Change Agility: How Successful Organizations Respond to Disruption
Accepting that change is constant, necessary, and beneficial is the key factor for surviving and thriving in the modern workplace. Change, though difficult, isn’t the threat many of us see it as. While some change, like global events, is beyond our control, other types of change, like developing a popular product that needs more resources, are expected.
The companies who anticipate and adapt to disruption are the ones who navigate it most successfully. This is where an organization’s learning and development (L&D) teams are crucial. L&D teams should foster adaptability — aka change agility — in employees so that they’re ready to tackle new challenges from quarter to quarter.
Though there’s no single secret for developing employees who are productive through change, companies that do emerge from change successfully all leverage the four following techniques.
They make learning a core business function
The first step to unlocking change agility in an organization is to clarify that everyone — from executives to managers to individual contributors — own learning. Whether it’s employees mapping out their own learning for the next month or VPs empowering teams to build new skills by giving them offline time to learn without distraction, learning is everyone’s responsibility.
Companies that can overcome disruption recognize learning as a strategic business need. It’s not an afterthought tacked on to work once a skills gap is identified. For organizations to foster agile learners, they must embrace continuous learning at every stage of the employee lifecycle.
They are ready for anything
Change is not something the human brain naturally enjoys, says Hilary Scarlett in her book Neuroscience for Organizational Change. When our brains are met with a change they can’t control, they enter an adrenaline-pumping flight-or-fight state to keep us safe.
The most adep learning teams help employees overcome this physical instinct by developing their situational awareness and self-awareness. By learning the perception, comprehension, and projection levels of situational awareness, employees give themselves the calm space to understand a change and identify steps to overcome it. Self-awareness is a similar type of emotional intelligence skill, where employees have the ability to reflect on their own feelings and recognize how to move through them productively.
They think outside the box
Brains want to keep us safe, and they also want to conserve our energy by defaulting to the path of least resistance. If the brain had its way, we’d do things the way they’ve always been done. But what got a company to one finish line won’t necessarily help it cross future finish lines.
Organizations that are proficient at navigating change ignore the “business as usual” protocol. They encourage their workforces to embrace risk in order to innovate and stay at the top of their industry. Using techniques to think outside the box — the box being the old way of doing things — is critical for uncovering new and competitive business solutions.
They tolerate ambiguity
Disruption doesn’t usually come with an organized timeline of deadlines. Companies must be able to not only tolerate ambiguity but make decisions in the face of it. Getting lost in decision paralysis all but guarantees competitors that can make swift decisions will outpace your organization.
One way to combat ambiguity is by using decision-making frameworks to move your organization through change. These give employees steps and guidance on how to process ambiguity while maintaining productivity and overall business continuity. By using decision frameworks, companies empower employees to move forward even when the full picture hasn’t come into focus.
Successful companies (and employees) embrace continuous change
As the world of work evolves, employees will find themselves running into two common themes throughout their careers — learning and adapting. The companies that help their workforces develop these themes of change agility are the ones who will survive disruption.
Discover more strategies for how companies respond to disruption in The 5 Principles of Change Agility: How to Prepare for Anything.