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  • Writer's pictureOliver Nowak

The Importance of Organisational Change Management (OCM) in Today's Digital Business Environment

As companies around the world look to become more agile and shorten development cycles, it has become essential for organisations to effectively prepare and condition their employees to handle change. It’s easy for businesses to overlook organisational change management (OCM), but it is often the deciding factor between success and failure of change initiatives.

With this in mind, in many cases, the long-term success of any organisation is based on its OCM effectiveness.

How to deal with change?

To answer this question we need to think of change holistically. Any individual, in any role, at any company is going to feel change from all angles. That’s life.

In order to effectively manage change in the workplace, a very small component of the total, we need to be mindful of the full picture. A simple example that we can all relate to is the recent global Covid-19 pandemic. Two thirds of workers say that the pandemic has worsened burnout. Why? - it was simply an overwhelming amount of change affecting all important elements of our lives: Health, Social, Work & Ecological.

To help get through every change-filled day we face, our brains go into what is commonly known as ‘autopilot’. A large majority of our actions are automatic behaviours, they have to be otherwise we’d barely make it through an hour, let alone a whole day. These shortcuts reduce the conscious effort of decision-making to the plethora of change stimuli we get exposed to on a daily basis. These shortcuts are often called habits. We don’t think, we just do. But when it comes to the implementation of change projects, habits are kryptonite. To be successful, we need to go through a process of habit breaking. That is what OCM is all about.

As anyone who has ever tried to break a habit knows, it’s not always a simple process, particularly for transformational change. In many ways it’s a journey, you’re going to have your good days and others where you feel like you’re going backwards. The best way to explain this change journey is to align it with something we all wish we could avoid - the grief process.

At first, we go into denial. Then, as reality slowly starts sinking in, confusion, frustration and resistance kick in. Given time, these emotions subside and we become more aware of what this change means to us and the world we live in. With this comes understanding and acceptance which brings a sense of clarity and hope.

The biggest enemy to this process is time. We all need to be given time to move through the change journey, some elements we have to handle ourselves, and others we can influence.

In a business context, OCM is all about focusing on the elements we can influence to help people through the change journey.

In this simplified business context, the change journey follows the following steps:

  1. Awareness

  2. Engagement

  3. Knowledge

  4. Opportunity

  5. Reinforcement

As I said, there are some areas that people can only control themselves and they need to be given the space and time to manage those components. However, OCM can have an influence to help accelerate change in 3 of those key areas: Engagement, Opportunity & Reinforcement.

So let’s dig into them in a little more detail to see what we can start applying in our own organisations.

Starting with Engagement

In simple terms, Engagement is connection to a vision.

This is how you start to establish connection with the change and as more and more people are brought into the fold, everyone starts to get a sense of understanding for the common purpose.

Engagement is driven most powerfully by culture. Everyone feels connected, understands the wider purpose, and their place in it. They feel a sense of urgency to accomplish the mission. And they are willing to conform and challenge in equal measure depending on what the situation calls for.

The key to engagement is communication. You’re only going to feel connected to a vision if you understand why we want to head in that direction and how you can contribute to the cause. Creating the communication plan I mentioned in my article CIOs should Communicate like Psychologists, not Technologists will help you achieve this.

Next up is Opportunity.

What is Opportunity? - It is all about giving a person the tools they need in order to maximise personal benefit from alignment to the wider organisational cause.

This is where an organisation builds momentum in its change initiative. Individuals spend time reflecting on how the change will impact them personally, positively or negatively, and what actions they can take to take advantage of the positives.

It’s fraught with risk. Opportunity rapidly turns into threat.

Picture a surfer. Pick the right wave at the right time and it’s absolute poetry in motion. Get it slightly wrong and it’s anything but.

Last up, reinforcement. This is effectively doubling down on the rewards of the original change catalyst.

Individuals have taken individual benefit, they’ve shared these benefits by aligning it with the organisation’s common purpose and now it’s about multiplying the benefits.

What is critical here is that everyone is bought in and feels a sense of accountability and ownership to further the cause. They weather the storms and share the spoils together.

This is the key to John Lewis’ Partnership model.

The John Lewis Partnership is a business model that is based on the principles of employee ownership and profit-sharing, All employees are co-owners of the company and have a say in how the business is run through a democratic system of governance with representatives elected to the Partnership Council. The Partnership Council is responsible for overseeing the business and ensuring that the company operates in accordance with the principles of the partnership. This is taking alignment of individual benefits with the common purpose to the maximum.

So, to close, what can you start to think about today to improve how you deploy OCM?

The first change you can make is start to listen, and listen deeply. Test for confirmation bias by challenging your assumptions, seeking out diverse perspectives by giving detractors a voice and using all of the data, not just the part that makes you look good.

The second is to give people the time and space they need to change. Remember, you can only influence part of the process, the rest the individual has to manage themselves.

Lastly, be curious about resistance rather than pretending it doesn’t exist. It could be a blessing rather than a curse. It helps you identify the flaws in your change which need to be resolved to ensure it stands the test of time.

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