CHANGE AGILITY is the capacity to deal with ambiguity, the ability to operate effectively when the strategy is unclear, the acuity to take calculated risks, and the curiosity that drives leaders to continually look at their business differently. A CHANGE LEADER is someone who visualizes and translates the strategic direction to others in an organization and finds new solutions when the “tried and true” approaches no longer work. Effective change leaders quickly adapt to the change on a personal level and commit to driving the change by creating high performing teams and coaching others through transitions.

Organizations and their senior leadership teams often undervalue the importance of equipping managers with change agility training prior to implementing a large-scale initiative. John Kotter, a leading expert in change management, acknowledges this gap and claims “almost nobody is good at emphasizing change leadership” (Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, March-April, 1995).  More recently, WLH Consulting, Inc. (“WLH”) conducted a survey on change implementation through the Healthcare Businesswoman’s Association (“HBA”). The survey confirmed that leaders are lacking readiness to guide others through transitions and 81% of respondents indicated that they were not equipped with change agility tools or resources.

To close these gaps, WLH has created and implemented a proven framework. “The 5C’s of Transition Leadership®” has helped many organizations systematically prepare their leaders to execute change throughout their organizations. The primary focus of the 5C’s is to determine what an individual leader must do personally to maintain ongoing business, address potential business risks, assess the impact of change on the team, and coach direct reports through transition. The framework also provides best practices for monitoring the change effort over time and calibrating action plans to ensure success.

How can change agility be enhanced at the organizational, team, and individual levels?

As 2015 comes to a close, leaders will begin to assess priorities for the New Year. Given the rapid pace of change, a high priority should be given to enhancing change leadership. Organizations that dedicate the necessary time and resources to develop change agility increase the likelihood of change success. Senior leaders need to send clear messages to their leadership development and HR functions to create and/or enhance their change leadership curricula to include a blended learning approach.

The following are important elements that should be included in any change agility capability development plan:

  • Adopt a common framework to develop individual change agility capabilities
  • Provide tools to all leaders to assist in coaching direct reports through change and transition
  • Teach leadership methods for overcoming resistance, securing commitment, and guiding transition planning with their teams
  • Focus on developing competencies such as team development, leading without authority, communicating with impact, and dealing with uncertainty
  • Include leader-led activities to drive accountability and development further down into the organization
  • Build on the organization’s past experiences and lessons learned related to projects and other initiatives previously implemented

Leadership commitment and a structured approach will ensure that change agility is a thoughtful and required practice throughout the organization.  The research on change initiative success and failure cites that when organizations engage leaders and their teams, people take ownership for the results and the overall success rate increases.

Wendy L. Heckelman, Ph.D.

Dr. Wendy Heckelman, president and founder of WLH Consulting, Inc. has over 30 years of experience working with Fortune 100 industry clients. These include pharmaceutical, biotech, health care, animal health medicines, and consumer products, as well as international non-profit organizations and growing entrepreneurial companies.

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