Contributing More Strategic Value in L&D Through Developing Continuous Change Management Capacity

Traditionally, L&D has been viewed in a couple of ways: 1) a cost center focused on reactively closing skill and knowledge gaps to keep the machine running, and/or 2) an employee perk, equivalent to the juice bar that serves up free smoothies.
This is starting to change of course, but not nearly fast enough. There are still many organizations stuck in this way of thinking about L&D at a time when continuous learning is moving toward the center of business strategy. For those that are breaking away from the old view, one thing we’ve seen popping up with our clients is an emerging connection to change management. Yet there seems to be a lot of uncertainty about how we can contribute to this critical aspect of modern business management.
The old way of thinking about change management was largely informed by Kurt Lewin’s Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze model. This model implies that the normal state of an organization is frozen. Change is seen as an intermittent phenomenon that is designed and facilitated.
Today, change is not an intermittent phenomenon but rather a constant reality. Organizations can’t afford to freeze–they have to stay liquid. We can’t predict and control the change process like we could back in the 1940’s (to a larger degree at least) when Lewin created his model. The challenge is, how do we function in a more liquid state?
Functioning in a liquid state requires what we’ll call Continuous Change Management Capacity.
In other words, the capacity for managing continuous change must be evolved throughout all levels of the organization. In our work we provide a framework to help our clients orient to this goal, which identifies 3 core capacities for continuous change management. Here we’ll briefly outline each of these core capacities.
Living Systems Thinking
Operating in a liquid state requires that people on all levels are actively thinking and reflecting on the bigger picture. Developing the capacity for living systems thinking allows individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole to cultivate a more holistic understanding of their work and how various stakeholder systems are connected in a pattern of co-evolutionary relationship. An important part of this capacity is developing an understanding of how complex living systems evolve. This understanding informs strategic thinking and is the basis for the capabilities needed to work through complex challenges. This includes new ways of relating to, interacting with, and working to influence stakeholder development.
The old approaches to management built on external locus of control present critical barriers to continuous change management capacity. These patterns are too slow and inefficient to effectively manage continuous change. We are now facing the challenge of evolving our capacity for self-direction, which is built on an internal locus of control. This represents a critical gap in nearly all systems, which have deep-seated and mostly unconscious habits of relying on external direction. Self-direction requires developing the capabilities of reflective practice, effectively managing knowledge with confident humility, and (re)orienting our paths to personal and shared values.
Engaged Initiative
The widespread tendency for us conditioned by old paradigms is to freeze in the face of uncertainty. We lack the capabilities we need to act in the face of complex challenges where outcomes can neither be predicted nor controlled. Such action requires courage, as well as an understanding of the limits of these old paradigms that fail to equip us for such work. It also requires we develop the will to push boundaries and take on new challenges which we are not fully prepared for, with the conviction that we will learn and grow through the process. Finally, engaged initiative depends on our ability to collaboratively design and run experiments to generate new knowledge and understanding.
We have identified a powerful and emerging skill set for L&D pros, focused on building continuous change management capacity and related capabilities, which we capture under the term Capability Coaching. A capability coach works to evolve this capacity within stakeholder systems through creating spaces for co-evolutionary conversations. You can read more about our thinking on this here.
Tom Palmer