Leading change in today’s world is not the same as it was in the past. When the environment was more stable, organizations were less global, workforces less diverse and management more control-oriented, planning and executing change was easier, more linear and slower. We were able to plan changes better and execute action steps across time without many parts of the organization changing. Project management structures worked well, in-depth data collection and diagnosis were common and we often needed to focus on re-stabilizing after change.
However, now change occurs more continuously, with greater uncertainty and faster. This leads to needs to approach change less incrementally, more rapidly, more cyclically (with act, learn, adapt cycles) and with higher levels of engagement across stakeholders affected for commitment and sustainability.Complexity means numerous, inter-connected parts that make up a whole set of patterns and dynamics. We can’t know all that’s going on nor how systems will react to external or internal changes. As all has sped up, it creates greater ambiguity and uncertainty and the need for us to use some experimentation in learning what‘s going on and adapting cyclical actions for change.
With highly complex systems, we often need to start with some actions to learn from the dynamics and shifts, in order to further plan change strategies. Our understanding of the organization system may be based in old assumptions, so we need ways to re-learn what is current and present. We need to be more inclusive with stakeholders so people can self-manage, learn and take actions. We also need to work faster in response to environment demands and in proactive ways to anticipate and lead needed innovations, in a changing world.
Organizations and their leaders will need to develop change capability internally (in people and infrastructure), use relationships and influence to engage stakeholders and partner with them in learning quicker adaptation as systems and conditions change. This change capability is becoming the number one competency needed in today’s world. Organizations need collective, engaged mind and skill sets to all work together in monitoring what’s changing, needed responses and coordinated, action-taking.
Most of the change fundamentals we have used for decades are still true and useful, but must be utilized differently in a different context, more rapidly and more simultaneously. Systems thinking and socio and technical aspects of organizations need to be worked on jointly and all affected parties need to be engaged. Change cycles (such as endings, transitions and new beginnings) are still real and readiness, motivation and commitment are still important in human systems change. The concept of critical mass in social system change is still relevant, but we need to accelerate how we get to that critical mass more rapidly.
Leaders are critical in how change gets envisioned, positioned and led. Some specific aspects of leadership are more central in this new world, including relationship development, presence, influence, systemic thinking and reflective action. Leaders need to be the connectors among resources that are needed for fast-paced learning and change. Leaders can provide the help, support and motivation to proceed through difficult, uncertain changes.