Auli Packalén: The change competencies of senior leaders are on average or weak level

At the end of September, I spoke at our webinar regarding the change competencies of senior leaders.  

We asked participants to evaluate the change competencies of senior leaders of their organization on a scale of very good–quite good–average–quite weak–very weak

The results were startling: 84 % of the respondents evaluated the change competencies of their senior leaders to be on an average or a quite weak level. None of the respondents evaluated competencies as very good. 

Is there reason for concern? Yes. 

Digital transformation, health and social services reform, smartification of industrial processes and equipment, making an organization and its development agile, a multiyear ERP change… If the change capabilities of senior leaders are only average or even weak the likelihood of realizing these kinds of changes is slim.  

Is there hope? Yes. 

My experience working with leadership teams and change capability development for senior leaders shows that executive boards and leadership teams are full of smart and talented people. You just need to able to speak their language and help them have the light-bulb moment on the critical aspects on leading change.  

Based on my experience, what are the four most critical insights by leadership team members? 

1. ”Now I understand what the human side of change really means” 

II can clearly see the group and business unit leadership knows quite well how to lead and steer the technical side of change (projects and programs).  

On the other hand, it’s hard for many people to comprehend what’s the human side of the ongoing strategy, organization, or ERP system change. When leaders get an insight on what the human side of change really means, it creates a burst of new energy you can literally see and feel. 

2.”As a leader I have a role throughout the entire change” 

Another key realization for the senior leaders has to do with their roles as leaders and as leaders of other leaders throughout the entire change. It’s not enough to read aloud some slides at an information session. 

Permanent change requires four steps: 1) the people impacted by the change must be in a so called Toward state, 2) gain insight on what the change means for them, 3) take actions and 4) create new babits that will in time replace the old ways.  

The four steps of change management at CCEA are based on this foundation conducted from brain research. For the change to happen leaders must 1) create awareness of the change, 2) build understanding of what the change means in practical terms, 3) make sure that people know how to and can start acting in a new way and 4) make the change stick within the organization. There are no shortcuts. If the first two steps are shaky you can be sure that the money invested in the change is wasted. The leaders have an important role at every step. 

3. ”The human side of change can be lead with information” 

How do you know the step people are on? Studies in behavioral sciences have provided a model to support change management. The model shows how measuring people’s experience on the change can predict whether the aimed return on investment is to be gained or not. People’s experience correlates strongly with bringing home the benefits. 

In other words: the experiences of the people impacted by the change can be measured from the get-go ja used to lead the change. Actions can be targeted there where the results are lagging or decreasing and not where things are going in the right direction.  

4. ” It’s our responsibility to balance the restrain caused by change and people’s capacity”  

The biggest realization comes when discussing the entire bunch of changes going on in the organization (not project portfolio but change portfolio). This insight has the biggest impact on how quickly and smoothly an organization can renew and carry out changes without the core business and operations suffering. 

”How have we been this dumb and tried to execute at the same time all of these changes having heavy impact on our people?”. This was said by the CEO of a company after realizing that people’s capacity to adopt new things is limited and that it’s the senior leaders’ job to keep the strain of changes and the available capacity at balance. 

“On the contrary. I think you’re smart. You realized the biggest bottleneck of executing a change and decided to restrict the number of simultaneous changes that take up people’s time, energy, and capacity” I said to the CEO.