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Responding to change in a VUCA world

Posted on from Changeboard

In this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, the gap between the magnitude of change and the ability of organisations to manage it continues to widen. How can you close it? Changeboard's roundtable for HR directors discusses.

Managing change

The Making Change Work study, carried out by IBM, surveyed 1,400 people responsible for creating, designing or implementing change across their organisations. Just 20% of respondents said they were successful at managing change while only 40% felt they had the right skills in place to successfully manage change projects in the future.

According to Andi Britt, partner for IBM’s European Change & Workforce Practice, today’s organisations are more like living organisms than machines, so human capital management practices must change to reflect this.

“You need to engage the skills and insights of the entirety of your workforce in order to make effective change,” Britt told delegates at Changeboard’s latest roundtable for HR directors, held in November under the Chatham House Rule.

“So rapid information about the workforce is essential to help make decisions on how we hire, retain and develop our people.”

Focus on the individual

HR directors plan to help their staff live and thrive in a VUCA world and what mechanisms, if any, they were using to engage people on the journey.

“It’s difficult to help people understand what change really means if you can’t paint a picture of the future, so you need to link it up to what the change will mean for them,” offered one delegate.

There was a general consensus among the group that making the employee proposition more focused on the individual rather than relying on the power of a brand is key to achieving this.

“Self-affirmed hubris was once normal in our recruitment and onboarding process,” admitted one delegate. “It was all about saying how amazing we were. So we’re working on changing that.”

All new employees are now required to undertake a two-day induction process at this particular organisation, with the second day solely focused on the individual. “We want to equip individuals with the tools to manage themselves and ensure they are responsible and resilient given the pace of change that we are facing.”

Another member of the group pointed out that a fundamental re-work of the recruitment process has helped to reduce attrition.

“It used to be a ‘bums on seats’ mentality. We did not pay enough attention to the quality of managers in bringing in the right people so we’ve focused on developing them. It’s involved investment but has given us a huge opportunity to engage with the whole workforce.”

Personalised development opportunities

One delegate described how their organisation has transformed the way its employees view training through a collaborative approach. The company introduced a new learning management system four years ago and struggled to get people to use it as 98% of the content was mandatory.

“Back then, just 400 of our 8,000 employees would log into it on a monthly basis.” But, by focusing more content on personal development, this resulted in a 50% adoption rate. Of that 50%, half access the learning system on their personal mobile device.

“If you say ‘there’s stuff there for you’, you’ll immediately increase engagement,” said the delegate, pointing out that social platforms can help you build a conversation and ultimately encourage adoption.

For all delegates, an ability to tap into employees’ personal motivations is a key differentiator in driving change. “We recently put 70% of our employees through a two-day learning programme with an external consultant to help them understand their personal compass and what motivates them. It has resulted in a 15% promotion rate.”

Multigenerational employees

Yet another participant argued that, in certain industries, such as media, which require fast-paced digital skill sets, it may be difficult for older workers to keep up, and expressed concern over whether some older workers have the skills and capabilities for tomorrow’s world of work.

Britt felt that in today’s changing world, perhaps the answer lies in your ability to reinvent yourself. “It’s not about age but rather having the aptitude to realise that the skills that have got you to where you are today won’t get you to tomorrow,” he said. 

“We’ve reframed our employee value proposition to address this,” explained another group member. “So if you come and work for us, we’ll give you x,y,z but in return, you have to keep your skills current.”

The group felt that McDonald’s was a great example of a company that has done particularly well in driving engagement among a multigenerational workforce. Having over-50s in teams with teenagers meant the younger workers could learn from them, beyond practical skills. “Those young people have affinity with someone who’s like their grandparent,” pointed out one delegate.

Leadership capability

Having the right leaders in place was another key component in driving change. “If you have leaders who know your people, that’s the key,” said one delegate.

Indeed, 73% of respondents in IBM’s research said that enabling top managers to act as ‘change leaders’ is a fundamental requirement for success in any change initiative.

These leaders, Britt explained, must act as role models, setting a credible and meaningful example of what is expected of others in leading, managing and embracing successful change.

The group also highlighted the importance of communication and ensuring everyone in the organisation has a voice. And the role of HR, they felt, is sometimes about educating the leadership about when to get involved.

“Senior leaders sometimes need to hold back and let people voice their opinions. Listening to employees is not rocket science.”

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