“The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.” — Mark Twain
Twain may be right. Yet, navigating change is essential for effective leadership. Every leader has a choice: proactively initiate pre-emptive change or react to change inducing events. Change management is reactive, cued by movement in a business’s operating environment. Movement can be external (customer expectations, alternative offerings, new competitors, economic factors) or internal to the company (employee expectations, owners/shareholders expectations, changing operational efficiency or effectiveness). Change leadership is proactive. Leaders and their teams continually monitor motion in the operating environment within and outside the organization, observing cues and clues that help anticipate their need to evolve.
Change leadership requires organizational agility, which means leaders and team members:
- Are attuned to continually evolving conditions within their business.
- Monitor subtle, gradual, rapid or event-driven shifts in the external operating environment.
- Infer implications of environmental dynamics for their business.
- Adapt and adjust activities, resource allocation and operating models as conditions change.
- Recognize change leadership is not an overlay to the business; it is the business.
McKinsey describes the agile organization as one which “demonstrates the ability to quickly reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people, and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities.” Agile organizations are both stable and dynamic at the same time.
Consider companies like Amazon, Meta, Google or JP Morgan Chase. In the words of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky, they skate to where the puck (or the business) is going. Agility enables change leadership. It provides a foundation for leaders to build upon in developing the next chapter in an organizations story.
Developing your organization’s agility requires leaders to:
- Recognize the benefits of agility.
- Practice the observer view (if I were a neutral third-party observer, what would catch my attention as a possible change indicator?).
- Co-own identification of cues and clues prompting pre-emptive change with team members.
- Integrate gathering and interpreting environmental change indicators and identification of opportunities for pre-emptive change into business-as-usual activities.
- Own change leadership.
Where is your business today?
Here is a list of questions you and your team can use to foster conversation about your business’s current level of agility, and inform next steps to raise organizational agility:
- How do we rate (high, medium, low) our company’s level of agility today? In other words, how quickly do we reconfigure strategy, structure, processes, people and technology toward value-creating and value-protecting opportunities as conditions in our operating environment change?
- Which companies in our industry (or outside) demonstrate a high level of agility?
- What differences do we see between our company and the most agile companies?
- How does our company’s current level of agility impact our customer experience?
- How does our company’s current level of agility impact our employee experience?
- What risks are associated with our company’s current level of agility?
- What would need to change at our company to rate your agility higher?
Effective change leadership requires creating and sustaining broad buy-in across stakeholders, inspiring participation in the transformation at hand, inviting co-ownership of tactics and maintaining focus. Developing your company’s organizational agility is a powerful step in elevating change leadership acumen.
Dave Coffaro is a strategic management consultant specializing in guiding businesses in navigating change. As principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, he works with services firms to accelerate growth and generate more favorable economics. His most recent book is Leading from Zero: Seven Essential Elements to Earning Relevance.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.