Auli Packalén: When change is always on, what the leaders must be capable of?

Change is here to stay. We live in the era of continuous change. Change – or die.

You keep on facing headlines and phrases like these, if you go to leadership events, follow business literature, read leader profiles or watch Ted talks. In many companies, the leadership has adapted to the need to renew all the time.

And, at the same time, people are feeling the pinch of constant change. They perceive the changes as exhausting and overloading.

Why? Because the changes are being carried out in the same old way. The leaders, project management offices, project managers and business developers are driving subsequent, parallel and overlapping changes in the same mechanistic way, they’ve got used to.

Only few companies have reshaped their portfolio management, project and development model or change management practices. Only few have taken a time-out and overthought, how the continuous transformation and renewal should actually be led and managed in a way that would energize people instead of sucking the energy out of them – and thus change their companies towards the aimed direction.

And most dangerously, only few companies have updated their leadership, middle management and team leader development programmes to the era of constant change.

Leader’s key competencies when change is always on

  1. People-centric change leadership. The changes are often seen also in the top management as mechanistic exercises, which produce new process, system or product and after which this new “thing” is being introduced and implemented. Unfortunately, many initiatives fail to deliver the planned business case. Time, money and energy put on development is being wasted, when people don’t know what do differently in their daily work nor are capable of doing the needed changes in practice. When people are ignored, nothing really changes. At the end of the day, it’s every individual that makes a decision on whether to change his/her daily behaviour, routines and habits or not.
  2. Balancing load and capacity. The top management carries the main responsibility of balancing the load and capacity of the people. This is crucial in order to ensure that the current business is successfully running in addition – and in spite of the – renewal activities. It is essential to learn to respect the fact that people have only a limited amount of time and energy for development and renewal at a certain point of time. It just isn’t possible to drive 10 or 20 changes at the same time. One, two or maybe even three can be doable. Wise prioritization and sequencing decisions increase the odds to succeed in change.
  3. Clarifying. The third key competence is about applying the first two into practice. When you can lead, plan and execute changes in a people-driven way and limit the number of simultaneous changes, you need to be able to communicate clearly what is important and why. This has a huge impact calming down the atmosphere and enabling people to keep the focus on the essential.

How to renew leadership development programmes accordingly?

There are basically two options. The first way is to complement the existing programmes with new modules focusing on the key competencies needed in leading constant change. The key benefit in this option, is the speed: the updated programmes are quickly up and running. The biggest downside is, that in the worst case the old content is not in line with the new one.

The other option is more laborious but will take you further.

In this option the idea is to blow up the existing programmes and start mapping the needed knowledge and skills based on the longer-term objectives, trends, target culture as well as the customer and personnel expectations and renewal needs. At the same time, one needs to commit to critically review the content annually in minimum. A good practice is to leave “placeholders” for content that is specified in a last minute to ensure that the subject matters are current.

In this option #2 change leadership including the key competencies that I’ve listed are embedded into all leadership, because leading change is no longer a subtitle under leadership. Leadership today is about leading change.

How do you operate when changes occur in your workplace? Test your own change capability and get practical tips >>