Change competency

Every organization is different. Each and every business has its own fingerprint, so to speak. What this means is that the skills and competencies that you find in one organization may be entirely missing in another, and vice versa, it is all part of the culture. Change-competent procedures are, in simple terms, the ability of an organization to immediately and effectively alter course to match the needs of internal or external forces for change.

Nowadays, and in the case of COVID-19, an external factor for change, most organizations need to become knowledgeable and ready to manage decentralized teams. Click HERE to learn more about that.

Today, I’d like to discuss the nature of change-readiness in an organization, more specifically, the tell-tale signs of change competency.

Whether a change is expected or unexpected, these simple but effective descriptions will describe the nature of an organization that handles change well. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, these points may translate into great additions to your job descriptions and duties.

We are going to separate the organizational tiers of a company (CEO, Managers, Operations, etc.) and describe the nature of change competent roles and actions that each of these tiers should become accustomed to in order to shift the organizational culture to one of change-readiness.

To prepare an organization for change, both now and in the future, you must ensure that each and every person recognizes the specific duties to perform and mindset to develop, relative to their position within the company, to make change effortless and natural.

Here are the broken-down duties of every managerial level that will, collectively, cause an organization to be more change-competent as a whole.

CEO/Executives (Strategic)

It is commonly known that a large organizational shift of any kind should be a result of top-down thinking, management, and enforcement. That is to say, once executives and other key players of influence are on board with change, it becomes much easier to influence the nature of an organization.

Most of the barriers to change are caused by two main factors: One of which is employee resistance, the other is executive (or top-managerial) resistance.

The executive tier is the most important piece of the change-competency puzzle. Due to the top-down influence I mentioned earlier, executives have the power and influence to regularly alter company procedures and systems.

Executives must be willing to remain open-minded and consider new ideas. No executive knows more (or better) than the combination of thoughts and experience found in their teams.

Executives must constantly be on the lookout for ways to improve the profitability and growth of their organization by reacting (or acting) to market forces. This seems obvious enough, sure, but an executive must consider the implementation of change from the perspective of effective leadership and sponsorship.

The reason an organization should react (or act) to market conditions is an important distinction. Organizations that only react put themselves in danger of being caught in a change-averse state. Change-aversion is the state of an organization that cannot effectively and efficiently adapt to varying market conditions, and risk lots of time and money because of it.

Organizations that are vigilant and ready to act at all times, despite whether internal or external forces are pressing, become much more ready to handle change before it becomes a difficult and time-sensitive issue.

Think of it this way: Organizations that actively seek ways to improve, despite the immediate necessity of those improvements, develop best-practices among an industry. This is because they are inherently innovative and naturally change-competent. However, organizations that only change when change is forced upon them usually hang on by coat-strings.

The importance of executive sponsorship is not to be understated. In fact, having a reliable and driven sponsor for change (required at the executive level) is a great way to ensure proper enforcement and commitment among employees.

Executive vision is often taken very seriously throughout an organization, and having a dedicated communicator for this vision allows the true clarity and consistency of the vision to be passed on throughout the entirety of an organization, free of the possibility of dissonant messages.

Project Teams (Operational, Tactical, and/or Strategic)

Project teams can be an invaluable addition to the change process!
Project teams can be an invaluable addition to the change process!

Occasionally, for intermediate to large changes, you may consider piecing together a dedicated project team to enforce and support the change throughout an organization. This project team should be developed with members above the level at which change begins to occur. Let me explain.

Let’s say that a change is being implemented within a company throughout the marketing department. Let’s also say that the only people whose daily duties are affected by this change are feet-on-the-ground operational employees. It is necessary for the project team to be comprised of both operational employees and, at the very least, their immediate manager or supervisor.

Why? Because only the manager/ supervisor can enforce and create immediate accountability for the change efforts. Pair this with a dedicated executive sponsor, and the team becomes a holistic force for change within an organization. It becomes a team that comprises all parts of the change spectrum, and each person has the power to enforce and create accountability without the unnecessary opinions of people who are not directly involved (e.g. managers from finance, not marketing).

Operational employees involved with the project team can now relate the new systems to other operational employees. Managers can keep operational employees accountable, and the executive change sponsor can keep managers and supervisors accountable.

what you have is a dedicated team that recognizes and enforces all moving parts for change. It is similar to a system of checks and balances that is maximized for efficiency because it doesn’t incorporate unnecessary people.

