Change Competence is the New Change Management

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How companies successfully master Change in a VUCA World

What will change management look like in the future? I have been asked this question more often than any other in recent weeks and months. No wonder, because it is no longer a secret that we are living  in one of the greatest transformational phases of mankind. On the one hand, we are moving away from the information society to the purpose driven society, which is dramatically changing the way we live. On the other hand, developments such as artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computers, 3D printers and, of course, digitalization are also causing the economy to undergo massive change. You don’t have to be a prophet to predict that the way we will work and learn in ten years’ time will be dramatically different from the current status quo. Apparently this will have consequences. Especially in dealing with change itself.

Exponential Change instead of linear Change: Permanent Transformation is the new Normal

The biggest change in dealing with change is the course of the transformation itself. Because it no longer works in a linear fashion, but happens exponentially. This applies both to society as a whole and and the same time to individual industries and economical branches.


As a result, change today has no longer a beginning and and end, but has become a permanent condition. Change is the new normal. It is faster, more complex and more unpredictable today than it was just a few years ago. And this has corresponding effects on the use of change management. Gone are the days when there was a secure status quo, then every few years a change process (which was then managed more or less successfully), before at some point the change was declared to be over and the comfortable agenda was returned to.

Change management is dead. Long live the Change Competence

Let us therefore speak an uncomfortable truth right at the beginning of this article: Classic change management is dead. Instead, for the challenges of the future, we need a completely new skill: Change Competence. This is a special combination of mindset and skillset. A special way of dealing with the increasingly complex framework conditions, actively shaping the future and equipping oneself and the people in one’s own environment with empowerment, courage and flexibility. The WHAT we do inevitably looks different, but above all it is the HOW and the WHY that are subject to a radical paradigm shift. In the following figure you can see an overview of my Change Competence model.


Change Competence instead of Change Management

The Change Competence Model

One thing should have become clear from the first sentences: The most important success factor of the future will be the human being with its unique personality. And it is precisely for that reason that Change Competence is so relevant. The foundation of this key skill is based on four strong pillars: Leadership, culture, communication and performance. The common denominator of all four components is the combination of a powerful purpose and strong values. First, we are going to look at this core foundation, before then devoting ourselves in detail to the four change competence factors. Each of these factors is important in its own right, but they also influence each other and can therefore only be used in the overall view.

Purpose: Change should always have a meaning, and never happen only for changes sake. Every change with intention therefore begins with the decisive question:

Why do we want to change?

In the answer lies your emotional drive. In combination with the question

What is the reason for the change?

you have a strong purpose that contains both an inner (emotional) and an outer (rational) reason and is the basis for sustainable results.

Values: In today´s VUCA world, strong and common values are more important than money, hierarchical positions or status. On the one hand they ensure that people take personal responsibility, but on the other hand they are also the connecting tissue of a successful team.

Whatever changes you plan to make, I would strongly suggest that you first work on your purpose and your values, because they form the foundation for all four Change Competence factors. If you treat them negligently or leave them completely out of the equation, then every change project is doomed to failure from the outset.

Change Competence Factor #1: Leadership

Leadership and successful change go hand in hand. The key is to take personal responsibility (independent of the actual hierarchical position), but at the same time to be successful as a team. This means that self-leadership is  important in the first step, because only those who are able to lead themselves can lead others and inspire them for new ideas and new ways of doing things. Successful change leadership is based on the following factors (in addition to the motive and common values):

Clarity: Everything stands and falls with clarity. And I really mean everything in this case. The greater your own clarity, the more effective your decisions, communication and change strategy will be.

Mistakes: Anyone who sets out to radically question the status quo, generates new ideas and courageously breaks new ground inevitably makes mistakes.  Lots of mistakes. And that is a good thing. Allow yourself and especially the people in your environment to make mistakes, even encourage them to do so. Every mistake offers a great opportunity to learn from it, to try out new alternatives and to grow by doing so.

Decisions: For me, this is the most important characteristic of a modern leader. Especially in times of uncertainty, when we are confronted with corresponding challenges, it is of imminent importance to make decisions. Timely, transparent and above all consistent. The better you are able to make decisions in this way, the more you give your environment the much needed orientation.

