From change management to change agility

April 22nd, 2022

As we look back at the last two years of our lives, we all have a major shared experience: change.

While the changes that impact us today have accelerated in the past few years, we have actually been experiencing a culmination of substantial changes over the past few decades.

We’re in a nexus of digitalization, globalization, alternate forms of employment, Big Data, AI and robotics, remote and hybrid work, and an economy that soars and falls frequently. The list goes on. It is all part of the same story: rapid, exponential, and unprecedented change that is everywhere and coming at us faster than ever. All the while, as HR professionals, we're doing our best to keep our organizations human-centered. It's a tall order, but a new way of thinking about change can help.

The idea that change is a project to manage just like any other project is no longer useful. We used to see change communication, stakeholder engagement, and training as tasks to check off our change to-do list. Once we’d done them all, our change initiative would be complete. We could move on and live with our new status quo for a while, until it was time to change again. These considerations are still important, but the sum of them no longer allows organizations to change quickly and sustainably (or to be ready for the next wave of change).

The concept of "change management" is simply no longer relevant. This is where change agility comes in.

Change agility: a new model of change management

Whether or not we are prepared, we must adapt to these changes. For organizations, this means driving business transformation and adjusting rapidly to alter business and work models, responding to massively changed customer needs, putting employees’ health and wellbeing front and center with a human-centered leadership model, and holding on to talent like never before. For people, this means learning new skills, harmonizing the coexistence of work and personal needs (often in the same physical space), and coping with cognitive and digital overload.

So, what to do about all of this change? We may be tempted to reference traditional change management models that have gotten us through change in the past. These old models may provide us with a structured approach, but they also lead to a false sense of security. Even if we follow any of these change management methodologies perfectly, there will be something coming at us—our employees, leaders, or customers—that we didn’t expect that will disrupt our best-laid plans.

Instead, we need to shift the paradigm and think instead about change agility. Change agility means rethinking organizational change from a one-and-done, close-ended process to one that is continuous, open, and has an unpredictable end. That way, organizations, team leaders, and individual contributors can respond cohesively and proactively to consistently uncertain external factors.

HR's role in change agility

In order for organizations to always be ready for this kind of change, we need more adaptable leadership behaviors, HR capabilities, and cultures. As facilitators of change, we as HR professionals need these skills more than anyone else does. As caretakers of the organization, one of our most important roles is to be successful partners of change agility. This means nudging behaviors that prioritize adaptability throughout change processes, leading change, and effectively guiding employees along on the journey.

Effectively adapting to change is quickly becoming a competitive advantage. An agile organization can adjust swiftly to a new reality, responding almost instantaneously to changes related to the market, competitors, products, services, and customers. HR has a key role to play in leading the way in not only managing change, but truly embracing it. With this ability, no matter the circumstances, an organization can truly thrive.


Check out our new course for HR professionals, Change Agility, to learn more. This Certificate Program goes beyond legacy change management tools and practices and to help HR professionals understand and implement new approaches to designing, implementing, and leading change while promoting collaboration, resiliency, and a productive and positive work environment.