The world has changed in the past two years — you don’t need to be told that. We’ve experienced the biggest working experiment in history — and the biggest challenge for change management.

Many of us are coming out of the other side but into a new working world. We’ve been catapulted into the future of work, whether we like it or not. The challenge now is to build something smart, enduring, and more human. Change management has a vital role in bringing those traits to a transformed world of work.

The “Great Reassessment”

The “Great Reassessment” reflects a fundamental shift in employee priorities, which can be seen across a range of organizations and industries. Many people have examined their desired lifestyles and values and have seen a disconnect between those ideals and what their employer might be offering. As a result, a significant number have resigned to explore possibilities elsewhere. Companies are being challenged to reconsider the employee experience and the change process itself to help prevent further loss. KPMG professionals worked with clients and were inspired by HR Pathfinders research. The following change management trends have emerged:

Change by design

In a world of constant flux, change is not a fixed destination. By the time you get there, “there” has already moved on. Instead, change management is an enduring journey.

Because of the impact of pandemic-induced team disbursement, along with the accelerated pace of change that accompanies digital business—the context in which change management should operate has also changed. Change by design is the response to that new landscape.

Critical in navigating through uncertainty is understanding that culture is at the heart of enhancing collaboration to achieve business performance. Your culture determines your ability to innovate, attract talent, adapt to disruption, and perform at the highest levels. In a digital world, culture will likely eat strategy for breakfast. Change by design fuels the drivers that incentivize the culture you’re trying to achieve. Examples of those drivers include the use of personas, crowdsourced ideas from employees, and broad employee experience journeys. These approaches help employees to properly become co-owners of the change process.

Key takeaway: Organizations should transition from standard input and activity measurements (“speeds and feeds”) to an experience-based outcome focus. This means that change journeys are expected to increasingly emphasize capability gaps and the new skills required to execute targeted outcomes.

Leadership defines the end goals, but the process of getting to the finish line is determined directly by those running the race. They will likely be the ones to say how they need to be equipped in their change journey to meet stated goals. This approach allows talent growth to match the task and builds trust throughout the organization.

Change by evidence

Lasting change requires systemic intervention. The day-to-day environment should be understood rather than limiting insights to semi-annual performance reviews. This can be achieved by exploring sentiment analytics and feedback in real-time. To help ensure that every employee has a voice and feels heard—and to allow the organization to respond continuously, enhanced employee listening posts are a must. Listening technologies are available to make employee sentiment quantifiable and actionable. It could come in the form of a portal where any employee can start a conversation, add to a thread, or pose a question—with all input transparently tracked. Or it could come in the form of small-scale pulse surveys, pop-up one-off topic surveys, or from external inputs such as social media.

Listening technology unlocks the potential for predictive analytics that anticipate behavioral patterns before they occur, with powerful implications. For example, pain points may be identified and responded to early, elevating productivity and employee engagement, or trends that identify which employees are most likely to leave the organization so that appropriate intervention and incentives may be introduced.

Key takeaway: The new world of change is bringing together analytics and behavioral science so that the interventions designed to nurture new organizational structures, attitudes, and mindsets are based on the analytical insight of the “system” that is being created. Platforms such as Microsoft Viva or Workplace by Facebook that combine analytics with collaboration, learning, sentiment analysis, and insights into the flow of work will likely become fundamental to shaping the change journey as it unfolds in real-time.

Change by leadership

Modern change leadership should act as the organization’s North Star, embracing “the art of the possible.” However, it should go beyond leadership assertion that simply instructs, “Follow me.” Instead, change leadership is about creating the right architecture and culture to enable the change and for employees to understand it in their terms.

Today’s employees want easy transitions between different types of work and a holistic experience where they can provide meaningful contributions in line with their values. Supporting this want, digitization is driving a fundamental shift from static jobs to project-based skills and tasks. The role of change leaders is to shape dynamic project outcomes that bring connection, purpose, and energy to the organization.

When leaders engage in the change process and share feedback and opinions that express vulnerable authenticity and humility, they can set a model for how to have a safe conversation where all perspectives are invited. Indeed, great change leadership means that the exchanges can happen on all levels, even when the leaders aren’t looking.

Key takeaway: The new skills for leaders, if they are to shape the “architecture for change,” will likely be about design thinking, storytelling, and political nous—all approaches based on empathetic listening. When sharing experiences, programs, and values in these ways, stronger connections are made across the organization, and possibilities for open communication are increased. Transformative outcomes result with employees saying, “We did this,” rather than leaders saying, “I did this.”

Change management is changing

The intensity of the pandemic has transformed change management just as much as it has impacted the way many of us work. It’s an understatement to say that the change management process has been tested — it’s been an involuntary experiment of epic proportions. We’ve learned some critical lessons that will likely serve us going forward. That’s fortunate because, for the sake of the planet and the societies we live in, we cannot afford to return to the way things used to be.

Without a doubt, there will likely be more disruption on the way. Those like the HR Pathfinders, who are disciplined and get change right, are expected to thrive. Those who don’t will likely see their transformation efforts struggle to gain the traction they need.

The way you guide your organization through the “Great Reassessment” can have a long-term impact. Your employees are watching; they’ll see your culture and values mirrored in how you manage the change process. This is your opportunity to lead into a brighter future.

Stay tuned for the next series installment to learn how this can get done in practice.

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