I’ve recently had the opportunity to do several workshops for the change management community on “The Resilient Change Practitioner.” Here are 10 highlights:
- Change can be difficult when people see it as posing threats to things they value, such as relationships, status, safety, predictability, and the ability to achieve personal goals.
- Change can present positive challenges as well. No matter whether a challenge is positive or negative, it consumes some level of physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual energy.
- When people face multiple overlapping challenges, inside and outside the organization, they may not have enough energy to address everything at once, and they may show signs of overload and stress. These include absenteeism, poor communication, lack of teamwork, increased errors and accidents, and a range of other symptoms.
- Personal resilience enables people to maintain higher levels of performance and well-being during times of turbulence.
- Resilience is a process with multiple elements, not a single personality trait. We all have times when we are more resilient, and times when we are less so, depending on the nature of the challenge we are facing, our previous experiences, our energy levels, and a number of other things.
- Everyone has “resilience muscles” that we use when dealing with difficulties. These muscles can be developed through practice. Just like physical muscles, they are built through cycles of challenge and recovery. You can learn more about these resilience muscles here.
- Every change role can benefit from developing resilience. Although we tend to focus most attention on the participants in change, resilient sponsors and agents are important too!
- Resilience is fueled by physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy. I’ve written a whole series about how organizations can help people build and sustain high energy levels that starts here.
If you’d like to dig into this topic in more detail, check out prosilience.com or read my newest book, Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World. And if you are looking for a speaker or workshop facilitator on organizational change, resilience, or employee well-being, please contact me. I’d love to talk to you!
I started my change management career in 1991, as the research director for ODR, a company founded by Daryl Conner that trained many of the senior change agents practicing today. The tools and concepts developed by ODR, and the ideas proposed in Daryl’s first book Managing at the Speed of Change, have influenced a number of the major change methodologies in the market today, including ProSci’s popular ADKAR model.
In going through my old files, I’ve continued to rediscover models, concepts, and tools that still have value today. In this blog series, I plan to focus each post on one of these elements, with the goal of helping the current generation of change agents continue to build their knowledge.
Some of the material shared here was originally copyrighted by ODR, and I am using it with permission, augmented by my own perspectives and experience.
Today’s Focus: Strategic Risk Areas
One of the models that has continued to stick with me articulates four strategic and four tactical areas of change risk. This model can be helpful in thinking through the areas you most need to focus on in preparing your organization for change.
Strategic Risk Areas: Classic Model
Here’s how the four strategic risk areas were originally articulated:
Critical Areas of Risk When Implementing Strategic Change
- Resilience—not having enough individual, team, or organizational resilience to sustain the change.
- Knowledge—not having managers and employees who understand how change unfolds in organizations.
- Decisions—not having managers who are able or willing to make the tough decisions about how many change projects will be pursued at a given time.
- Architecture—not having managers and employees who can apply the skills, tools, and techniques that permit change to be executed in a disciplined, structured manner.
Quadrant I: Developing Strong Resilience
A person’s baseline level of resilience can be raised by learning concepts and applying techniques that reinforce the five key characteristics of resilient people: being positive, focused, flexible, organized, and proactive. These same attributes are critical to understanding the resilience of teams and organizations.
Quadrant II: Increasing Change Knowledge
Key indicators of general readiness for change are the knowledge and skills people possess regarding the fundamental dynamics of organizational transitions. This kind of change knowledge can be measured by determining the degree to which people have a practical understanding of the structure of change [note: I will address the structure of change model in a future post] and can apply this information to maximizing resilience for themselves and those they manage.
Quadrant III: Managing Assimilation Resources
The capacity an organization has to assimilate change should be treated as any other strategic resource (e.g., capital, technology). In this regard, resources must not be wasted or misused. Instead, it is imperative that the capacity to absorb change be skillfully acquired and carefully protected.
