Enterprise Change Management can help us better prepare for an uncertain future

    Sep 11, 2020 | Posted by Stuart Watson

    Would it help if we had a crystal ball? If we did, it would probably be murky: Building resilience in the face of unprecedented change. How could Enterprise Change Management (ECM) help us better prepare for an uncertain future?

    Many of us, who are now no longer commuting to an office every day, have spent the last few months running through a series of thoughts about the (cue a tired phrase) future world of work. Other themes that appear with increasing regularity include:

    • ‘the world beyond Covid-19’
    • ‘the new normal’
    • optimising the productivity of your remote workforce’

    There are a whole lot more.

    Supporting people through change

    As change management practitioners, our starting point at CMC South Africa is the consideration of what needs to be done to better equip and support people as they come to terms with the changes they are facing.

    Whilst these are unprecedented times, it is possible to see what we are going through now as just another change, and therefore, the basic principles should apply, namely:

    1. The individual human being is the ‘unit of change’.

    2. Individuals, and their collectives (teams, departments, organisations) require support and guidance through the change process, in order to adopt the behaviour required to ensure sustainability.

    3. The application of a structured approach to change is required to drive this change process and helps to reduce the anxiety people feel when confronted by change.

    4. The adoption of new behaviours should be linked to a set of business benefits, and the future behaviour we are striving to actualise will move the organisation forward towards a better future.

    And therefore, we should start by applying a structured process to guide individuals through change, and that should be sufficient right to guide us into the unknown right?

    Coming to terms with the unknown

    However, if what we are going through is the biggest global pandemic in 100 years, and the impact on economies and societies is greater than the last crisis in recent memory (the Global Financial Crisis of 2008) then adopting a new behaviour, or simply adapting, just doesn’t seem to be enough.

    Perhaps we are staring in to a murky crystal ball, and we are ‘unconsciously incompetent’ about what the future holds for us; if so, then I would like to suggest that unprecedented, somewhat unknown change, requires a different, deeper, and more sustainable approach.

    So, what do we do (read on for more questions)

    It strikes me that we are faced with two main challenges right now:

    1. Surviving the immediate crisis

    2. Preparing to face the uncertain future

    Coming to terms with the immediate crisis requires ensuring that people are suitably equipped to keep moving forward, and would include obvious things like:

    • Do they have sufficient hardware (down to comfortable, ergonomic office setting, sufficient bandwidth to remain in contact, join virtual meetings) ?
    • Do they have access to psycho-social support as they come to terms with the changing work and family dynamics, and the inevitable pressure that this will bring?
    • Do they have flexible framework of practical tools that they know how to use when required to adapt to the opening/closing of economies as virus spikes rise and fall?

    The continuing delivery of operational and strategic change during this phase will require:

    • Continued focus on following a structured change management process, ADKAR for example
    • Ensuring that the appropriate levels of sponsorship are in place to actively support and drive the change
    • Resistance is being managed, and that we begin to contemplate the importance of sustainability throughout the journey.

    Although we would like to suggest that preparing for an uncertain future requires something a bit different though. Maybe what we need is resilience – the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, display toughness, keep our upper lips stiff? That should do it. The End. Or is it?

    Exhibiting resilience in the face of a crisis is a good thing, and we would have to argue that it is better than the alternative, whatever not being resilient looks like. What could that be – In his book entitled ‘Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder’, celebrated author Nassim Nicholas Taleb suggests that "Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better".

    It would be hard to do justice to the depth of thinking which underpins this statement in a brief blog post, but the idea of something beyond resilience is enthralling.

    In our day-to-day work settings, the immediate thought which springs to mind is the need to build change management capability in all individuals throughout the organisation, so that organisations can adopt and benefit from more change faster; an organisation has a higher level of change maturity. This journey to higher organisational change maturity Prosci call Enterprise Change Management (ECM).

    Parting thoughts

    Shall we all invest in the ECM journey and then all will be fine? Maybe, however – according to Prosci’s Best Practices research, the number one success factor for change is active and visible sponsorship by senior executives. So, if building something beyond resilience sounds appealing, the initiative needs to begin with demonstrable support from, and personal involvement by, the leadership who will be responsible for driving this new future for everyone in the organisation.

    If you would like to know more about ECM, or the Prosci change management methodology, take a look here, or watch at some of our on-demand webinars.

    Topics: change management, Resistance Management