There was a time when stability was the primary goal for business organizations large and small. Steady growth, predictable earnings and modest modifications to the overall strategic plan comprised the crux of most top executives' core desire for their companies. But with the rapid evolution of our digital age, businesses from all industries have been thrust into an era of amplified global competition, causing leaders to focus more energy on setting their organizations apart.
One thing that is all but guaranteed when a business seeks to differentiate itself is change — and often rapid change, at that.
Something the best business leaders realized quickly was that to achieve effective and lasting change, there must be equal focus dedicated to both the bottom-line impact for the company as well as the internal impact for the organization's personnel.
"Many business leaders think mostly about the bottom line, but very little about what the change means to the people on the front line," explains Jill Santopietro Panall, chief consultant and owner of 21Oak HR. "The changes can crash and burn because there is little internal acceptance. Not thinking about both aspects is a huge mistake."
In today's job descriptions, terms like change management and change leadership are now rivaling the more recognized business skills like strategic thinking, project management and business analysis. That's why we canvassed a panel of business leaders to dig into what these sought-after traits really mean. Keep reading to learn how professionals like you can best position themselves to succeed in today's ever-changing business landscape.
In general, change is about managing the transition from an old way of doing something to a new way, explains Christine Mann, owner and president of Mann Consulting, LLC. "The trick is how people move through the transition," she says. "That is why change management is critical to any business or project where the way people [work] is impacted."
With changes of all kinds in full-force across industries, business leaders must be vigilant in avoiding significant organizational disruption. This is where change management comes in, ensuring that all requirements for a smooth transition are properly operationalized and business personnel are well-prepared to navigate these new waters.
"Things happen so quickly and ideas, plans and processes can become outmoded overnight," Panall says. The rampant evolution of technology alone has an astonishing effect on markets, companies and labor. These factors often times disrupt the comfortable way at which things have long operated.
Panall refers to the age-old axiom: The only thing that is constant is change. "I think that's even truer now, when business and technology changes can happen nearly overnight," she says. "Having the skills to get people to pivot, to embrace new ideas, to constantly reform their teams and refresh themselves to stay nimble are business skills that are rare and important."
In fact, according to a leading insights study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership in 2013, "rapid organizational change" was listed among the top two most important leadership development challenges predicted through 2018.
"Change management as a practice, as a capability and as a human behavior provides a framework for which leaders can be strategic responders without the need to completely adapt something that will continue to morph and transform," explains Cristina Herrera, manager of workplace strategy at Ted Moudis Associates. "The idea of coming to a stopping point — whether as a desired milestone, a project or a business decision — is an unrealistic goal. For this reason, we need to educate professionals in change capabilities and habits that will set [organizations] up for success."
The surprising truth is that two-thirds of large-scale business transformation efforts fail. A leadership team that is well-versed in the principles of change management can greatly increase the odds that their company will be among the one-third that sees success amidst transformation. This includes not only smoothing the transition for those involved, but also getting the entire team onboard with the positive effects of the changes.
"Ignoring change is dangerous. Merely reacting to change is not sufficient. Leveraging change is seizing advantage," urges Mike Russell, strategic advisor at Agile Tectonics, LLC. He believes the ability to change faster than your competitors is what gives organizations an edge in today's market. "The big problem — and opportunity — is that most businesses are built for stability, not agility. The new status quo for success is agility, the ability to easily and elegantly change actions and direction to seize that competitive advantage."
As our panel of business professionals have made abundantly clear, the importance of change management in today's workplace is resolute. So how can up-and-coming professionals position themselves for success in this evolving environment?
"Traditional business skills alone are not preparing leaders to grow and meet the needs of the ever-changing global economy," Herrera divulges. "It is the fusion of traditional business skills, change management capabilities and an understanding of culture and human behavior that will drive our professionals to the next level."
As a professional, the latter two can serve as very attractive places to sell your skills, Mann suggests. "Every industry, every vertical needs strong change management, whether you are changing policy, procedure, technology, organization, process, service or your products," she adds.
She lists the following skills among the most important attributes of change leadership professionals should focus on:
• Excellent communication: The ability to influence and persuade — both verbally and in writing — is critical, as communication is vital to any great change plan.
• Effective organization and planning: The ability to plan and organize strong change tactics and timing to support the vision of your change is imperative.
• Strong interpersonal skills: Part of great change management is the ability to assess and understand advocacy of stakeholder groups up front. Identifying common themes and asking the right questions to better understand resistances is core to identifying effective change mitigation strategies.
• Training and facilitation abilities: The ability to devise strong preparation and training strategies to support the change along with the ability to facilitate such training will give anyone an edge.
• Savvy networking skills: Gaining advocacy and sponsorship to drive change requires strong relationship and networking abilities to drive alliances in support of initiatives.
• Enthusiasm and energy: Getting people rallied around the change is vital to its adoption.
Many of these skills are ones you may already inherently possess. But even if you don't, know that all is not lost. Panall encourages professionals to pursue some formal education in change management. Look for applicable certificate programs or, better yet, an MBA program in which a core focus is on managing change.
Once you've got your foot in the door at a new organization, seek out opportunities to showcase your skills. Volunteer in your company's change efforts, branding yourself as someone who is an influencer in the business, Panall suggests.
"This just means being involved, talking about company issues and ideas with others actively and sharing those thoughts with leaders when genuine insights appear," she explains. If you can synthesize and package information that you have learned into actionable items leaders can digest, you will quickly be viewed as an invaluable member of the team.
Are you looking to secure your place as an irreplaceable asset within your organization from the get-go? As the research and insight of our experts have expressly revealed, becoming well-versed in the tenets of change management can be the secret weapon you need.
If you really want an edge on the competition, take the advice of these business pros and seek out opportunities to advance your education by focusing on change management.
A great way to start is to conduct research on various programs that offer exactly what you're looking for. For more information, visit our article, "5 things you need to know about St. Scholastica's MBA in Leadership & Change."