Change Competence Factor #2: Culture

A corporate culture characterised by flexibility, openness and the courage to take new paths is a decisive competitive factor in times of change. Your products, your marketing strategy and your prices can (and will) be copied by the competition (current and future). But your culture can never be copied. It is the soul of a company or organization that separates the wheat from the chaff at the end of the day.

Vision: All successful companies have one thing in common: A clear, emotional and unambiguous vision that shapes all strategies, goals and processes and provides the involved people with orientation. Not only does a vision give meaning to one’s own actions and work, it is also the connecting factor that forms a real team from a collection of individual people.

Awareness: We can only change what we are aware of. The higher the level of awareness of the individual people, the higher the Change Competence. Important questions that you should ask yourself regularly: What affect do I have on others? How do I communicate? Where is my focus? How pronounced is my change readiness? What thought patterns are the foundation of my actions? This courageous look in the mirror is not always easy, but without it it becomes much more difficult, or even impossible, to master change actively and successfully.

Mindset: The mindset is more than the sum of its parts. It is the way we think, act, decide and process information. In addition, it is also the reason why we do exactly that. Since the majority of people are still stuck in outdated patterns of thought and behaviours, the challenges of the future require a radical mindset shift.

Change Competence Factor #3: Communication

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during recent years in companies of all sizes, cultures and backgrounds, it’s this: Many important and necessary changes fail due to poor communication. This is usually because expectations are not expressed, decisive information is not passed on or goals are not communicated. The communication factor is therefore not only extremely important for a pronounced change competence, but becomes more and more decisive with increasing uncertainty and complexity.

Transparency: If you want to master change successfully, you cannot avoid radical transparency. No figures, information or facts should be secret or accessible only to an elite circle. This is because of two reasons: 1) People always need a rational reason why they should change (the emotions then lead to the important inner drive in the second step). The more information, figures, data and facts you communicate, the better. 2) Transparency leads to making those affected into active change agents. If all people in a team are on the same level of knowledge and information, this promotes not only motivation but also proactive initiative.

Focus: One of my favorite quotes is: “Language is the clothing of thoughts.” And your language can be either problem or solution oriented (the factors clarity and awareness help you to evaluate this). At this point, take a courageous look in the mirror again and then communicate in a solution-oriented way and direct your (semantic) focus on opportunities and possibilities. This is exactly what you need to use in the future.

Skills: This is where the (communicative) skillset of the people involved in a change comes into play. How well trained are your employees? How up to date is your knowledge? In my book “The Changemaker Mindset” I have put forward the thesis that employee orientation will be more important than customer orientation in the upcoming years. So put the people in your team at the centre of your efforts and invest in developing their knowledge and skills. The results will thank you.

Change Competence Factor #4: Performance

Even though I clearly pointed out the human factor in the last section, this of course does not mean that entrepreneurial business aspects are less important. Because only if change is carried out with the intention of positioning an organization successfully in the long term will the corresponding project lead to the desired results. The following elements are therefore just as decisive for a pronounced change competence.

Strategy: The vision is the emotional drive, but the strategy ensures that a change does not happen by chance, but can be implemented in a structured way and with comprehensible milestones. The basic rule is: No sustainable change without strategy.

Goals: The individual goals result from the overarching strategy. These ensure that a large project can be grasped and implemented. The basic rule: Think big and courageously, but then take the path of small steps that lead to consistency. Detailed and transparent goals help you with that.

Tactics: The necessary tactics can be derived from the respective goals, which are then processed by the individual departments or people. Try to establish as many automated systems as possible without restricting flexibility and spontaneity.

Change Competence as a Key Skill of the Future

Nobody knows exactly what the future will look like (sorry dear futurologists), but one thing can be predicted with great certainty: Business as usual is long over and the next few years will be quite tough. No matter what happens – and believe me, a lot will happen – you will always be able to rely on your skills, experience and knowledge. The more the future will be shaped by technical changes, disruptive developments and digital complexity, the more decisive the human factor will be. In business, in society and also in your private life.

Classical change management has therefore become obsolete, instead the most important skill will be your change competence. It will decide whether you jump on the train towards the future or whether you are left alone on the platform. Invest in your own change competence and that of your team. It will be the decisive competitive factor in the coming years.

I´m looking forward to your comments, please join the discussion.

Best wishes,

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