Business has always evolved and changed. Some companies, such as Kodak, fail to see the change in front of them and can’t see how what they have always done won’t continue to work. Others, like GE, can see that their business model won’t serve them forever and look for ways to reinvent themselves to stay relevant to their customers.

What differentiates companies that adapt well to change from those that don’t?

“It is easier to highlight the characteristics which often lead to a failure to transform,” says Richard Parton, DXC senior consultant for business agility, “such as a lack of industry insight, poor governance and leadership, not enough investment in transition processes and outcomes, inability to move quickly or take risks, and ineffective tracking of benefits and the return on investment.”

Ultimately, the success or failure of a business program that requires change comes down to people. People need to understand their role in the change program and why the change program is required. That means there needs to be a focus on engagement, education and training, supported by frequent multi-channel interactive communications. Critically, while many businesses are very good at discussing what will change, they are less adept at explaining the “why” behind a change and developing a sense of purpose and direction.

“We must involve people in the design of the change from the outset and respect ‘fair process’. Change needs to involve people, not be imposed upon them,” Parton says. “Lean Change, an approach for delivering change in agile environments developed by author and international speaker Jason Little, is one example of a methodology that understands this need.”

The digital age sees disruption impacting industries, companies and individuals, making the management of change central to future success, innovation and growth. Organisations should develop adaptive policies and practices. Business agility is about creating an organisation that is flexible and can respond rapidly and adapt to change while delivering value to the business and its customers. Culture and mindset are critical elements of becoming an adaptive business and managing constant change. Individuals should be resilient, adaptable and courageous.

The pace of change has also led to a shift in how businesses select their new employees. While technical skills are valuable, they are more easily teachable. “Increasingly, organisations are recruiting for cultural fit, emotional maturity and mindset,” suggests Parton. Potential employees are also targeting businesses whose purpose aligns with their values and ethics.

With the ever-changing technology landscape it can be tempting to jump on the latest bandwagon, but it can be difficult to know where to invest, and how to maintain a sense of control over the growing range of available tools. In this context, it is important to keep an eye on your company’s strategic goals whilst having processes to review and refine these at more regular intervals than perhaps existed in the past.

By developing a strong purpose, vision and values that are understood and embraced by all staff, it’s possible to engage, excite and attract people. Then they are able to see the transformation in the broader context of the business goals. When a shift occurs in what tools they use or how they complete their work, it’s easier for them to remain enthusiastic, supportive and understanding. This results in better outcomes.

The ability to pause, reflect and learn is essential to continuous improvement. This is why agile teams run retrospectives, for example. This is a key practice required for teams and individuals to adapt to continuous change. Parton suggests starting meetings with a mindfulness exercise to ensure participants are present and single-minded about the task at hand and ending meetings with a five-minute retrospective on the behaviours and performance of those in the meeting against agreed standards.

“Big Bang” change programs are no longer the best way forward. The rapid evolution of technology means new business opportunities can emerge almost overnight. This means businesses should have development and change systems that can deliver incremental changes quickly. These enable the enterprise to exploit new opportunities, while your people aren’t hit with massive changes.

A good model for how this works is the mobile app and cloud revolution.

Changes made to mobile apps and cloud services are deployed quickly but in small doses. For example, a look at Facebook, five years ago, reveals a very different mobile experience to the one we see today. But the change was undertaken in small steps so users weren’t overwhelmed. Businesses can look at adopting similar models.

When it comes to the creating a successful change program, Parton offers the following tips.

  • Ensure there is visible sponsorship from senior leaders to set the tone.
  • Treat change like a social movement to build passionate advocates.
  • Adopt an ‘experiment and learn’ approach, then amplify what works.
  • ‘What’s in it for me’ is rarely enough. Motivate people by linking to the bigger picture and organisational purpose.
  • Choose the right metrics, including leading as well as lagging indicators.
  • Engage as many people in the design and delivery of the change as you can.

We live and work in an era of rapid change. Adapting and thriving in that environment requires businesses and people that bring everybody along on the journey, and a positive culture where change is embraced and seen as an opportunity not a threat.