Change Never Stops: Build a Culture That Embraces It
May 3, 2021
May 3, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stay tuned for our next batch of insights, which will cover everything from implementing new ways of working to finding the right partner. 

Outsourcing change management—a new software implementation, an updated organizational structure, the integration of a newly acquired business—is no longer the only way to tackle your toughest business challenges. Change is no longer solely based on one-off events. Organizations are transforming at faster rates due to market demands and the ever-changing workforce. Change is now a constant ebb and flow, and especially as we ride the tide of the pandemic, there is no end in sight.

By now, you’re familiar with the five signs your organization needs to build its change capabilities. Your organization likely ticks a lot of those boxes, and you know you have to develop a culture that embraces change on an ongoing basis. But where and how do you start?

The mission you are on is essentially one of building a change center of excellence (CoE). An integral part of that process is evolving change management from a capability into part of the DNA of your organization to drive business impact and outcomes. Building internal change capabilities is a journey that must be committed to at key levels within your organization and viewed as an imperative way to operate your organization moving forward. It’s important to identify the right aspects of your organization, the right leaders, and the right employees to start developing these capabilities.

For over a year, we’ve been doing this very work with our client and partner Lisa Zanzarella at AmerisourceBergen—a partnership we recently discussed during a joint presentation to senior HR leaders in the region. Establishing a change CoE inside this large, complex Fortune 10 business took a trusted partnership. Their blueprint for success was unique to their organization, but the broader lessons learned provide excellent food for thought for any large organization setting out to create their own change capability, whether that’s in the form of a CoE inside a corporate function, embedded into each business unit, or another arrangement altogether.

Here are a few critical lessons from our work together that can help you avoid common pitfalls and instead snag some early wins.

Choose your starting point carefully

First things first: You must meet the business where they are today. Keep in mind this may differ from one company to the next—what’s right for your organization might not be right for another. Not only is that okay, it’s to be expected.

Start by identifying the most change-centric parts of the business, as they will likely be the most receptive to change support. This could be the transformation or strategy arm of a business or a highly evolving revenue-generating arm such as sales—you want to target parts of an organization that see change as growth. Working within the aspects of your organization that are change-centric will help you drive engagement to build leadership skills, understand how to utilize change management tools to drive business outcomes, and leverage this as an investment versus an organizational mandate. If you can prove the impact of this change model in a few carefully selected, change-centric environments, you’ll find it much easier to win support and secure buy-in for further expansion of your effort.

In our work with AmerisourceBergen, we focused first on key change-centric areas rather than an enterprise-wide approach. This allowed the team to pilot programs—and tout their successes—in the departments and business areas most in need of support. It also provided opportunities to learn the business, develop change-ready leaders, and address in-flight initiatives that needed immediate support.

Set your sights on what matters most: business outcomes

Change means different things to different people; therefore, it’s important to establish a common language and define what good change management practices look like, both for the change leader and the business leader. The business leader is paramount in the success of business outcomes. No tool or template will take the place of a leader who is absent from the initiative or fails to be transparent around the reason for these changes. Remember that while you are creating an enterprise-wide change management capability, the real objective is to drive better business outcomes.

You’ll want to measure your success by your ability to establish a team of high-performing change leaders who know what good looks like, but most importantly, you’ll want to create measures that demonstrate the impact they are having. Measurement and sustainability are often overlooked when an initiative reaches its “go-live” date or the organization restructure is completed. We believe this is where the real work happens: the change in behaviors and mindsets within the organization that ultimately sustain and maintain business outcomes.

Make it personal—understand the “why” for every stakeholder group

Before setting specific goals or creating project roadmaps, it is critical to give employees and leaders a reason to believe. For those unfamiliar with Simon Sinek’s philosophy on “starting with why,” it’s simple: People won’t truly buy into a product, service, movement, or idea—or in this case, change methodology—unless they understand the “why” behind it. The underlying “why” driving AmerisourceBergen’s investment in change management was a reaction to the increasing level of disruption in the life sciences industry and the desire to build internal change capabilities as opportunities for their leaders and associates.

For executive teams this is all about—you guessed it—business results: How do we get there faster and more successfully? For change leaders, their “why” might focus more on professional development, i.e., adding a new skill set, improving career visibility, or gaining a greater understanding of business issues across the company.

The “why” or case for change should always hinge on helping the organization recognize a problem that needs solving or a new area in which they can develop. Finding ways to have a strategic vision that connects to the unique stakeholder groups within your organization will help answer the classic “what’s in it for me?” question. It will also help individuals understand how they need to change and how they can grow with your organization.

Facilitate alignment with senior leadership

For most of us, managing change doesn’t come naturally, and that’s true of senior leaders as well as rank-and-file employees. Adept as they are at running the business, leaders often struggle the most when it comes to implementing major waves of change. That’s why AmerisourceBergen focused not only on training change leaders but senior executives as well, by launching a new leadership model within the CoE. Together, Navigate and AmerisourceBergen mapped out where change needs and business risks were highest across the organization, enabling leaders to visualize each initiative from an enterprise-wide perspective.

At this point, you should have your objectives clearly understood and stakeholder buy-in secured. So, what comes next? We’ll explore how to embed new ways of operating in our next blog, which will delve deeper into how to keep up the momentum and accelerate your success.