There are many factors which contribute towards an organisation’s ability to change. Whatever factors are relevant to your organisation, trying to improve your ability to land sustainable change from within starts by establishing clarity for your specific organisation (now and in the foreseeable future) on what will contribute towards your ability to make successful change happen. We call this ability your change capability.
A change capability is a catch-all phrase that encompasses many aspects of your organisation that contribute towards your ability to successful identify, deliver, sustain and benefit from change. What precisely is in that capability will depend on your specific needs and the types of changes that your organisation is – or plans to – undertake.
This definition is correct but perhaps not very helpful. A more helpful definition starts by exploring what is typically within a change capability. We work with many organisations and through our experience we have built up a model of the core elements of a change capability. This is a rich and broad model, and so in this post I am only going to touch on the main components to give a sense of what it includes.
Six key themes
There are six main themes to consider when thinking about change capability:
- Ensuring there is a reliable link from your strategy, through to the change initiatives you are running, and from them into the changes being implemented in your business.
- Providing the right leadership, under which change can thrive.
- Constructing prioritised portfolios of change initiatives, best aligned to strategy and taking account of the organisation’s capability to deliver.
- Orchestrating individual change initiatives, making sure that they are guided through the complex process of delivery and navigating the risks that may occur on the way.
- Providing sufficient capacity of the various capabilities that are required to design and deliver change.
- Using the most appropriate ways of driving change, taking account of the nature of the outcomes you are trying to achieve, and your change maturity as an organisation.
At its heart, a change capability builds from your people. Firstly, there are the people who are involved in orchestrating and delivering change into your organisation. This typically includes people with roles such as project managers, scrum masters, change managers – and can also include those who help to design and built the enablers for change, such as IT systems. In that case the change capability also includes roles like architects, business analysts, solutions designers, coders, testers and so forth.
The first factor in the effectiveness of your change capability is whether this group has the range of capabilities required to deliver change, and whether it has sufficient capacity across these people to drive your change agenda forward at sufficient pace. Sometimes organisations confuse a lack of capacity with a lack of capability, and vice versa. It is important not to, as the solution to insufficient capability is different from insufficient capacity.
You can think of this broad group as your professional staff who help drive change. Of course, you do not need to employ these staff, as you may work with a range of partner organisations to provide the capability and capacity you need. As such, another important aspect of your change capability is the way you leverage partners in your change initiatives.
Change rarely just involves these specialist skills. There is an aspect of change which involves everyone in the organisation. Now more than ever, everyone, in every role, is subject to change. Therefore, the next aspect of your change capability is how mature your organisation is in adopting change. We meet organisations with very sophisticated and experienced change practitioners across the whole organisation, but we also have clients whose change skills are limited and whose staff struggle to adopt to change.
There is a third key group of people whose skills form part of your change capability, and this is your management and leadership hierarchy. Are they able to steer their teams and create the environment in which change thrives? The way the organisation’s leadership shape and respond to change personally, and the way in which they support their teams going through change, are critical aspects of your ability to change successfully.
So, to some extent everyone in the organisation is part of the change capability. For some it is their full-time professional role, whilst for others it is one aspect of their roles which also require focus on many other things such as operational performance, and the day-to-day running of the organisation.
Ways of working
But a change capability is not just about people. It is also about your ways of working. One of the most obvious examples of this lies in the processes, methods and tools you use to shape, govern, deliver and embed change in the organisation. Do you have robust and reliable delivery methods? Are they the right ones for you, reflecting your change maturity and ambition? Do you have flexible and dependable approaches towards delivering change? Do you have a governance framework that is flexible and light touch allowing empowered staff to move ahead with change without excessive oversight, whilst at the same time giving the degree of direction and control to those initiatives that need it?
There are many aspects to your change capability that build from such ways of working. One of the challenges is to capture into your ways of working proven, repeatable and standardised ways of working, whilst at the same time enabling the inherent flexibility required to deliver all the different aspects of a change portfolio.
Finally, your change capability is a reflection of your organisation’s culture. Put simply there are cultures that encourage and enable change, and there are cultures than stifle change. Often, one of the most important aspects of a changing organisation is trying to engender a culture which facilitates change and move away from one that blocks it. This needs great care though, because often those aspects of the organisation which seem to inhibit change have other valuable roles – such as supporting stable operational performance. It is a good example of why looking at your change capability should be done from a holistic viewpoint rather than considering it alone.
Having read this you may be thinking that this sounds far too complex and all encompassing. If a change capability is this broad and this interwoven into other aspects of the organisation isn’t there a risk that it is simply too complicated to improve? We have a lot of sympathy for this perspective but think there are ways to understand and improve your change capability without having to change everything in your organisation.
In most organisations there are strong and weaker aspects of the change capability. A sensible place to start to understand and then be able to improve your change capability is through a structured assessment. This normally takes the form of assessing your change capability against a defined model and from that clearly identifying your areas of strength and weakness. This in turn then can be used to develop a prioritised improvement plan.
Worth the investment?
Such improvement plans are rarely implemented over night, and usually take several months (occasionally years) of focused work. But it is undoubtedly worth the investment and, as every organisation faces into a future of constant change driven by rapidly evolving digital technology, in-house change capability is increasingly crucial. Indeed, the very best organisations in this regard benefit from such an advanced change capability that it constantly adapts and improves as the needs of change evolve.