More Organizational Somersaults, Cartwheels and Flips Needed

Practical views to organizational change, part 2:

Change Agility is an attribute that an organization has earned and reached, a state that has been achieved. It is the nimbleness of the processes, flexibility of leadership and the resilience on individual level. It has been gained either through the selection during recruiting processes or through a common journey through tough exercises or through the combination of these. Just like in gymnastics, it is not an easy road for an organization to achieve a state of elasticity and ability to move in a purposeful way.

Some years ago we were planning to implement a new governance model for the organization I was working for. Through seemingly endless process of management dialogue, negotiations and employee feedback rounds we finally got to a point were we were ready to apply the model. The thoughts at that point were around topics like: Will this really be implemented throughout the organization? Are we able to achieve the goals the model was targeted for as the model had changed during the discussions quite a lot? And how would the change impact retention in our fragile situation?

I can now later recognize that we were just only starting the effort of developing our change agility. We were project management experts, many of us, so we understood the importance of dialogue in change management intuitively. Some of us were trained in change management but lacked the empowerment to implement it. All of us in the management team were aware that we needed the consensus. However, we did not use the communication and engagement tools methodically, nor did we have any agreed ways of planning communication and engagement interventions in our organizational change initiatives.

When a gymnast or athlete is at the peak of top performance, he is able to move without thinking. No longer is movement an effort of thinking but a way of existing, and the final goal determines the action chosen. At the same way organizational change should not be something special but should become the normal way of working, ‘business as usual’. When implementing changes any downtime is no longer required. The organization becomes agile.

Perkins (2012)1) defines maturity in organizational change agility using three capabilities:
1. Drivers of change (leadership)
2. Receiving (business capabilities to change, people, processes)
3. Implementing (project management)

Using these tree dimensions, leadership, business capabilities to change and implementation capability, Perkins goes on defining organizational maturity into 5 levels: The Initial level: Change support is chaotic, ad hoc and based on individual heroics. It is the starting point a new capability. This is the state when the value of change management has not yet been discovered and is neglected.

The Repeatable level is when the capability has developed so that it can be repeated effectively. The step between these two first levels is actually the greatest, and the impacts of it are far-reaching. The moment top level managers or any key employee start bringing up the issue on change management, a new era of development activities start as the change initiatives will evidently be seen as people matters not only changes in systems, process or tasks.

Third level according to Perkins is the Defined level where the change capability is defined to a level that it has become standard across the business. It means that there exists a toolbox for change projects that can be used. The toolbox also needs to be communicated through out the organization, it needs to be trained and updated as needed. It is worth noting that there are not many organizations that have reached this level of change agility, even this one is not a huge step for any organization to take.

Managed, which is the fourth step of change agility, follows when the capability has developed to a level that it is quantitatively managed and reported against agreed metrics.  Have you encountered an organization where change capability is being measured, e.g. by how it is being implemented in internal programs and projects? Or how effective managers are in pitching the change initiative to employees? Not too many, I assume. However wouldn’t it be useful?

Finally the Optimized, the fifth level, is reached when the capability has been fully built in the organization and it is providing competitive advantage. As described before, the organization becomes then to be like a nimble gymnast at the peak of his performance: the movement, the change becomes the way of existing, the normal way of working, ‘business as usual’ and no downtime is required when implementing changes. The organization is agile.

When comparing different organizations, there really are not many that reach the fourth and fifth level of maturity in organizational change agility. The step even between first and two levels are demanding significant efforts of the organization. To reach fifth level of maturity, the change capability needs to be seen as the core of the organization, at the very same level as breathing is for humans. It is the imperator, the must, and the simple way of existence.

Looking back to the governance model change, we can now recognize that change muscles required still quite a lot of training. Maybe external coaching would have been appropriate, definitely change tools were yet to be implemented as well as communicated, and the business could have been better prepared to take part of the change. But hey, that is how life is: a journey of development. Just more somersaults, cartwheels and flips required.

Mari Hedberg is a change consultant and organizational development expert. She has served as project manager in change programs, acted as the HR director and as OD consultant for more than 20 years. She has worked with different sizes of organizations and projects, form outsourcing, mergers, cultural change and human development initiatives, talent management included.
Contact by e-mail:

*= Perkins, C. et al. The Agile Change Methodology: A researched organizational change maturity model helping organizations become agile, a proven change management method. Lambert Academic Publishing. 2012.

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