Let’s be honest: the Change Management efforts of yore are not doing it for us. As enterprise leaders charged with driving our teams into the future, whether operationally or culturally, we could use some new tools. Our senior leaders are on message about change, but are their words really sinking in? And we keep hearing about this impending storm called digital transformation; we know we are supposed to be threatened, but we’re not exactly sure why or how to prepare for this Armageddon.
Let’s try a few koans on for size; I believe these paradoxes can lift the fog for those who are learning and development-minded by title or by necessity.
Festina Lente, or Make Haste Slowly, coined by the Roman Emperor Augustus
We know the digital revolution is about to lap us on the race course, and yet there might still be a reason to slow our roll. “Only 8 percent of companies we surveyed recently said their current business model would remain economically viable if their industry keeps digitizing at its current course and speed,” write Jacques Bughin, Tanguy Catlin, Martin Hirt, and Paul Willmott in “Why Digital Strategies Fail.”1 Clearly, 92% of us are doomed. Or are we? What does it mean to go slow to go fast in this context?
1. Take the time to set your vision. Some leaders have gotten adept at using the change and digital lingo, but their employees don’t know what any of it means for them. When you make the future clear for yourself, you can better articulate it for your people. Then, when everyone is on board, you will work together toward that common goal much more efficiently. Give examples and use descriptive language in your messaging! Elon Musk is well known for his vision to land people on Mars by 2025, and his posture as “architect of tomorrow” (according to Rolling Stone) means that his companies are able to lurch forward leaving competitors in the dust. Tesla leads in electric vehicles while competitors are still scratching their heads.
2. Building partnerships is another key component of this go-slow phase.
Thor Olavsrud in his analysis of a report by Accenture
Interactive and Forrester Consulting, writes, “Digital transformation needs to be a company-wide initiative, which requires strong collaboration and evangelism from company leaders.”2
The report also found that most leaders believe the CIO should own the digital strategy, so make friends with your IT leadership to ensure your digital change management is a joint venture set up for success. There’s no reason why the L&D department can’t take the lead on change hand in hand with IT leading digital. But your platform should be a demonstration
of change leadership. Show, don’t tell. If your department is lagging, no one is going to look to you to show them into the future. Sure, we can’t all be early adopters, but it’s critical that the learning team model what it looks like to embrace change so that everyone else can see that it’s not so scary. Does your CLO embrace new technologies and digital modalities? What does your learning management system look like? Be a good partner to IT, and others will want to do the same.
Go Small to Go Big
Ok, I made this one up. But hear me out. Once you have the critical details in place, your next step is to get back in the clouds.
1. Reflection is key. Recently, I attended a talk by University of Louisville Hite Art Institute’s Power Agency Designer-in-Residence Leslie Friesen in which she argued that every process is missing the critical Reflection step, and I couldn’t agree more. Distinct from end-of-process evaluation, the reflection step should be heeded between every major step to pause and take a breath. Then re-enter with new insight and perspective. When you are looking for talent to add to your team or to implement these change strategies, seek reflective folks who are adaptive and open to real-time feedback. They are the living examples of your agile strategy.
2. Minimum Viable Learning Products are small risks with big value.
People who are versed in design thinking approaches will make great leaders of change in learning and elsewhere. They know the value of creating small prototypes to test, learn, and prove potential ROI. Doug Stephen calls these “Minimum Viable Learning Products” in his Training Industry piece, “Transforming Learning with Agile and Continuous Content Development.”3
Using MVLPs can help you find the right digital channels for your new learning and development strategy and secure sponsorship and funding when you hit on something great.
Teach the “how” not the “what”
Finally, understand that creating an agile workforce isn’t about teaching certain concepts; telling your people about change management isn’t going to help them become change agents. But teaching them how to learn and then getting out of the way so they can connect with each other and seek answers in real time will be the way of the future. “Mastering the art of changing quickly is now a critical competitive advantage,” write Boris Ewenstein, Wesley Smith, and Ashvin Sologar in “Changing Change Management”
If your people master the art of changing quickly, well, your people are your organization, so your company will do the same. And making quick movements in a bold fashion is the only chance we have in the face of the digital storm.
Currently a Strategic Initiatives Consultant for Humana Military, Jessica Farquhar Campbell has twenty years’ experience coaching and teaching in various settings, private and public, with individuals and groups. She has taught in the nation's top writing programs at Purdue and University of Louisville. A veteran yoga and mindfulness practitioner, she is fueled by her passions for personal growth and well-being. One of her first teaching roles was as a behavioral therapist for children with autism. As a graphic designer for the Air National Guard, she worked her way through undergraduate and graduate school, teaching and writing every step of the way. She holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, "the new MBA," according to Fast Company, as innovation and creativity become priorities for businesses looking to thrive in the twenty-first century.
1 Jacques Bughin, Tanguy Catlin, Martin Hirt, and Paul Willmott, “Why Digital Strategies Fail.” McKinsey Quarterly. January 2018.
2 Thor Olavsrud, “How to Succeed at Digital Transformation,” CIO. October 2015.
3 Doug Stephen, “Transforming Learning with Agile and Continuous Content Development.” Training Industry. July 4, 2017.
4 Boris Ewenstein, Wesley Smith, and Ashvin Sologar, “Changing Change Management,” McKinsey.com.