Full Steam Ahead: Putting Your Organization’s Change Capability into Action
May 27, 2021
May 27, 2021

Bigger, faster, stronger. For many companies, that’s how change is unfolding in our increasingly interconnected, cross-functional world. The only way to adapt is to embed change management into the DNA of your organization and to foster a culture that welcomes and supports transformation. 

In our previous piece, “Change Never Stops: Build a Culture That Embraces It,” we laid the groundwork for what establishing an enterprise-wide change capability looks like. We’re continuing our walk down memory lane as we revisit some of the biggest lessons we’ve learned in our work with AmerisourceBergen, which we discussed with Lisa Zanzarella during a recent presentation to regional HR leaders. If you’re embarking on a similar journey to build greater change capabilities internally—especially as COVID-19 and other events shape the way your business copes with disruption—you may find inspiration and insights from their approach.

Embed new ways of operating

You’ve chosen your starting point, drafted a roadmap, engaged key stakeholders, and secured buy-in from senior leaders. Take a bow—that was a lot of heavy lifting—but don’t take a seat just yet. Now that you’ve piloted your program in one or two select areas, it’s time to start analyzing your progress and expanding the scope of your efforts.

When you hardwire change management processes into the organization, you create consistency and a common language based on time-tested best practices. Although you don’t begin at the enterprise level, that’s ultimately where you want to end up. By identifying the areas of your organization that are ripe for change, early adopters and leaders who “get it” will see the benefits a solid change management strategy can offer. 

This is important because if your change management approaches aren’t built into the core of program and process management at your company, your change leaders may find themselves at the margins of the action, rather than the center of it.

Find the right partner

Building an internal change capability isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Because this is a journey, it’s crucial to have a team you can trust. As a leader, you need to understand how to carve just the right path inside a complex organization, and you need a partner who will work shoulder-to-shoulder with you to get the job done. 

As Lisa Zanzarella, our change partner at AmerisourceBergen, put it, “You need to find the one who will grab a paddle, get in the boat with you, and help if and when you take on water.” Remember: This isn’t an easy undertaking—you will hit your fair share of snags. So pick your partner carefully, because you’ll be working closely with them for the long haul.

Plan not just for training, but coaching

You and your chosen partner will need to train your change leaders, but the true impact and support you can provide will come through in real-time coaching as your team tackles actual business problems. One of the reasons AmerisourceBergen was able to make great strides at such an early stage in the process is because they made change personal. High-impact business outcomes were and continue to be a top priority, but part of the goal was to build change management skills at the individual level, too. Managing change is becoming a more universal skill that more organizations are working to develop. AmerisourceBergen made a commitment to develop change leaders at all levels within their organization as change is a constant for their business. Doing this successfully requires a three-prong approach to training: 

  1. Change management for sponsors: Executives and senior leaders play essential roles in times of change. An organization looks to its leaders to be visible sponsors of change and to demonstrate why change is required. This course focuses on the key elements of sponsorship within each phase of the change framework.
  2. Change management for project teams: This course is designed for project teams or project managers who are responsible for leading change and brings together the key elements of project management and change management.
  3. Change management fundamentals: This course is designed for associates in any large organization who would benefit from understanding what change management is, its importance, and the basic concepts of the change management framework

As their resident coaches and partners-in-change, we worked one-on-one with each of the practitioners we were developing to build change capabilities. This approach taught the team to use the different tools, ask the right questions, and right questions, and address resistances and risks to the project head-on to remain solution-focused. As a result of this personalized coaching and skill development, the team was able to develop skills quickly and mentor and develop the next wave of change practitioners within the HR space.

Every business transition or change exercise follows its own trajectory, and your change leader will need some practical guidance as they travel that path and develop their confidence and competency.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Ambition is a good thing … until it isn’t. It can be tempting to tackle multiple initiatives at once, but don’t take on too much too soon. If you’re overtaxed and your change leads are underwater, you’ll fail to achieve the business outcomes that will carry your program forward. One way to avoid overload is to acknowledge that change is constant, not finite; the very nature of change means there is always more to do.

Prioritization can be difficult at this stage, so triaging will be key to your success. Start by looking at the landscape of needs: What can you reasonably accomplish with the team you have? Recognize that major company transitions will be hard for your team to drive in addition to managing their existing portfolio; you’re wise to leverage an outside partner so that your teams can manage the portfolio of projects they have already.

For projects in which you bring in an outside partner, seize this as the professional development moment it is. Have your top change leaders shadow or partner up with this outside provider to learn from the strategy and tactics they used so their success can be replicated in the future.

Be patient—it’s a virtue that will pay off

Developing change capability inside your organization is in itself a major change. In order for it to sink in across the enterprise, you have to start at the ground level; a solid foundation is everything. There will be highs and lows. False starts and surprise victories. Growing pains are healthy and can be mitigated if you’re diligent in building awareness and generating a desire for change across the organization. 

Don’t be afraid to take cues from those who are pioneering the same type of change capability inside other businesses. We believe in the power of peer-to-peer dialogue. When you are in the midst of pioneering something new, sometimes there’s no substitute for talking to someone else who’s having the same experience at a different business. 

One thing we’ve learned through our partnership with AmerisourceBergen and other companies is that the work is never really done. Change management isn’t a box you can check before moving onto the next—it’s an iterative process that requires intentional effort. Change also doesn’t necessarily come naturally, which is why proper training and coaching are key. 

With the right starting point, strategy, and supporting infrastructure, you can embed an enterprise change capability that will help your organization weather any storm. And if you need someone to get in the boat with you and grab a paddle, we’re here to help.