Key decisions involving major change should, therefore, be considered in light of the available assimilation capacity of the organization. When the demands brought on by transitions exceed an organization’s capacity to adequately assimilate them, the changes may occur, but they will be accompanied by costly dysfunctional behavior that reduces the actual value of the final results.
Quadrant IV: Building Implementation Architecture
For each change initiative, there are certain elements from the structure of change that must be managed well for the project to succeed. These unique combinations of elements are called landscapes and can be identified by determining which of the patterns and principles will have the greatest impact on the effort.
Once these key leverage points for a particular change are identified, a specific architecture can be developed that encourages people to:
- Disengage from the present state
- Navigate through the ambiguity of the transition state
- Be motivated and prepared to successfully assimilate the desired state
Linda’s Commentary: Strategic Risk Areas
So often in the world of change management, we focus our attention on one initiative at a time. What I like about this model is that it reminds us that there is work we can do to prepare the organization for whatever changes might come. One of the things you will find if you continue to read my posts is that I have moved away from purely “risk-focused” language to emphasize a balanced perspective on risks and assets/opportunities. With that in mind, here are some of my thoughts on each of the quadrants in this model:
- Developing Strong Resilience When we hire and develop resilient people, and build the resilience of key teams as well as the resilience of the organizational system as a whole, we create a significant competitive advantage by enabling the organization to move more efficiently, effectively, and confidently through every transition. We have continued to refine our understanding of resilience, and our ability to measure and teach it, over the past 25+ years. We’ve incorporated emerging understanding of the brain, advances in positive psychology, and experience in helping people learn to build their change muscles to increase our ability to influence this strategic risk factor.
- Increasing Change Knowledge The more that people throughout the organization know about the predictable patterns in change—how humans typically respond to change, what leaders need to do as they manage change, the natural discomfort that accompanies the unknown and what to do about it, etc., the better prepared they are to succeed when they go through transition. They are able to share a common language, recognize normal emotional responses, identify and perform key change roles effectively, and collaborate to achieve results. I have observed that many organizations include change leadership training at executive and middle-management levels. There is somewhat less focus on building change knowledge at supervisory and front-line levels. When a large change is underway, it presents a great opportunity to provide education that will both help people navigate that transition and prepare them for additional changes.
- Managing Assimilation Resources The idea that people have a limited supply of energy and that too many changes can overwhelm them and lead to stress and burnout is not new. Many good practices have been developed to evaluate the impact of changes and gather data to help leaders make informed decisions about how much change the organization can absorb. What I have not seen, however, is much increase in the willingness of leaders to make the tough decisions to actually reduce the change load they are placing on the organization. I have recently written several blog series on related topics, including change overload, energy sustainability, and evaluating energy demands.
- Building Implementation Architecture This is probably the area that has come the farthest over the past few decades. Many organizations have built or adopted some form of change management methodology to standardize their approach to implementing major initiatives. Training in change management tools and models is readily available.
There is still work to be done in this area. Even the best implementation approach will fail if leaders delegate to implementation teams the things they should be doing themselves, such as high-stakes communication, modeling new ways of operating, and holding people accountable for shifting their mindsets and behaviors. Many change agents are doing significant work on initiatives without much relief from a full-time “day job.” And the experience and wisdom that allows change teams to tailor their approach to the specific landscape of the situation at hand takes time to develop.
To read the next installment in this series, click here.
Prosilience is about intentionally building the capability to deal with a range of challenges, including those that come with organizational change. If you are a leader or change agent in your organization, here are 5 things you can do to promote prosilience at work:
- Step outside of the focus on one change initiative at a time and think about how you are building “resilience muscles” for whatever challenges people might encounter. How might you use employee development processes to build knowledge and skill about dealing with change and adversity?
- Intentionally use change initiatives as a “learning lab” for how to deal with disruption and uncertainty. This involves recognizing “teaching moments” and pausing to reflect and using after-action reviews to increase awareness and skill for future changes.
