In the past, change projects were usually associated with restructuring in an environment that could still be planned. Our economy and working world have changed massively in recent years. As a result, traditional concepts of change no longer work. In this post, I will first describe the new challenges of change and then my experiences/approaches, which points in leadership and implementation are useful. As always, I’m looking forward to your feedback and discussion.
1. New challenges for change
For me, the main drivers of change are:
- Changing environment
Today’s environment is dynamic, complex and disruptive. Change is becoming a constant; continuous change is replacing event-driven projects. The new challenge is: How do organisations become more change-ready, responsive, and resilient?
- Artificial intelligence
We are currently experiencing how rapidly Artificial Intelligence is changing the way we work. AI is a new and very dynamic driver of change.
- New issues on the agenda
Organisational and cultural development is at the heart of change, and restructuring issues need to be handled more sensitively to avoid long-term damage to the employer brand.
- Leadership itself becomes the focus of change
Ambidextrous leadership is increasingly replacing transactional leadership. Your leaders should also be empathetic, reflective, and inspirational.
- Restructuring meets skills shortage
The economy is in a downturn, and we have accelerated deindustrialisation in Germany and other countries, while at the same time facing a shortage of skilled workers.
- Keeping an eye on the employer brand
Employer branding therefore remains also on the restructuring agenda. The need for restructuring, combined with a shortage of skilled workers, offers opportunities for socially responsible restructuring.
- Values and commitment
Today, we have changed the values in companies across all age groups. At the same time, Gallup this year tells us that we are facing a significant decline in engagement. Companies need to find answers to these questions and the extent to which this affects change in the company.
- The changing world of work
The implementation of change must be successful in new working models.
- Learning and development
Lifelong learning is becoming a reality and the demands on our skills development are shifting towards soft skills.
Following the logic in the diagram below, I have divided the most important success factors for change management into the areas of leadership and implementation and briefly described them.
2. Leadership priorities
- All issues on the table
Companies need an overall picture of where change is needed. Then it is important to make a conscious decision about which issues to tackle and how. It is important to strike a balance between the need for action and ensuring psychological safety in change processes.
- Top management leadership
Change projects need at least one sponsor and regular reporting to top management. In the case of important projects, it is advisable to appoint the project manager in top management yourself. In my experience, cultural and organisational development is in good hands when the CEO and CHRO share responsibility. In particular, the top management must be a credible example of the changes, to put their money where their mouth is.
An empathetic leadership style is a top skill for your project managers and project managers and the basis for communication.
- Dealing with resistance
Especially in the top management team, you must consistently tackle resistance to change. In my post „How you should deal with resistance from leaders“ I explain this in concrete terms.
- Investing in leadership
Organisational/cultural development must be accompanied by a high level of investment in leadership. In The State of Organisation 2023, McKinsey found that only 25 per cent of respondents said that their own leaders led in the best possible way, with passion and inspiration.
- Taking stakeholder management a step further
Involve all key stakeholders, including talent, in change initiatives at the planning stage. I have had good experience of involving works councils in change projects from the outset.
- New Big Picture
Instead of developing a rigid target image for the organisation, we now need a positive development image. The new questions for this development picture are:
Where do we want to go in the future, when do we want to have achieved certain steps, how do we achieve this and what is important to us on this „journey“?
- Transparency and openness
Manage change projects as openly and transparently as possible and take good suggestions on board – be open to good ideas.
- Projects in the new working world
Change projects should at least be managed in a hybrid way; if you only organise them remotely, too many nuances, warning signals, ideas and feedback will be lost.
-  McKinsey: The state of Organizations 2023, page 6 and more detailed from page 36
3. Implementation priorities
- Focus on talent management
In times of change, it becomes clear how well your talent management is positioned. Integrate your talents into the projects, transfer responsibility and look for change agents. This is also a good means to retain your talents.
- Tackling skill gaps
The shortage of skilled workers is also evidence of insufficient commitment and seriousness in personnel development in the past: Organizational and personnel development are two sides of the same coin. The sub-project „Future Skills and Critical Competencies“ is therefore a central component of the change project.
- Enable team leaders
At the interface with the employee , it is decided whether change projects are successful. Team leaders should enroll you as a special target group for change and develop targeted communication modules for team leaders and train them in them.
- New, also decentralized formats
Change projects need top-down and bottom-up channels, e.g., decentralized change teams in centrally controlled projects.
- Feedback loops on the status of your change projects
Pulse surveys show you where you stand with your change initiatives, where things are going well and where there are problems. The data from this is a reliable basis for the management of your projects. Smaller companies (without pulse surveys) should regularly conduct interviews and workshops on the status of their projects.
- Transparent and fast response
Transparency about your projects is an important building block for psychological safety and thus acceptance of changes. React quickly and justifiably to undesirable developments, celebrate successes in the progress of the project.
- Competencies of HR
Your people department is a driver and manager of change in modern companies. Most of the above-mentioned topics belong to the core area of modern HR work. Often, however, HR does not act on an equal footing and lacks the necessary skills. In addition to leadership, you should also invest in your human resources. purchase the know-how – also temporarily through experienced interim managers.