Change Management

If change is necessary, so are skills to keep your company on road

Would you get into a car with a driver who has never driven before, and who is about to drive the car onto a busy freeway? This was a question I asked at a conference recently. Not surprisingly, no one in the audience put up their hand.

When you get a driver’s licence, it is a two-step process.  First you take a test that confirms you have the necessary knowledge. Then you get a permit to drive on the road – in order to develop driving skills. Once you can pass an on-road test by demonstrating your driving skills, you get your driver’s licence.

Now, let’s put this in the context of organizational change skills.

Every day people who have few, if any, organizational change skills are assigned the important role of working on an organizational change initiative. Hopefully they at least have some knowledge about organizational change.

But knowledge about change is not enough. Change skills are required – just like the case of the driver of the car needing driving skills.

Organizational change is often complex – even for small and medium sized organizations. One of the reasons there is such a high failure rate of change initiatives (frequently reported at about a 70 percent failure rate) is because people working on the change initiatives often do not have the necessary change skills.

Our group’s research found that many experienced change leaders had not even thought about what change skills are necessary for the change initiative. About a third of those interviewed were unable to name one specific change skill, while the remainder could name a few change skills.  But once we told them what the 11 change skills are, the vast majority of these change leaders agreed that they are important to change initiatives.

So, what are the organizational change skills that are needed?  This is the question that we set out to answer with our (now published) research. We found that there are at least 11 organizational change skills.  Ten of them (for space reasons) are presented in the following table in no particular order.

Now that the change skills have been identified and explained, here are five tips to help you move forward using them.


How to move forward

  1. Make a list of all of the change initiatives underway in your organization. These can include a relatively straightforward change such as outsourcing a particular service, to a more difficult change such as selecting and implementing a new companywide software. Seriously consider what change skills you need on each initiative.
  2. Review your list of employees – management and non-management – and honestly assess who has what change skills.
  3. Assign people with the necessary change skills to your change initiatives. If you don’t have the change skills you need in-house, obtain them from the outside, such as consultants and contractors.
  4. Make sure you deploy the right skills (from either in-house or from the outside) at the right time for each change initiative underway and for those change initiatives that are planned.
  5. Invest in professional development to build these change skills internally. A recent study found that small companies are investing considerably on leadership development. Retaining the services of a skilled coach is a good way to help build these skills.


One thing that today’s business owners can count on is change. Hopefully the change is positive, such as a new product introduction or opening up a new branch.  But change can also be perceived as negative, such as a downsizing.

Whether the organizational changes are positive or negative, business owners need to make sure that those involved in the change initiative have the necessary skills to make sure it is a success.

One key way to positively impact that ongoing statistic that 70 percent of change initiatives fail is to focus on these change skills.


Contact: Karen Somerville, who holds a Ph.D. in management, is president of Performance Plus Group in Edina, providing services related to leadership development, executive coaching and organizational change: 612.275.5740; karen@performanceplusgroup.com; www.performanceplusgroup.com

Karen Somerville