Mastering Change as a Core Competency in Your Organisation

By Atkinson, Philip | Management Services, Autumn 2017 | Go to article overview

Mastering Change as a Core Competency in Your Organisation


Atkinson, Philip, Management Services


Assume change implementation is easy

Just imagine that you have developed internal capability to manage the majority of change projects that you need to implement in the next five years. What impact would that have on your organisational performance, growth, the culture and the external strains and stresses you are currently undergoing? Suppose your staff were sufficiently competent, developed and skilled to manage resistance to change, plan and implement complex projects and deal with dissatisfied customers, over-controlling stakeholders and resistant and difficult staff. Further, focus on the benefits of not having to employ expensive external consultancy groups, interims and business experts, because you could trust that all your people are able deal with all this as part of 'business as usual' rather than having to rely on the same few enthusiasts. Consider using the Acceptance Curve to assess your current capability for change.

Developing acceptance of change as the norm

Now consider the profile of the typical business. This may not be totally true for you but this is accurate for larger organisations that need to bring about huge changes in how they operate. For every 100 people you employ, you will be very lucky if you have two or three really outstanding staff members who are drawn to deal enthusiastically with complex problems. They are exceptional people who I would term 'change champions' and will willingly seek, initiate and take on new projects and portray strong leadership skills. You may also have an additional 2-4 people who we could class as 'early adaptors' who, seeing how the 'change champions' work, are willing to get absorbed in the process. If you are lucky, you will have a further 4-6 'late adaptors' who are willing to be involved in projects but not with the same intensity as their aforementioned colleagues. Perhaps if you are lucky you can rely on about 10 people out of every hundred to take some responsibility for leading change.

To complete the people equation, where do the vast majority lie? We have found that most organisations will have a vast majority of people who are 'fence sitters' who are waiting for things to happen, rather than enthusiastically rolling up their sleeves and getting stuck in. They are neither hot nor cold to change initiatives. They have reason to feel the way they do. These are good people but many of them will not be as optimistic as others and seeing change through to the end because they have some history and some baggage of change not working in the past. You have to convince them that this time you are serious about implementing change.

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, the 'fence sitters' will account for 4075% of staff with a further 10% being cynical and not wanting to be involved, see themselves as victims or casualties of previous change initiatives and not actively, but passively, resisting change. These unbothered 'resistors' may also be joined by some small numbers of remaining staff being classed as 'apathetics', who demonstrate little positive intent towards the change.

As you can see, this is neatly outlined in diagram one above. The horizontal axis depicts acceptance of change with the origin of the two axes being depicted as 'high acceptance' extending across to the right depicting 'slow acceptance of change'.

What is the purpose of using the acceptance curve?

The strategy to grow 'change competency' requires us to shift the various categories one or two spaces to the left on the Acceptance Curve. This means 'resistors and 'apathetics' become more open and their role in change and their allegiance changes to become 'fence sitters' - who in turn move further to the left to join the change activists in the three top layers.

This move only happens if you commit to developing staff to make that transition. We need to win acceptance to change faster. This starts with development to move the groups across (see diagram) from right to left so that we create willing, competent staff at all levels committed to seeing through and implementing change when and where required. …

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