Your First Steps Towards Change Maturity

In brief: 

  • Change is a constant reality of the business world.
  • The companies that survive and thrive have one critical factor in common: a bias towards action—a change maturity—that allows them to quickly seize opportunities and navigate challenges as they arise.
  • To build change maturity, the first steps are to understand what makes a strong change capability and to gauge your organization's current ability to change.

We’ve all heard it before: “The first step is always the hardest.”

How many of us have woken up on New Year’s Day intending to spend dedicated time with loved ones, volunteer for those less fortunate, or get healthy in the year ahead? Perhaps we think undertaking the annual Nevis to St. Kitts Cross-Channel Swim would be a solid start to achieving our health goals. While the desire is there, we often don’t know how to begin.

One of the best ways to get started is to speak with someone who’s done it before. A person who’s taken part in the swim across the 'Narrows' from Oualie Beach in Nevis to Cockleshell Bay, St. Kitts might tell us that it’s important to first complete a physical examination and a swimming assessment. This would help you understand your current capability and ensure you’re strong enough to partake in the event. These factors, of course, inform your likelihood of success.

Much like gearing up for a swimming challenge, if your goal is to increase your organization’s maturity for change, your first step should actually be backward. That is, you must take a step back to understand what makes a strong change capability and gauge your current ability to change.

Why spend time building your change maturity capability anyway? In today’s environment, organizations face a constant onslaught of change. It occurs in myriad forms and at varying rates, from small changes to major transformations. This is an era of continuous transformation, and those who thrive have one key differentiator: an inherent ability to withstand and adapt to change, also known as change maturity.

Understanding success factors

To build a successful change capability, it’s necessary to first understand your definition of success. In our view, there are several key success factors to consider: establishing a strong foundation for change, building the capability to change, and embedding the capacity for change across your organization:

  • To establish a strong foundation for change, leaders must have a shared vision of change management and its benefits to the organization. They must be committed to that vision and help bring it to life by creating a change structure that incorporates key roles in change. The change roles must be intentionally defined and aligned with the culture of your organization.
  • Building the capability for change requires training and adoption of a common “change language.” This helps employees and leaders understand the change strategy and become comfortable speaking about it, which makes them more likely to embrace it and help carry it forward. In addition to establishing a common language, to build a change capability it’s important for leaders to establish a standardized methodology for managing incremental change and major transformation. For example, an organization may choose to invest in a methodology (e.g., Prosci or Kotter), or they may choose to build their own. With a change process in place, employees have clear guidance to help turn vision into value.
  • Embedding the capability is all about ensuring the standard change process and methodology you’ve established are fully embraced throughout your organization. As you embed the capability, your workforce will be able to help lead the change and have increased capacity to take it on. In other words, change becomes “business as usual” and change saturation becomes a thing of the past.

Understanding these success factors is an important first step. With this knowledge, you can determine how your organization stacks up on the change maturity scale.

Understanding where your organization falls on the change maturity scale

The first step in improving your health is figuring out how healthy you currently are. The same goes for improving your change maturity. You can’t start making change happen without first understanding where your organization currently lies on the change maturity meter. At North Highland, we recognize five distinct levels of change maturity:

  1. Level One: Limited recognition: Change management is not clearly defined and is not seen as a strategic requirement for transformations or other more incremental organizational changes.
  2. Level Two: Variable application: You apply change management processes inconsistently, to limited initiatives across the organization, very often without a clear definition or standard methodology.
  3. Level Three: Emerging standardization: You use change management language and processes more consistently and uniformly across a variety of initiatives.
  4. Level Four: Cross-functional capacity: You use a consistent change management methodology on multiple projects, and employees are naturally using a common language for change.
  5. Level Five: Embedded capability: Change is data-driven and incorporated into all initiatives and processes; cross-functional practitioners and advocates for change are leading the way. Change is part of your organization’s culture.

Which one sounds like your organization? Once you can answer that question and know the success factors for building a change capability, you’ve taken the first steps to strengthen your organization’s muscle for change.