires incorporating multiple points of view when creating solutions. Change must be seen from different angles to gather and consider different perceptions, sensitivities, and impacts. Co-creation, incorporating diverse people and points of view, is key to making holistic, comprehensive plans that favor greater adoption of change.

organizational change
How to build organizational change in the digital era| Illustration by Andy Baraja

Co-creation, however, should also not become an eternal assembly debate that delays action. When implementing it effectively, we must consider how we encourage participation and provide opportunities to gather ideas and give feedback, how we achieve collaboration (working together) between different parties to develop solutions, how we empower and involve employees in decision making, how we ensure that employees have the necessary competencies and how we develop them, and how we reward and recognize work in the change process. There are no magic recipes or techniques that are sure to work; we must adapt our approach to the context of our organization. Experimentation can help.

Experimentation on task execution

How are organizational changes activated? Hopefully, initially, before committing large sums of money, we do some proof of concept or a pilot and then develop a plan to execute and deploy the change that affects the entire organization. This works well when the initial situation is stable and, once the plan is executed and the change is completed, we return to a stable situation. We all know that this is not the reality for most companies in the 21st century. Our world is so complex that it is very difficult to really anticipate the impacts of changes and, while we are changing, everything keeps changing around us, so the level of complexity and uncertainty is too high to pretend to adopt a change by simply executing the tasks of a plan.

organizational change
How to build organizational change in the digital era| Illustration by Andy Baraja

Does that mean we don’t need to plan? No. We need to plan, but we also need to be able to react quickly to uncertainty and complexity. We must be proactive and move forward, but also be reactive and respond appropriately to what is happening. We must find the right balance between experimentation and execution of plan tasks. The goal is to generate the maximum learning in the minimum amount of time. To this end, experimentation will focus especially on those aspects where we have the greatest uncertainty.

Implementing a culture of experimentation in an organization is not easy. In order to make it work, we must find that balance between the long-term vision and plan, and the uncertainties of the day-to-day. Bringing reassurance and confidence to the top levels of the organization while at the same time reacting to what we are observing.

We can experiment with the product we generate of course, but also with the adoption to change itself: what can help people to quickly acquire the new competencies? How can we generate greater adoption? Surely, we have many hypotheses and assumptions that we can validate in a safe and controlled environment, through experiments.

Meaningful, dialogue on the transmission of information.

Talking with students of Change Management courses, I realize that, many times, we associate change management with change communication. The focus of the models is on what to communicate, when and to whom. On what are the channels and style of communication to seek the greatest acceptance. Lean Change Management is committed to meaningful, meaningful dialogue, open to surprise us and to change our way of thinking about change as a result of the conversation. A dialogue in which decisions and actions are taken.

organizational change
How to build organizational change in the digital era| Illustration by Andy Baraja

In this sense, the articleThis New Strategy Could Be Your Ticket to Change Management Success” of November 2022, Gartner comments on what it considers to be the main characteristics of this new change strategy: Involve employees in decision-making about change, let employees plan the implementation, and engage in open conversations throughout the process.

Any ideas on how to implement it? For example, replace the corporate Town Hall where Management presents a series of predefined contents and a space is provided for asking questions, with an Open Space format where the topics to be discussed are those proposed by the participants. Or, in a smaller format, use Lean Coffee sessions where participants vote on the topics to be discussed, instead of follow-up sessions with a predefined agenda. Another useful technique to encourage this dialogue is the Change Canvases, which in a very simple format allow the following benefits to be achieved: a clear and rapid visualization of all the elements of the change, iterative and collaborative construction of the change, and continuous improvement and adaptation, seeking the best response to the change.

Response to change about blaming people for resistance.

People are reluctant to change. Surely, we have heard this phrase many times.

However, it is not true, we do not resist change. We resist not being informed of the change, or being forced to change, or having more work as a consequence of the change, or not being able to reconcile personal and professional life, or …. resistance to change as such cannot be addressed if we do not know what the underlying cause is. Traditional approaches to change speak of “resistance to change” as something to be overcome, as a risk to be mitigated. It seems as if it is an external, unavoidable element that relieves us of our responsibility for change. When someone protests against a situation in a change, the alert immediately goes off: He or she is a resistor! We have to fight them. It looks like a battle in which the organization pushes in one direction and the people affected push in the other.

organizational change
How to build organizational change in the digital era| Illustration by Andy Baraja

As we have seen in the previous points of this article, building a shared cause and purpose, co-creating change and having meaningful dialogues will help us to increase the adoption of change. If we add an additional ingredient, empathy, which is essential when we can focus on people, we can have an unbeatable response to change.

One technique that can help us understand the different perceptions of change in order to respond to them is the perspective map.

Some elements for this response to change include adapting the speed of change to the different groups involved, changing the adoption model from push (insisting, forcing) to pull (those affected are the ones who pull the change when they are ready), or looking for mechanisms to make the transition easier or more comfortable, at the pace of each one.

Conclusion: How to understand the acceleration of organizational change?

We said at the beginning of this article that change has changed. The level of complexity, uncertainty and change in which we live, forces companies to look for different approaches to change management. Traditional approaches do not work and we need modern, people-centered alternatives to adapt to change with agility and efficiency.

Lean Change Management puts at the core of its philosophy these 5 universals of Change that we have walked through in this article: Cause and Purpose, Co-creation, Experimentation, Meaningful Dialogue and, Response to Change to, as they say on their website, “build an adaptive change approach, with modern ideas, tools and practices inspired by Agile, Lean Startup y Design Thinking.”

Finally, in this article, you can find additional information about Lean Change Management.

If you want to know more, at Netmind we are Lean Change Management Partners since 2019, and you can contact us to request information about

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Picture of Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred
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