Trends in Change Management

As the year draws to a close it’s a great time to reflect upon what’s been happening this year in change management. I can only speak to what our team have been seeing with our clients with certainty, although talking across our network of consultants, partners, allies and other contacts would seem to validate our experiences.

There are four distinct trends that have become apparent to me this year and I expect all of them to continue into 2019.

Developing Internal Capability

In the endless cycle of push and pull between in-sourcing and out-sourcing specialist work disciplines like change management, it seems that we’re entering into more of an in-sourcing environment for Organizational Change Management (OCM) in particular.

There’s still a high demand for consulting, advisory services and staff augmentation when it comes to delivering OCM services on projects and programs. However, there is an increasing emphasis on organizations developing the capability internally to tackle change management. We’ve definitely seen an increase in clients asking for support to establish a CMO (change management office) or to develop custom frameworks and implement methods and tools. We’re also seeing more clients asking for both types of work at the same time i.e. “help us deliver this particular initiative and, at the same time, set us up to be able to do it on our own next time”.

Our OCM Maturity Model, Change Office Advantage Framework and other capability building tools have seen increased use during 2018 and are lined up for more with several clients in 2019.

Leadership Coaching

The recognition seems to be finally taking hold in many organizations, that having a small OCM team, doing some communications and training on a project in isolation, does not actually deliver real change. Senior leaders are recognizing more frequently and earlier in their transformation journeys that in order to make their organizations fit for change they need to develop specific leadership competencies.

This realization is not new to change practitioners, a number of firms and individuals in my network have been evangelizing this approach for some time. What does seem to be changing is client organizations becoming less resistant or more openly desiring of coaching for their leaders. The focus on developing change competency in the leadership team isn’t confined to just the more progressive organizations, this practice is becoming more commonplace.

As an organization, we’ve been placing more emphasis on incorporating leadership coaching in our OCM solutions and for some clients developing true competency frameworks, learning pathways and courses. CMI have some great work on OCM leadership competency for practitioners looking for somewhere to start.

Agile and agile

No surprise that ‘Agile/agile’ makes the list, I’m specifically mentioning both big ‘A’ and little ‘a’, as I am seeing trends in both.  Agile has been a buzzword at many OCM events, the subject of numerous webinars and a topic for breakout groups or speakers at more than one conference this year, so it’s definitely something that is top of mind for many OCM practitioners.

What I’ve been seeing differently for big ‘A’ Agile in 2018 is an increased ‘pull’ from clients looking for OCM methodologies which are specifically tailored to working in an Agile environment and in addition requests for practitioners with experience of working on projects that utilized an Agile approach. The trend of organizations incorporating more Agile approaches to project implementation continues, so familiarity with Agile project management practices is an increasing need for OCM practitioners.

With the continued rapid evolution of technology and the rate of change many organizations are facing, it is becoming increasingly the case that projects change course more significantly during their lifespan than in the past. We’ve had a few notable examples during 2018 where client projects have faced major scope, timeline and, in some cases, solution changes mid-flight. The ability to be little ‘a’ agile in these circumstances is increasingly important for those of us who do the work of supporting people through significant change. The ability to seamlessly pivot, without tying yourselves up in bureaucracy and rework, is a skill that all OCM practitioners would be well advised to consider.

So, my advice to practitioners, brush up on Agile and be prepared to be agile. From a little ‘a’ agile perspective, I’d also advise OCM teams to do a little scenario planning around the major risks that might contribute to a project making a hard right or left turn. An hour or two of brainstorming and planning, so that you’re prepared to pivot if needed, would be time well spent.

Portfolio Level OCM

As change management has become more and more mainstream in the world of project delivery the focus has been on supporting individual projects with employee engagement, communications and training activities. These days with the continued increased levels of awareness of OCM and maturity of OCM practices, there is a developing interest and more attention being paid to the question of how people impact and are impacted on a wider more strategic scale i.e. programs and portfolios of strategic initiatives.

It’s a core belief of mine that the earlier in the strategic process that people are properly considered, the more successful the delivery of that strategy is likely to be. I also advocate strongly for looking at people impacts through as wide a contextual lens as possible, not to the detriment of laser focus on individual project needs, but in service and support of achieving change on all projects, an organization is tackling.

We’ve been working hard on developing our program and portfolio level change solutions this year because of this increasing awareness and need – I’m expecting to talk to even more clients about these services in 2019.

In conclusion, I’m seeing indications of a shift upstream for change management i.e. away from isolated practice on individual projects towards a strategic focus reflected by the desire to develop long-term competency and capability within organizations. Going forward into 2019, the project level stuff will continue, and rightly so, however, that will be in addition to more focus on change becoming part of an organization’s DNA, part of how they operate and how their leaders behave.

Read our January blog: 3 Change management resolutions for 2019

If you’re perceiving change initiative in your organization, contact WCI for a personalized solution.

Happy Holidays!


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Watershed CI on Change Resistance
3 Change Management Resolutions for 2019