Illustration by Rae Scarfó
I think it’s fair to say we all understand that change is constant. It’s even fair to say that we accept this as a principle. It’s one thing we can count on.
But when faced with change, we all have a very different reaction. Some people can adapt quickly, while others take more time, and some take more time than we’d like. Why is this? Regardless of how well you executed change management principles and practices, there is still an individual factor that impacts how quickly you may be able to shift your organization.
That factor is called change agility, and the good news is that a person’s change agility isn’t fixed. There are things that can be done—both individually and by a company—that will increase a person’s ability to change more rapidly.
What is change agility and why does it matter?
Change agility determines how quickly someone can adjust and adapt to new challenges as they occur. Can they implement and integrate new knowledge, or even change direction entirely if it is called for?
The more agile someone is, the easier it is for them to adjust to changes. In general, it also means they’re slightly less resistant to change. But as I said earlier, a person’s change agility isn’t fixed; it’s fluid. So how can you boost your change agility? And what are the red flags to look for that could hinder it?
Let’s start first with the red flags.
Organizationally, something to watch out for is a history of failed change. It doesn’t matter whether the change failed due to poor change management or it wasn’t the right change. A history of failed change in a company sets a bad tone for any future change to come.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t ever back out of a change. It just means that transparent and honest communication with employees is critical. Let people know why you’re no longer sticking with the change. Without this understanding, change will take on a “Flavor of the Month” feel, and as new initiatives are rolled out, people will be less likely to engage from the start.
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Poor change management is another red flag.
If a company doesn’t adequately support its people through the change transition, employees may develop a negative relationship with change. People look to their organization and its leadership to provide them with the right information and training to be successful. Think back to the ADKAR model; each step of ADKAR is an opportunity for someone to get stuck and disengage.
Ensuring that people understand why the change is necessary and know how it can benefit them and have been given the proper training and time to learn is critical. And don’t forget reinforcing the behaviors you want to see and redirecting those you don’t.
Change saturation is another thing to consider.
How many initiatives and priorities are your team members responsible for? How fast are the project timelines? If there are too many too fast, you’re at risk for change saturation. When someone reaches this point, regardless of their change agility, they will likely disengage from the initiative.
Change saturation is another concept that depends on the individual, but the results are the same once it is achieved. Employee performance typically drops, as does engagement, impacting the project’s desired results for adoption.
How can you improve change agility?
Obviously, if poor change management is a red flag, practicing good change management would be a remedy.
When change management is done well, employees feel supported through the transition—and change becomes less difficult. When that becomes their regular experience, it’s less likely to see resistance in your organization.
A lot of the ways to improve change agility come down to individual accountability. I view change agility like a muscle—the more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes. By intentionally introducing yourself to change (large or small) you can exercise your change agility.
I’ve done exercises with teams where every month we introduce a new challenge. It’s usually small and not work related.
A few examples: Send a thank you note that you’ve been meaning to send; take yourself down a YouTube rabbit hole about a topic you know nothing about; or have a curious conversation with someone over a topic you disagree on.
As you can see, none of the items are big, major changes. But they might make you a little uncomfortable. When we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones and have control over the situation, we exercise our change agility. The more often we practice this, the more we acclimate to trying something new and realize that most times it isn’t a big deal. Developing this muscle helps build confidence for future changes that may be out of our control.
Another way to increase your change agility is to be aware of your mindset toward change.
Take some time to reflect: What is your typical reaction when presented with change? Are you ready to jump in? Are you curious and want to know more? Or are you hesitant and maybe a little skeptical?
Most people fall in the middle; it’s perfectly natural to be curious and want more information. If you’re hesitant and skeptical, why? How can you find a way to shift your perspective to at least become curious about the change? Controlling our mindset toward change and trying to stay positive can help us adjust more effectively.
Successfully increasing change agility in an organization is the responsibility of both the company as well as the individuals. Your company has a responsibility to practice proper change management, monitor the level of change and coach and develop its employees to be successful.
Individuals, on the other hand, are responsible for reflecting on their experiences, finding opportunities to improve their mindset and exercising their change agility muscle. When a company takes responsibility for transitioning employees through change correctly, and employees take accountability for their own growth and development, change agility will increase.
That’s when you will really start to see growth.