- Coach leaders to display effective responses when they are under stress. Recognize the power of role modeling and use it to help people see and try new behaviors during periods of discomfort and challenge.
- Share positive examples. Notice when people are taking action to build their readiness for challenge, capture the stories, and spread them within the organization. Invite people to talk about their own “best practices” for increasing their own resilience.
Build a common language. Create a shared model of the elements that help people respond effectively to change and other challenges. As an example, Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World outlines four building blocks of resilience: Calming Yourself, Selecting Effective Strategies, Solving Problems, and Building and Sustaining Energy. A framework such as this can be used to structure conversations, organize resources, and design training to help people maximize their prosilience.
Experienced leaders know that people have a finite supply of energy and that in the face of too many energy demands people begin to lose productive capability and may display unproductive behaviors related to stress and overload. They also know that energy levels rise when people feel engaged and involved and fall when people feel controlled and victimized.
As you prepare to introduce a new initiative to a group of people that will require them to make changes in their mindsets and/or behaviors, it can be helpful to estimate energy demands and match them against the group’s available energy. If overload seems likely, you can decide whether to slow things down, reduce competing demands, or revise your approach.
Use the following questions to evaluate the energy demands of an initiative. Start by identifying the various groups who will be affected; the answers may differ by group. Then gather a small group of people who are familiar with the requirements of the initiative to discuss these questions. For each question, agree on a rating using a scale ranging from 1=none to 10=extremely high.
- Physical Energy: How physically demanding will this initiative be? Take into account the need to lift and move things, stay awake for long periods of time, endure discomfort and physical risk, and any negative impact on healthy physical habits (nutrition, hydration, movement, etc.)
- Mental Energy: How mentally demanding will this initiative be? Take into account the need to learn new ways of doing things, concentrate and focus attention, oversee complex processes, solve problems, and deal with high levels of distraction.
- Emotional Energy: How emotionally demanding will this initiative be? Take into account the level of difficult feelings people are likely to experience (including worry, anger, sadness, fear, uncertainty, and loneliness) as well as the need to deal with other emotional challenges such as tough interpersonal situations, harm to friends, family, and co-workers, a lack of social support, and a negative workplace climate.
- Spiritual Energy: How spiritually demanding will this initiative be? Take into account potential challenges to personal values and integrity, the loss of elements that are related to a personal sense of purpose or identity, and obstacles that people might face in trying to do what is right or fair.
- Other Energy Demands: To what extent are other sources of energy drain present, including lack of control or involvement in initiative planning, a sense of being treated unfairly, a history of unsuccessful change, or anything else you can anticipate that is likely to cause the initiative to be particularly demanding.
It’s also helpful to look at the energy boosters that may accompany the initiative. Here are some questions to help you think about these. Use the same 10-point scale as you did before:
- Physical Energy: To what extent will people experience higher levels of physical well-being during or as a result of the initiative?
- Mental Energy: To what extent will people experience higher levels of mental energy (learning valuable skills, solving interesting problems, being able to focus and concentrate) during or as a result of the initiative?
- Emotional Energy: To what extent will people experience higher levels of emotional energy (greater happiness, increased self-awareness, stronger relationships) during or as a result of the initiative?
- Spiritual Energy: To what extent will people experience higher levels of spiritual energy (greater alignment with personal values, contributing to a larger cause, personal growth) during or as a result of the initiative?
- Other Energy Boosters: To what extent are other positive sources of energy present, including high levels of engagement, contributing to important organizational outcomes, the opportunity to be seen as a positive example, or anything else you can anticipate that is likely to cause the initiative to be particularly energizing.
Add up your ratings for the 5 Energy Demand questions, and your ratings for the 5 Energy Booster questions, and compare them. You can use this data along with the qualitative information that came from discussing the questions to decide if you need to change anything about how you are implementing the initiative.
For more information on how organizations can create human energy sustainability, download the free Fueling Resilience ebook.