The project teams role is to support sponsors, managers and employees by providing the necessary knowledge, techniques, tools, and processes to manage change more effectively.

The importance of a project team, similar to an executive sponsor, can’t be understated. It is a great way to gather knowledge, employee experience, and commitment from undesignated or “informal leaders” that others rally behind.

Informal leaders usually have a certain kind of trust that no other manager or person in an organization can have. This trust is what I call “the trust of the equal.”

The trust of the equal is, essentially, the consideration that employees of the same organizational tier have for each other because they have similar experiences. Those who are your equals in an organizational hierarchy are more trustworthy because they must have your interests in mind, considering they do the same things day-to-day.

Managers (Tactical)

Managers are a necessary part of the change process. As I described in my post, The Change Management Dilemma #1: Leadership, managers are necessary for effective change efforts because they are trusted to keep employees accountable without compromising the employees willingness to take risks in the same way that executive leadership might.

Consider this: During times of change, employees must be told to exceed their comfort zones, that is, to step away from the daily actions they are familiar with and do something different and uncomfortable. Employees will be much less likely to take risks, with the fear of messing up, if they are monitored directly by the executive sponsor.

Managers, however, are more familiar, feel more understanding, and are more empathetic than executive sponsors appear to be (in the eyes of employees). Therefore, employees often feel more comfortable taking risks and changing when managers are the ones keeping them accountable, as opposed to the executive sponsor.

A manager’s job is to support employees throughout the change process by providing vision (supplied by the executive sponsor) and by aligning the daily actions or issues that arise with said vision. Managers must be the enforcers and encouragers of good performance in a new environment. They must provide coaching, counseling, or other tools and resources necessary to make change seamless and intuitive among employees.

These tools can be vital to change-competency. This is because, without the employees willingness to take risks and potentially fail, they will simply find comfort in the”old way of doing things” and never attempt to change in the first place.

The most expensive words in business are “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But, when employees feel as though there is a safe environment to take risks and grow, they will begin to accept change, assuming it is reinforced by management and the sponsors.

Employees (operational)

Employees are the backbone of any organization as well as the core of an organization's change-competency.
Employees are the backbone of any organization as well as the core of an organization’s change-competency.

The roles of employees during a change are rather simple, assuming they are not part of the project team. Employees must simply feel willing to change and take risks during the change process – to work out the kinks in new systems and be willing to fail to determine what does and doesn’t work.

Employees must be willing to successfully and optimally perform in the new environment, and avoid believing that the “old way” is always best. Open-mindedness and the willingness to avoid “comfortable procedures” will be the best way to motivate employees to change.

Jeffrey Hiatt, author of ADKAR, states that there are a few things that directly relate to an employees willingness to change.

1. The nature of change. (how the change will impact them)
2. The organizational or environmental context for change. (Their perception of the organization)
3. An individual’s personal situation. (How does it help them?)
4. The employee’s own motivating factors. (what do they find valuable?)

These points make up the factors of individual motivation for change. Understanding the nature of these factors will help any executive sponsor, project team, or manager better communicate the necessity of change in a way that is convincing and urgent.

Remember, the majority of an organization’s barriers to change are a result of employees and their inherent risk-aversion. Don’t assume that, because the change benefits the company, it will motivate the employees. Most employees see a check whether the company does well or not! You will have to appeal to their individual interests and motivators to incorporate more change-competency among employees.


Ultimately, these have been the individual roles and duties associated with every managerial tier of an organization to create change-competency. We are in need of change more now than ever before – considering Moore’s law with the evolution of technology, and the various external factors (political and social) that are taking place as you read this.

Remember, change competency is a result of an organization’s efforts as a whole. No one person can create amazing amounts of change within an organization, only with the holistic approach of teamwork and mutual effort can change be applied and sustained effectively.

Thanks for reading!
Work With Austin!

-Austin Denison is a change management consultant from Southern California and founder/CEO of Denison Success Systems LLC. He is the author of The Essential Change Management Guidebook: Master The Art of Organizational Change as well as The Potential Dichotomy: The Philosophy of a Fulfilling Life Available Now!


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