Do this exercise with me. Imagine a tennis court at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships with two players. The players have warmed up and are taking their position. Masked and socially-distanced spectators await in silence. Player one bounces the ball, ready to serve. He serves outside the line. The umpire sounds the bell. The tension is too much, considering the year that was. The crowd, with the second wave lockdown still fresh in their memories thus unsure how to conduct themselves at a public event, starts heckling. Player one repositions himself for another serve. His serve is out. Again. The crowd continues to heckle. Player one is their target, they have decided. The umpire tries to maintain calm. Player two gets ready to serve. Does he keep his composure? Does the heckling feed his confidence? Or will he too snap under the collective pressure?
There is a point to our visualisation expedition to the famous London tennis courts. Like the uncertainty professional sportspeople are facing with every match, the practice of managing change, sustainably, to ensure the best outcome is one of the most significant ongoing events organisations are faced with now more than ever before.
Individuals, whether it be on a tennis court or in an organisation, will adjust their attitudes depending on outside feedback.
Behaviour can be unpredictable and swivel due to external variables such as human emotion (burnout) or technological systems (accelerated digital transformation).
Indeed, these variable-dependent factors are hard to predict or foresee. Circumstances are forever changing, and impact can come from different directions. We refer to it as three-dimensional (3D) change
where change is perpetual, pervasive and exponential.
Modelling three-dimensional change
Organisations that make planned management of change the norm become more resilient and
adaptable. Change needs to be part of the central business strategy in order to create adaptable and
Francois Kriel, Kriel & Co 11 Jan 2021
But change facilitators are trained to model different variables and their possible outcomes.
At its core, a change facilitator decodes ongoing, self-organised processes that emerge and that characterise human systems. In real terms, the role boils down to helping organisations see, understand and influence patterns of decision-making and interaction, so that leadership can take informed action to better respond to the changing world they live in.
In the practice of change management, we are trained to view 3D change as ongoing. To view change as events unfolding in multiple areas of life at once. And we know the pace of change accelerates at an increasingly rapid rate.
For instance, today, change within organisations are influenced by outside circumstances such as accelerated digitalisation, remote work and complying with new data privacy legislations such as South Africa’s Protection of Personal Information Act (PoPIA). People – at the core of change
There is a widely held belief in the consulting industry that couldn’t be more true: “Organisations don’t change. People change.” And then they change the organisation.
In the evolution of the change facilitator role itself, there are a few quintessential skills that an effective change facilitator must hone to connect the dots between the process part of change and the people part of change.
In our practice we place value on a few character traits, which we view as essential building blocks of our own expertise:
- Playing a consistent game delivers longevity
Building organisational resilience during changing times requires consistency. The way 3D change currently plays out in organisations, the consultant is one of the only calm, collected and constant stakeholders of an organisation. One could attribute this to the fact that the facilitator has a bird’s eye view over the planning process, allowing them to bring a sense of consistency and practicability to the process.
A change facilitator is in the unique position to be involved in the holistic change process, and often has a bird’s eye view that spans the goal, vision and desired outcome of the process. Having a change champion attitude will go far to help reduce anxiety and ensure inclusivity within the organisation as this process plays out.
Consistent actions – such as displayed by a cool, calm and collected world tennis champion – and encouraging employees and leaders in an inclusive manner will promote accountability within this process, leading to a more sustainable result.
- Adaptability gets you over hurdles
Since we started with consistency, this next trait sets a good change facilitator apart from an average one. If not possessing an adaptable outlook on change, the person responsible for facilitating changing people, processes and systems might end up getting stuck into box-ticking structure while evaluating, planning and executing.
More often than not the roadmap of change itself, well, changes. But great facilitators have practiced the ability to allow for some adaptability of the roadmap. One can even say that it helps change champions get over hurdles when the opportunity to place a hurdle is in clear view. Space out these opportunities in timed increments so that feedback from within the organisation is constant. Leadership will appreciate enough time to report strategy variances, obstacles or pivot opportunities.
- Resilience breeds responsive big game temperament
As change facilitators become more and more agile in their adaptability, they are able to buffer their resilience. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly. It is that feeling of empowerment when you know you can get through any change unscathed because you’ve done it before. A resilient person knows that when they have successfully navigated obstacles, most often they find themselves in a better state.
This ability to project resilience allows change facilitators to act responsive. Responsive individuals are able to set the pace of alignment of others with ease and are able to turn hurdles into building blocks.
- Empowerment improves reliability
Time, money and quality are key considerations for decision-makers in organisations, and none of these can be wasted when the stakes are high in the evolution of any organisation. We’ve talked about being consistent and having a plan, but also displaying the necessary planned adaptability to deviate when the situation calls for it. New external variables (think heckling crowd) elevate the three-dimensional nature of change we have mentioned before.
What does a credible change facilitator do when the plan might need to deviate from the original? Well, they get comfortable with contingency planning – planning for every foreseen outcome or scenario. Now there is a practiced plan for every imaginable (and sometimes unimaginable) outcome. When change facilitators are comfortable with this building block, and are able to facilitate successful outcomes, they have scored valuable reliability among all levels of stakeholders.
- It all comes back to understanding the ‘why’
I can’t help but think of the words of Aristotle, a timeless philosopher who understood the theory of change: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
It would seem an apt quote to suggest that organisational culture – as a whole – is made up of several different parts (human elements working as one) and not a mere heap. Therefore, you would need to successfully affect the individual in order to affect the organisation. But after some investigation I found that it means that the whole is something beside the parts – with the emphasis on beside. I’d like to think that as a change agent you can aim to align all the individual parts, but the most important thing to remember is to bring the parts of the whole back the why. In other words, the purpose.
The top sports legends understand what they are playing for, and why they train as hard as they do. One of the most widely regarded top tennis players, Roger Federer, once said: “What I think I’ve been able to do well over the years is play with pain, play with problems, play in all sorts of conditions.”
Similar to our industry, Federer’s outlook sums up what we are working for – a common organisational goal. Put all the parts and sums and characteristics and plans together but remember what we are here to do. What employees are here to rally behind. A common purpose or goal: change for the better. Learn more:
If these are characteristics you embody and you would like to be part of a team of change facilitators that are focused on helping influential organisations thrive and remain sustainable in a digital era, but at the same time are attentive to the holistic wellness of yourself and your team members, please get in touch to learn about opportunities.
About Kriel & Co.:
Kriel & Co is an IMCSA-accredited management consulting practice specialising in change management, digital transformation and mentorship. The practice actively serves clients in a variety of sectors with a proven track-record of delivering innovative, cost-effective and sustainable strategies for digital change. Consultants are primarily retained on a long-term project basis by clients to oversee holistic digital transformation projects and initiatives. Contact moc.ocdnaleirk@olleh for more information.
About the author:
Francois Kriel is an IMCSA-accredited management consultant with change management and digital transformation as specialisation areas. He works full-time as director at Kriel & Co. where he leads a dynamic team currently facilitating digital change at several high-profile organisations. Kriel also supports Stellenbosch University as guest lecturer to business management honours students. He is an advocate for collaborative leadership, mentorship and LGBTQI+ inclusivity.