We’ve already written about the nine pillars of change management, but now we want to turn some attention to change management skills, or namely the aptitudes you need to manage change on both a personal level and when leading a team.
This is a big moment for change management skills, because a lot is currently changing about work. If companies decide on hybrid models, that has massive implications for what skills managers need day-to-day, but also what change management skills they need -- because it’s harder to move a distributed workforce to new end goals than it would be a workforce where everyone sits in the same general area.
There’s more interaction and communication needed for hybrid teams, and as we’re about to see, communication skills are a huge subset of change management skills.
The numbers do vary on change management success rates, but one statistic you see often is that 70% of change management initiatives fail. Seems like a massive failure rate, but if you’ve ever been part of a change management initiative, you know it’s very reasonably true -- change management is super hard, because moving dozens to hundreds (to maybe thousands) of individuals to the same end state when they all have different emotional connections and incentives around work is like turning around an oil tanker in a narrow strait. It can be done, but it’s not happening anytime soon, and it won’t go well for a while.
How can we make change management better, then? What change management skills should we be fostering and developing in people?
Let’s start with one bucket of ideas:
When we speak of change management skills in the context of a change management practitioner, that usually -- not always, but usually -- refers to someone working within the vocation/industry of change management. The change management skills for a practitioner are a mix of hard and soft skills, so a bit more technical, but with a focus on communication as well. Some of the more common skills for a change management practitioner include:
When you talk about being a change management practitioner, then, you need a mix of soft skills that anyone involved in change management would need -- such as the ability to communicate clearly about what’s happening with different initiatives and timelines -- but you also need a technical rooting in project management and other methodologies that your organization might embrace. If your organization is highly committed to “Lean,” for example, they’re not likely to let someone work as a change management practitioner unless they’re very well-versed in “Lean” as well.
Innovation is one secret ingredient that makes a difficult, painstaking change move from impossible to easy. There is often a better way, but too often, leaders bulldoze forward without looking for more innovative and creative options. The leader need not personally be highly innovative. There is a big difference between being innovative and supporting innovation by others. Often someone in your organization or network has a brilliant idea that will make change much easier, faster and less painful. They need your backing and sponsorship.
Unpacking that quote a little bit, people in leadership roles need to think about change management skills along these prisms:
In addition to fostering innovation, Zenger Folkman’s other four core change management skills are: Acting quickly, Maintaining a strategic perspective, Cultivating an outside perspective, and Inspiring those on your team. Consider this visual:
When they looked at data from 90,185 leaders whose direct reports were asked to indicate their level of confidence that the organization would be successful, it turned out that leaders who had above average skills on the five behaviors also had direct reports who scored at the 70th percentile regarding their confidence that the organization would be successful. Leaders who had none of the five skills that were above average had success scores at the 33rd percentile.
That’s a strong endorsement for the development of change management skills.
This is an important topic, because a lot of companies will jump right to tracking documents and deadlines and general process points, as opposed to thinking through the bigger strategy and the end goals of a change management initiative. The reality of a team enacting change is that you need both process-driven change management skills, such as project management backgrounds, and you need higher-level change management skills, such as advanced communication and strategic vision. If a team is all process-oriented, the end result will not achieve a grand vision. If a team is all focused on bigger strategy, then some of the execution-level work that needs to get done may fall by the wayside. You need both.
The best approach is usually to create a change management sub-section, perhaps within or under “Skills,” and list high-level change management skills, such as “Effective communication at advanced levels,” as well as more technical skills and certifications around project management and different work methodologies. Cluster it all together so that a recruiter or hiring manager can see you have a large chunk of change management skills.
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