Iida Haikonen: Are you equipped to manage changes successfully? Interactive approaches and managerial commitment are your keys!

Capability to effectively execute changes is a vital condition in today’s continuously evolving business environment. Yet, most planned organizational change initiatives fail. As a remedy, growing evidence indicates that a specific set of personal change management competences is required. Specifically, as the impact of individuals’ reactions to change is widely recognized, eliciting commitment and managing resistance are suggested to be prerequisites for effective change management (CM). 

I investigated change management competences to understand how specific competences contribute to change reactions and promote successful planned organizational change. My master’s thesis was conducted in the major of the Organizational Design and Leadership in Industrial Engineering and Management programme at Aalto University. To approach the topic, eight organizational professionals responsible for CM were examined through inductive research by employing surveys and semi-structured interviews. The interviewees represented large global Finnish companies in the fields of manufacturing and services. 

It turned out that effective CM requires mastery of three broad categories of competences: cognitive, social capital, and human capital. These categories consist of eight sub-categories, that contain 39 competences in total, as illustrated in Figure 1 below. Successful application of these competences was found to contribute to the desired outcomes of the change, while insufficient or no investment at all led to failure. The figure does not intend to represent an exhaustive listing of all aspects contributing to successful planned organizational change, but rather depicts the key competences emerging from the research. 

Figure 1. Competences for successful planned organizational change

The empirical results highlighted interactive and coaching approaches in change management. Interactive measures of listening and inquiry were frequently referred to by the interviewees. Moreover, interpersonal skills and the competences of supporting, collaboration, coaching, and engaging were emphasized. The empirical sample also yielded some themes that are not commonly recognized in CM competence literature, such as the importance of making contact and being present. The emphasis on interactive and social skills and the emergence of new themes that support interactive approaches indicate that coaching and interacting are becoming fundamental ways to manage changes. 

The results suggested that in order to successfully manage organizational changes, CM professionals had to elicit managerial commitment through mastery of these competences. A central contribution of my research is a preliminary model of the relationship between CM competences and managerial commitment, presented in Figure 2. Based on the empirical observations, managerial commitment is elicited through generating and sustaining trust, building relationships, and creating alignment.  

The presented competences were regarded as the primary ones eliciting managerial commitment, and they contributed to the components of outcomes with different emphases. Trust, personal relationships, and alignment were nurtured by emotional intelligence, interactive communication styles, and leadership, while professional relationships were primarily promoted by political skills, cognitive capabilities, knowledge, and content-centric communication. Overall, the means to establish professional relationships seemed to appeal more to sense and cognitive commitment, whereas the ways of eliciting trust, building personal relationships, and creating alignment were highly affective. 

Figure 2. Relationship between CM comptences and managerial commitment

As practical implications, the results highlight that organizations and the professionals involved in change management should recognize the importance of interactive and affective CM competences and managerial commitment in success of changes. The study contributes to CM practice in two ways.  

First, it enhances change management on the grassroots level by providing a preliminary model of the relationship between CM competences and managerial commitment. Any organizational professional responsible for change management can adopt this model as a checklist for self-evaluation: they can see the competences that are deemed as important, assess their own competences, identify deficiencies, and possibly prioritize personal development areas. Moreover, CM practitioners can gain practical advice on their performance, as the study offers descriptions of the application of competences in practice and their potential outcomes. More specifically, it outlines an approach to gaining managerial commitment in practice. 

Second, the study promotes organizational competence development. Companies can potentially apply the model to inform their recruitment and competence development practices, in order to select suitable individuals for CM positions and support their work appropriately. Nowadays, change concerns each industry and every organization, so the results could potentially provide significant value for a vast variety of organizations in offering understanding of what competences their change management professionals might need, why, and how.