Looking back, 2020 and much of 2021 have been a red flag for how much and how quickly change can happen. But they were also a warm-up for what lies ahead – not necessarily another pandemic with multiple variations, of course, but a stream of every stripe imaginable.
The future will be not be more stable or certain. The future – whether it’s this afternoon, next week, next quarter, next year, or next decade – is now defined by more uncertainty, more unpredictability and more unknowns. Individually, we wonder (and often worry) about our jobs, our well-being and the future of our children. Organizationally, we are grappling with the disruption of the business model, digital transformation and the Great Resignation. Societally, we are facing unprecedented changes in our climate, economies, demographics, and political systems (to name a few). These changes and their effects will multiply and intersect.
As a futurist, I spend much of my time helping businesses, leaders and teams make sense of the forces shaping the future and prepare responsibly. The goal is not to predict the future (which is a futile quest), but rather to be ready for many possible future that could unfold. In this role, working and traveling in over 100 countries for over 25 years, I have seen time and again how each organization struggles with change in different ways. However, there is hope for organizations planning to anticipate change.
The time to prepare for change is not when it hits. It is before it strikes, and during periods of relative calm. Responding to change in the moment keeps you on the defensive forever, and the consequences can be serious. You can’t see where the future is heading because your attention is absorbed in dodging the next curve ball. This exposes your organization to unnecessary risk and overlooks new opportunities. It’s a recipe for frustration and lagging performance at best, collapse at worst.
While it can be difficult to find the “right time” to prepare for change, there are a myriad of ways to start. Here are four steps leaders can take to prepare their organizations to thrive in constant change.
Perform a “change audit”
Holistic assessment of your organization’s readiness for an ever-changing world lays the foundation for a future whose only steady state is more change, but few leaders do it consistently. A change audit seeks to bring clarity on several levels.
First, where is change hitting hardest in the life of your organization, industry, team and clients? It’s easy to compartmentalize changes into specific departments or functions, but often missing out on key dynamics and interdependencies that can make change easier to assess moving forward. Clearly determine which departments or functions are consistently more change-ready than others: who has excelled in the past 18 months and why?
Second, what kinds of changes are the most difficult? Humans tend to love the changes we make (a new job, relationship, or haircut) and fear or resist changes we can’t control (layoffs, breakup, or health concerns). These dynamics often transfer to the workplace, with disproportionate implications.
Finally, what are your organization’s obstacles to successfully managing change? Common candidates include:
- Team exhaustion and / or anxiety: It is more difficult to assess uncertainty when we are exhausted. When we are tired, we are more likely to develop tunnel vision and to feel anxious.
- Lack of confidence: When change happens, trust will take you further than any other single resource. Consider: Who do you turn to when you don’t know what to do? To your relationships of trust. And do you trust all employees to act in the best interests of the organization and defend its values at work and in life?
- A culture of “just with that”: Are all levels of the organization (including top management) not only authorized, but encouraged show themselves fully, including when they feel vulnerable? When things don’t go as planned, is it seen as a loss or a learning opportunity?
- Insufficient metrics: The ability to navigate change goes far beyond dollars and cents. For example, how much is exhaustion or reliability worth? They do not appear in any budget line, but they are invaluable. Where and how do you explain such things? In an ever-changing world, metrics need to go beyond short-term benchmarks of productivity and quarterly returns.
Ideally, a change audit includes the contribution of all talent in an organization, from the most experienced executive to the most recent. Not only does this underscore an inclusive culture, but the point is that everyone has a unique wisdom and perspective when it comes to change.
Put the mindset before the strategy
Too often, leaders assume that change can be “managed” and controlled, like in a vacuum. Books on change management abound and fuel this narrative. But in today’s changing world, managing change is insufficient. Leaders should start with their mentality about change.
Navigating change well is both an art and a science. It takes the right strategy and the right mindset. If your mindset is set on change and you’ve become comfortable with it, then you can’t help but see every change – good or bad, big or small, expected or unwanted – as an opportunity. growth and improvement.
Yet many leaders are reversing this dynamic. Mindset guides strategy, not the other way around. Likewise, human relationships for change develop and manifest from the inside out. This is what I call a “flow state of mind”. When leaders and employees can open a flow mindset, that attitude and enthusiasm for improving one’s relationship to change can become part of organizational culture. A flow mindset can manifest itself in a number of ways, from the way we talk about change to how talent strategy, policies and priorities are set. Leaders play a key role in signaling that mindset matters.
Clarify and reassess who is responsible for preparing for change in your organization
In recent years, some organizations have established the role of a change leader. In most cases, this takes place in the context of digital transformation: A change manager is responsible for overseeing a company’s transition to digital business operations, services and online presence. At the same time, we can expect a series of other CXOs to make changes to their respective portfolios and domains. CEOs, COOs, CHROs, CTOs, Chiefs Innovation Officers, Chief Insights Officers, and Chief Culture Officers are also among those responsible for “change” (although you might be hard pressed to find a common definition among them). Worse yet, some companies appoint a change manager, which is little more than a marketing stunt.
But in a changing world like the one we will be in for the foreseeable future, the role of a change leader takes on new meaning. and new emergency. It is no longer defined in relation to how other roles evolve, nor limited to a function, a department, a project or an end goal.
Depending on the size of your organization, it may be time to add a Master Change Navigator whose cross-functional role is dedicated to helping the entire organization prepare for a future marked by change. The design and mandate of the role are guided by the principles of change and, as such, are intended to evolve over time. Required features include:
- Nested, not in silo: A Chief Change Navigator has a clear connection to organizational culture and acts as the connective tissue between a myriad of changes affecting an organization. As such, it is nestled between the C suite, HR, culture manager, and board and is responsible for guiding and advising these functions.
- Clear but fluid responsibilities: The Chief Change Navigator is like an internal futurist whose role is to prepare the organization for a largely unknown future. (This includes factors that could speed up, surprise, overwhelm or even destroy the business, but which go beyond day-to-day operations.) Part of this role is to lead a scenario-mapping process that strengthens organizational readiness for a range of issues. possible futures and to create an internal community with these skills.
- Talent-oriented and forward-looking: A primary change navigator helps all employees develop their flow mindset and improve their relationship to change.
Integrate and integrate “fluidity” into the organizational culture
At the broadest level, truly thriving in constant change means putting change at the heart of what you do. It means a change in mindset, assumptions and expectations. Rather than feeling stressed, anxious, or undocked when the change occurs, you are ready for it. Instead of chasing an illusion of control, you clearly know what really matters.
As “some uncertainty” becomes the norm, leaders will have many ways to significantly improve their approaches to change. Updating organizational mission statements and cultural values to reflect a changing world is a good place to start. But the integration of flow into organizational culture must be grounded in actions, standards and practices over time.
Reward employees for their plasticity as they forge new solutions and new ways of being instead of just trying to bounce back from setbacks. Promote the state of mind as much as the management. Empower employees who can deal with uncertainty, trust what it can teach them, and guide others to key information. This way, when change does occur, rather than looking to worst case scenarios by default, employees will have developed the practice of asking themselves: what is the best thing that can happen?
We have before us a new set of opportunities – and a new urgency – to navigate the change well. Executives and businesses must radically reshape their relationship to uncertainty in order to maintain a healthy and productive outlook. As we envision a future in which the only “steady state” is another change, it’s time to open up your flow mindset, improve the “flow capacity” of your organization, and prepare for it. thrive in constant change.