By Elisabeth Goodman, 12th September 2021
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged on anything other than coaching skills and Neurodiversity, as these are the areas I am most focused on at the moment.
However it feels good to revisit a topic that has also been area of focus for me over the years, and that is everything to do with managing change. How an organisation, and individual leaders and managers within it, deal with change can have a profound effect on employee wellbeing.
Only 4 years ago, I was a co-author with other members of the APM Enabling Change SIG of “Introduction to Managing Change” (Association for Project Management, 2017). Our publication made several references to the importance of engaging with stakeholders (including internal employees) as in this extract:
“Engage with and nurture your stakeholders to build trust, so that the want to help you make the change succeed and feel supported through (win hearts and minds).”Association for Project Management (2017). Introduction to Managing Change p. 30
We also emphasised the importance of measuring change initiatives as a way of tracking whether they are progressing as planned, whether adjustments are needed, and to generally facilitate reporting to senior managers and others concerned.
So my attention was caught by Michels and Murphy (2021) description of “change power” as a new metric for measuring an organisation’s capabilities relating to change, and their claim that companies that score high on this sytem:
“have leaders and cultures that rate significantly higher in the eyes of their employees… and they have employees who feel more inspired and engaged.”Michels, D. and Murphy, K. (2021 July-August). How good is your company at change? A new system for measuring (and improving) your ability to adapt. Harvard Business Review p.62-71
What is change power?
Michels and Murphy’s findings are the result of analysing a decade’s worth collection of corporate change programmes combined with a survey of about 2,000 employees from nearly 40 large global companies.
They identified nine elements (traits or capabilities), as shown in the illustration, that can be measured based on employees’ scores. The combined scores generate a “change power” number that can then be used to rank the organisation through comparison with others.
They grouped these nine elements into three broad categories:
- Leading change – purpose, direction and connection
- Accelerating change – capacity, choreography and scaling
- Organising change – development, action and flexibility
This list is not too different from the key factors of change that we documented in the APM Enabling Change SIG as shown in this next illustration.
Perhaps the biggest difference is reflected by Michels’ and Murphy’s second category around accelerating change and the ninth element of flexibility.
They put a greater emphasis on the dynamic nature of change: that there will always be more happening and the need to contextualise it in terms of what else is going on in the organisation.
So how does “change power” relate to employee engagement?
Michels’ and Murphy’s explicit commentary on this is limited to the quote from their article at the beginning of this blog.
I and my colleagues have anecdotal evidence of this from our work with managers in our courses, and in my one-to-one coaching. The managers, and individual team members we work with are definitely more or less motivated and engaged depending on the clarity of purpose, quality of planning, and level of involvement of change initiatives within their organisations.
It’s also possible to pick out some indirect evidence of this from the four archetypes of change initiatives that don’t work out that Michels and Murphy describe in their article. (Incidentally, I was curious as to why they hadn’t identified archetypes for effective change!)
Here are their four archetypes and my inference from them in terms of the impact on employee engagement:
In search of focus. The companies falling in this category do apparently have a lot of energy, are constantly innovating and are successful at this, but the effective leadership for change is not apparent. Without clarity of purpose, direction and connection with the people impacted by the change, the result for employees could be a certain amount of burn-out and disillusionment.
Stuck and sceptical. This archetype crosses all three categories of elements in terms of connection, scaling and action. It seems to suggest a lack of energy and drive from leadership and hence a lack of enthusiasm amongst those tasked with implementing the change.
Aligned but constrained. These initiatives also cross all three categories and suffer from poor connection, capacity and development. So the necessary resources for change are either not fully engaged, limited, or people don’t have the necessary skills. Re-prioritisation, talent development, recruitment will address some of this. In addition, Michels and Murphy use a case study in their article to show how a company was able to address poor connection and turn the company’s fortunes around by using a company wide transformation team and large scale employee workshops.
Struggling to keep up. These companies are apparently those that are weakest in the more dynamic elements of change initiatives that I highlighted as distinctive of Michels’ and Murphy’s model. As they authors say, they have a “single-minded focus” and are “action orientated”. Whilst this may be all well and good when a company has only one or two major change initiatives to implement, such a positioning is not realistic in today’s ever changing landscape. Again, the impact on employees is going to be, to use the authors’ word, “gruelling” and the resultant quality of their engagement can only be negative.
Michels’ and Murphy’s article highlights some novel as well as more established key factors for successful change. They are ones that leaders and managers could effectively use as a check-list that would also result in more effective employee engagement.
The list could even be used for gathering scores from employees to rate how well the organisation is doing (its “change power”), and so identify ways to improve the approach accordingly. Asking employees to do this form of rating could in itself build greater employee engagement.
Association for Project Management (2017). Introduction to managing change.
Michels, D. and Murphy, K. (2021 July-August). How good is your company at change? A new system for measuring (and improving) your ability to adapt. Harvard Business Review, 62-67
About the author
Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, specialising in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through group-coaching style workshops and courses, with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.
Elisabeth founded RiverRhee in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.
She and her trusted partners help RiverRhee’s clients to exercise choice and realise their potential in the workplace by recognising their individual values and strengths. Together they explore such topics as enhancing their leadership / management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.
Elisabeth is accredited in Coaching (ACC – International Coaching Federation, PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching), Change Management, Lean Sigma, Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is also a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.
She is also the founder of The Coaches’ Forum – an international community of interest for coaches to explore ideas and insights as an extension to their personal and professional development.