So now that change is the new normal, how do we lead and manage change?
Disruption is the buzz word everywhere these days – at home and at work. You probably can’t begin to imagine your day without a smart phone, when only as recently as 10 years ago, we connected and engaged very differently. Now look at you! Bets are on you’ve been digitally disrupted!
The sands are shifting
When we consider the shifts in the last 10 years, we can see the disruption is relentless, demanding an unprecedented agility to remain competitive. Chaos has replaced certainty. The businesses failing to survive are the ones not seeing the signals, not adapting or simply not keeping up with the pace of change. Business leaders can no longer look to the past for clues on how to manage the future, let alone the present.
Welcome to the VUCA world
This environment is now often referred to as VUCA (pronounced voo-ka). Whilst this acronym for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity was coined by the US military back in the late 1990’s, it’s increasingly relevant in today’s business context.
Unexpected or unstable circumstances, often of an unknown duration, accelerating the rate of change.
A lack of clarity and predictability around the present situation and future outcomes.
A range of multiple connected parts and variables involved, making ‘joining the dots’ even more difficult.
There are no precedents for what’s happening or for what you plan to do; a lack of clarity around the meaning of an event. This is the place of the ‘unknown unknowns’.
Change is no longer a process
As change influencers, we have new challenges to navigate this VUCA world where change is the new normal. Much of our methodology and practice, up till now, has been based on theoretical change models that define change as having a beginning, middle and an end. For example, Kurt Lewin’s model explains organisational change as a process of unfreezing, changing and refreezing. So what happens when our organisations that are now in a constant state of the ‘middle bit’ with little or no time to refreeze? A defined end state has lost relevance in an environment that’s continuously disrupted.
Change mastery is now demanding a new set of capabilities
In this disruptive environment, fewer CEOs are sponsoring long term, multi-year transformation programs. Shorter, faster iterations are demanding a refresh of our capabilities and approach to how we advise and support change. Our capability toolkit now needs an agile mindset and practice, greater co-creation of change, a deeper understanding of hardwired human behaviour, extreme curiosity and a human-centred design approach to ensure the customer is considered in every element of our change planning.
The practice of change management, as we know it, is being turned on its head.
Where will we land? And how will we know what to do? That, in itself, is part of the uncertainty the VUCA world presents.
This means that we will learn fast, fail fast, make mistakes, we’ll learn as we go, and from each other. Textbook and formal learning will give way to nimble learning through immersion. Now, more than ever before, we will rely on close collaboration with peers and industry networks to share our learnings and experiences in this agile, disruptive world.
One challenge will be letting go of some of the practices that have served us so well for decades, representing a departure from a process-driven approach to a place of uncertainty. However, in adopting different approaches, we don’t want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. There will be times when our conventional artefacts will be useful, and times when they will be a hindrance. The challenge will be knowing what to hang on to, and when and what to let go.
If we look at this through a whimsical lens of digital disruption, one could say the practices of Agile and Change matched on Tinder and decided to keep on dating. And to continue the dating metaphor, this relationship is about to get more serious. These two are going to keep on hanging out together.
So what, now what?
So, when change is no longer a process, are we really ‘managing’ change? Or are we becoming change navigators or transformation consultants? This blog doesn’t intend to address this, but it does provoke thinking about our roles being transformed and the capabilities expected of us.
Either way, in this disruptive, VUCA world, there is a compelling need to self-direct our own learning and challenge ourselves to demonstrate agility in our mindset, behaviours and practice.
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