The disruptive nature of change is now a constant.
It’s a sentiment that’s lingered on the lips of business leaders since the beginning of The Great Recession. Today, it still evinces the truth as organizations pursue wide-ranging transformations to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Ernst & Young (EY), a multinational professional services firm, specializes in managing and advising for these transformations, helping to mitigate risk and maximize adoption of desired change systems, processes, and behaviors.
As a Principal in Ernst & Young’s (EY) People Advisory Services practice, Eric Biegansky is a leader for the firm’s transformational change function, advising clients’ organizational design, talent, and people strategy agendas. In this installment of Around the Bonfyre, we talked to Biegansky about the future of change management strategy and the skills leaders need to spearhead organizational change.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and readability.
What are your responsibilities with respect to talent in change management. What are you doing in this space and why is it important?
If we think in the broader workforce transformation setting, the disruptive nature of change is becoming more of a constant. Organizations need to more carefully manage their talent agenda beyond rolling something out and training them on it. The talent agenda connects to change by saying, “What are the skillsets we need for our people? What do their job roles look like? How do we position them to be successful?” The corollary to that is to say, “But what about my talent lifecycle? Am I getting the right people in the door? Am I developing them with the right set of competencies and career paths?”
Fundamentally, it’s important because it’s good to think about as a core competency, but also because workforces are changing so dramatically. Workforces used to be predominantly full-time employees. Now you have contractors, GigNow employees, and a broader ecosystem of people participating. On top of that, there are different generations with unique aspirations and cultural norms to address.
“Yes, you have to manage change effectively, but you have to take care of your people in a sustainable, holistic manner along the way.”
With all these different generations, demographics, and formal categorizations of employees, where are you seeing common pain points arise in terms of resistance to change?
With the new talent pool, you have all these different participants in the workforce that aren’t necessarily coming from the same place. Some are not necessarily full-time employed by your organization. It requires much more discipline around how you manage that workforce above and beyond your org chart and hierarchical command-and-control. You use teaming and groupthink to mobilize these people of different backgrounds around a common goal. That involves specific leadership traits and skills around influence, empathy, and rewarding diversity and inclusivity to get that done. So that’s a big part of how to deal with the multivariate element of the workforce and think more creatively about getting your desired performance.
Back to the generational piece, the new generations are simply motivated by different things. It’s not just titles, responsibility, making more money, and moving up the career ladder. Those are certainly relevant incentives around career advancement, but now there’s more around the aspirational element of work. The stuff that ignites purpose and passion. “How can I be impactful in the work that I’m doing to contribute to a greater good?”
We have to be more creative and intentional around the type of opportunities we give people to match their aspirations. We have to go beyond compensation, bonuses, and monetary incentives–not that those go away of course. It’s a more balanced conversation.
You mentioned empathy, diversity, and inclusivity as skills leaders need to acquire, reward, and value. How long have these topics been in the change management conversation?
They’ve been in there but it’s a little bit different now. You raise a good point about leadership. EY has an adjunct to our change methodology around digital-era leadership. The question is, “What are the traits we need to value when we develop leaders and mobilize them to be effective?” You’ve touched on a few of those, but it ties change, leadership, and culture together.
We need leaders to not just be command-and-control to drive outcomes and performance. They need to be more high-touch, empathetic, and respectful of the need to be collaborative. They need to cultivate an atmosphere where people are empowered, and those people need to be grouped together in an inclusive way.
In the past, we needed strong, credible, and influential leaders to sponsor transformational change. Now they need to include the DNA of that transformational change in everything they do. They need to be more accessible, empathic, better listeners, and really drive collaboration and teaming.
What are your thoughts on the expression “all management is change management?”
Even the term “management of change” is almost obsolete to a degree. You certainly want to facilitate and enable an atmosphere that drives the appropriate level of change. But as opposed to prescriptively managing change, you really need to empower people to drive it. It’s not like people are taking 8-month projects and saying “manage the change” on this. That’s the old-school thinking where you do communications and training, then you’re done. This is more about creating sustainability.
“You need to create an atmosphere and capability for organizations so they can handle this all the time. It’s not episodic. It’s agile. It’s rapid in terms of the pace of change.”
We’re working with organizations to help them develop a muscle memory to handle change. If EY does it right, and gets the right level of buy-in and resource commitment, then the organizations we work with can handle this as more of an integrated element of what we do. Now you have to be careful. Sometimes organizations say, “Change is everything we do so it’s naturally embedded.” That isn’t necessarily the case. You need to have a disciplined, structured approach–a framework with supporting tools around it. It’s not a separate add-on kind of thing.
What are the different parties that need to be involved and engaged in a change management strategy to ensure adoption throughout the organization?
Well it goes up and down the chain. We talked about leadership already, but as you obviously get, it doesn’t stop there. Now we expand the definition of leadership and take it to top management and those tiers of leaders that are really a couple of levels down to ensure sponsorship and buy-in from them.
Then it turns into a change agent network. That’s key to stakeholder management because we really need to say, “Who needs to be in that network? What stakeholders across the organization–whether its by function, line of business, geography, or what have you–need to have a voice to provide input for people impacted by the change?” That requires a comprehensive communications and stakeholder management approach. You have to work with them to define what those impacts are.
The other piece goes back to the talent element. HR needs to be part of that conversation as well. Change works well when its owned by the business, but the talent teams are HR functions. Organizations need to be there too when we’re trying to institutionalize these capabilities.
Given your experience in the field and the work you’re doing today, where do you see the future of change management strategy heading?
Change management is becoming more scientific and measurable. That’s a key area we’re driving in my practice. How do we not just drive analytics to measure how change is going, but take a step back and get more predictive about it? What do we think going in around human behavior, cultural norms, leadership traits, and how stakeholders are feeling? When we have a point of view going in, we can proactively enable the change up front. Can we use sentiment analysis to gauge how they’re emotionally reacting to the change? Those are the types of elements where if you can bring in an analytics engine and show on a real-time basis what you’re seeing.
From a change standpoint, it’s becoming more empirical. You can track how the change is going and trace it back to how its influencing the performance metrics and business goals you’re trying to achieve. If you can do that, and do it the right way–accelerated, agile, and trackable–it makes executives more receptive to the need for it in the marketplace.